“Within the Armed Forces, some think that the battalions have been paralyzed by fear of ending up on trial, and as a result are not fighting,” noted Colombia’s main newsmagazine, Semana, last July.
This is something that we’ve heard too, in conversations with Colombian military officers and others close to the country’s defense establishment: the “false positives” scandal has left Colombia’s Army reluctant to leave the barracks for fear of being accused of committing human rights abuses, and ending up losing officers and soldiers to years-long legal processes.
The “false positives” scandal refers to members of the military, seeking to pad their results and win incentives, allegedly killing more than 1,600 civilians in recent years, presenting their bodies as those of armed-group members killed in combat. With more than 2,000 members of the armed forces under investigation, the argument goes, Colombia’s Army is now unwilling to go on the offensive and risk more prosecutions.
This argument was taken up in yesterday’s edition of Semana by left-of-center columnist MarÃa Jimena DuzÃ¡n, a fierce critic of Ãlvaro Uribe.
After the successful OperaciÃ³n Jaque [2008 hostage rescue], which was preceded by a series of blows that pierced the innermost layers of the FARC, the Army has stopped combatting, and that decision has produced an increase in the FARC’s terrorist acts in some zones of the country. According to the government’s own statistics in the last year and a half, the most important attacks against the FARC have been the work of the Police and the Air Force.
The reasons for this stoppage in the Army have to do with protuberant flaws in the Democratic Security policy that the government has not wanted to accept. Flaws that allowed, for nearly six years, inhumane practices like camouflaging extrajudicial executions as acts against terrorism, murdering innocent campesinos to make them appear to be guerrillas killed in combat.
Is this true? Has the military really stopped fighting for fear of human rights trials? Probably not: the July Semana article noted that, in fact, the Army’s statistics for the first half of 2009 showed an increase in operations, as well as soldiers killed and wounded.
If it were true, though, it would be a historically foolish overreaction to a legitimate outrage. After the horror of the “false positives” scandal, the Army’s proper reaction would be to improve training in international humanitarian law and focus more strictly on the rule of law in military operations. And to do so while continuing its offensive against the groups that are killing Colombian citizens every day.
To instead leave Colombians unprotected, while quietly blaming human rights prosecutors for its inaction, would be the height of irresponsibility. Let’s hope this “soldiers paralyzed by fear of human rights trials” notion is just a red herring.