According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, between 2002 and 2008, the Colombian government killed civilians intentionally and claimed them to be FARC fighters. The report claims hundreds, maybe thousands, of civilians were murdered under the practice.
“Under pressure from superiors to show ‘positive’ results and boost body counts in their war against guerrillas, soldiers and officers abducted victims or lured them to remote locations under false pretenses — such as with promises of work — killed them, placed weapons on their lifeless bodies, and then reported them as enemy combatants killed in action,” the report states.
The government practice of murdering civilians to bolster kill counts was uncovered in 2008, but the latest report claims the murders were far more common and systematic than previously believed. The practice subsided after public outrage in 2008 over the murders of 19 young men from a Bogotá slum.
In 2008, Colombia’s top army commander resigned as a result of the murders, and three generals and almost a dozen officers were fired. However, the recent report claims those individuals were only a fraction of those involved and that the current head of Colombia’s armed forces took part in the murders.
In testimony to the prosecutor’s office, one senior officer involved in the murders blamed them on a policy of retired General Montoya, the army’s top commander between February 2006 and November 2008, who demanded combat kills. During the time of the murders, the army put heavy emphasis on achieving combat kills as measure of success, and sometimes rewarded troops with cash payment or vacation time for high kill counts.
The recent report claims that reprisals against witnesses were violent and common. Harassment, death threats, murder, rape of family members, and military disciplinary investigations were cited as retaliation against witnesses.
Colombian prosecutors are investigating more than 3,000 allegations of murders of civilians claimed to be FARC fighters, the report said. Although about 800 soldiers have been charged, most of them are lower-ranking.
“False positive killings amount to one of the worst episodes of mass atrocity in the Western Hemisphere in recent years, and there is mounting evidence that many senior army officers bear responsibility,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet the army officials in charge at the time of the killings have escaped justice and even ascended to the top of the military command, including the current heads of the army and armed forces.”
Despite ongoing peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government, fighting between the two sides has intensified recently.
Peace talks with FARC began in late 2012 in an attempt to end the 50-year-old conflict between the two sides that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions. In May 2013, it was announced that one of the most contentious issues between the two sides had been resolved. The agreement on land reform promised to compensate those who had lost land. Also, in March of this year, an agreement was reached for the two sides to work together to remove landmines.
A recent report from the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office claims that FARC has launched 38 attacks since it announced the end of its ceasefire in late May. Newspaper Colombia Reports claim that number to be more than 150.
A ceasefire, which was only observed by FARC and not the Colombian government, was called off after Colombian troops killed 26 FARC rebels in retaliation for an attack that killed 10 Colombian soldiers in April. The government claimed that FARC instigated the attack—a claim that the FARC leadership denies.
FARC has repeated its plea for a bilateral ceasefire with Colombia. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said that Colombia would not observe a ceasefire until a final peace deal is signed.