Bloomberg News

Colombia Measure Ensures Military Impunity, Rights Group Says

December 12, 2011

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- A bill promoted by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to expand military jurisdiction over cases of abuses by Colombian security forces would “dramatically reverse” progress made in investigating human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said.

“By virtually guaranteeing impunity for human rights violations committed by the security forces, it could ultimately expose Colombia to investigations by the International Criminal Court,” the New York-based group’s America’s director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said in a letter addressed to Santos and released by e-mail.

Colombia Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the bill, which is being debated in Congress, would provide a “more clear” legal framework for security forces fighting gangs, drug traffickers and guerrillas and would not lead to impunity for soldiers, according to a Nov. 24 statement on the army’s website.

He said civilian courts do not have the “specialized” knowledge of military operations needed to judge the cases.

If the measure is passed, military courts would likely open investigations into the so-called “false positives” scandal, in which soldiers killed civilians and dressed them up as guerrillas or members of other illegal armed groups to boost their kill counts, Vivanco said.

The false positives are among cases of extrajudicial killings of more than 3,000 victims that are being investigated by Colombian civilian and military courts, according to a February report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The army has been accused of the bulk of the killings, the report said.

The practice of false positives saw a “drastic reduction” in 2010 under Santos, the U.N. report said, without giving further details.

--Editors: Harry Maurer, Robert Jameson

To contact the reporters on this story: Blake Schmidt in Bogota at bschmidt16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net


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