Shooting the Messengers

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Speaking to reporters after a local “security council” meeting in Norte de Santander earlier this week, President Uribe claimed that only 22 of the many hundreds of cases of “false positives” civilian killings by the Colombian army in recent years have any “judicial foundation.”

Between January 2007 and June 2008 alone, Colombian human rights groups documented at least 535 cases of false positives (where soldiers kill a civilian and then dress the victim in guerilla clothing to make it look like a combat death). And according to Semana, a widely-read Colombian news magazine, by last count the attorney general’s office had opened investigations into more than 900 of these cases (see Semana’s sobering “Wall of False Positives”).

That President Uribe can deny what his own attorney general is beginning to try to tackle is bad enough. But he wasn’t done speaking his mind:

“We are the first to demand that there be no ‘false positives,’ that there be total transparency. But we have to be the first to denounce that many people, basing themselves on the issue of ‘false positives,’ have caused these false accusations to increase, in order to try to paralyze the security forces’ actions against the terrorists.”

Here, his message was clearer, and far more sinister: “if you’re investigating civilian killings, or if you’re even critical of my administration’s security policies, then you must be a terrorist.” It seems that this president simply can’t pass up an opportunity to tar his country’s valiant and non-violent human rights and victims’ groups, lawyers, judges, and others as FARC sympathizers. He can’t bring himself to admit any errors, so instead he shoots the messengers.

In a recent memo to members of the U.S. Congress, LAWG and three partner organizations suggested that the incentives that are resulting in extrajudicial executions may still be in place. Until the Colombian government removes all incentives that could tempt soldiers into presenting innocent civilians as “guerrillas killed in combat,” civilian killings could continue to plague the Colombian military’s human rights record and make achieving an end to the decades-old armed conflict even harder.