Mark Bowden: “Flight Risk” Friday Links (Saturday edition)
Jun 182009

Here are excerpts from today’s press statement from Philip Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions. Alston just finished a ten-day visit to Colombia, where he investigated allegations of “false positives” and other killings of civilians by the parties to Colombia’s conflict. The headings are ours, not his.

The “false positives” problem goes beyond Soacha

[T]here are two problems with the narrative focused on falsos positivos and Soacha [the headline-grabbing scandal, which broke in September, surrounding military killings of young men in Soacha, a poor Bogotá suburb]. The first is that the term provides a sort of technical aura to describe a practice which is better characterized as cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit. The second is that the focus on Soacha encourages the perception that the phenomenon was limited both geographically and temporally. But while the Soacha killings were undeniably blatant and obscene, my investigations show that they were but the tip of the iceberg. I interviewed witnesses and survivors who described very similar killings in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Cali, Casanare, Cesar, Cordoba, Huila, Meta, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Sucre, and Vichada. A significant number of military units were thus involved.

Military denials or cover-ups

Some officials continue to assert that many of the cases were in fact legitimate killings of guerrillas or others. But the evidence – including ballistics and forensics reports, eyewitness testimony, and the testimony of soldiers themselves – strongly suggests that this was not the case. The “dangerous guerillas” who were killed include boys of 16 and 17, a young man with a mental age of nine, a devoted family man with two in-laws in active military service, and a young soldier home on leave. I cannot rule out the possibility that some of the falsos positivos were, in fact, guerillas, but apart from sweeping allegations, I have been provided with no sustained evidence to that effect by the Government. Evidence showing victims dressed in camouflage outfits which are neatly pressed, or wearing clean jungle boots which are four sizes too big for them, or lefthanders holding guns in their right hand, or men with a single shot through the back of their necks, further undermines the suggestion that these were guerillas killed in combat.

A further problem concerns the systematic harassment of the survivors by the military. A woman from Soacha described how, in 2008, one of her sons disappeared and was reported killed in combat two days later. When another of her sons became active in pursuing the case, he received a series of threats. He was shot and killed earlier this year. Since then, the mother has also received death threats. This is part of a common pattern.

Not just “a few bad apples”

The key question is who was responsible for these premeditated killings? On the one hand, I have found no evidence to suggest that these killings were carried out as a matter of official Government policy, or that they were directed by, or carried out with the knowledge of, the President or successive Defence Ministers. On the other hand, the explanation favoured by many in Government – that the killings were carried out on a small scale by a few bad apples – is equally unsustainable. The sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military.

The gap between policies and practice

Starting in 2007, the Government has taken important steps to stop and respond to these killings. They include: disciplinary sanctions, increased cooperation with the ICRC and the UN, the installation of Operational Legal Advisors to advise on specific military operations, increased oversight of payments to informers, the appointment of the Suarez Temporary Special Commission, the appointment of Delegated Inspectors to army divisions, requiring deaths in combat to be investigated first by judicial police, modifying award criteria, and creating a specialized unit in the Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalia).

These encouraging steps demonstrate a good faith effort by the Government to address past killings and prevent future ones. But there remains a worrying gap between the policies and the practice. The number of successful prosecutions remains very low, although improved results are hoped for in the coming year. Three problems stand out. The first is that the Fiscalia, and especially its Human Rights Unit, lack the requisite staff, resources and training. A substantial increase in resources is essential. The second is that in some areas military judges ignore the rulings of the Constitutional Court and do all in their power to thwart the transfer of clear human rights cases to the ordinary justice system. The transfer of information is delayed or obstructed, wherever possible jurisdictional clashes are set up, and delaying tactics are standard. Delays, often of months or years, result and the value of testimony and evidence is jeopardized.

The good news is that there has been a significant reduction in recorded allegations of extrajudicial executions by the military over the last 6-9 months. If this trend is confirmed, it will represent a welcome reversal of course, but the problem of impunity for past killings must still be addressed. …

Officials’ unfounded accusations against human rights defenders

[H]uman rights defenders (HRDs) are frequently intimidated and threatened, and sometimes killed, often by private actors. They have been accused by high level officials of being – or being close to – guerrillas or terrorists. Such statements have also been made against prosecutors and judges. These statements stigmatise those working to promote human rights, and encourage an environment in which specific acts of threats and killings by private actors can take place. It is important for senior officials to cease the stigmatization of such groups. …

A clear position on Colombia’s “Victims Law”

It is my understanding that the current draft law on victims’ rights – approved by the commission set up to reconcile the texts approved in the Senate and the House of Representatives – contains a definition of victim that includes victims of state agents and generally puts them on equal standing with victims of paramilitaries. It is imperative that as the draft law moves forward, that victims of both state and non-state actors continue to be treated equally.

8 Responses to ““These killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military””

  1. TK Says:

    From BoRev: “On the up side, they found ‘no evidence’ that Alvaro Uribe ever personally lured some kid out of the slums with the promise of a summer job, then strangled him and dressed him up, so the whole government is off the hook, probably! Trade deals for everybody.”

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Uribe sunk the victims law just after Mr Alston abandoned Colombia. No trade deals for Mr danger!

  3. Pargo Rojo Says:

    The United Nations reported that coca cultivation in Colombia in 2008 is down by 18% and cocaine production potential is down by 28%. Good news. Will this site post these numbers or ignore them because they tell a good story?

    Producción de cocaína en Colombia bajó un 28 por ciento en 2008, informó la ONU

    Así lo reveló un informe de la Oficina de la ONU contra la Droga y el Delito, el cual fue hecho público hoy viernes en Viena (Austria). Según el documento, en Perú y Bolivia la producción aumentó.

    De acuerdo con los datos revelados por la ONU, la producción pasó a 430 toneladas, de 600 toneladas registradas en 2007. Las superficies cultivadas con coca se redujeron un 18%, para llegar a 81.000 hectáreas. En diez años, unas 230.000 hectáreas de coca han sido destruidas.

    En palabras de Antonio María Costa, director del organismo, es un “logro destacable” que supone que en Colombia “se erradicaron más arbustos de coca de los que crecieron en Bolivia y Perú”.

    En estos últimos dos países la tendencia fue al alza. En Bolivia la capacidad potencial de producción se elevó un 9 por ciento, hasta las 113 toneladas, mientras que Perú registró un aumento del 4,1 por ciento, hasta las 320 toneladas.

    “El aumento en Bolivia y Perú muestra una tendencia en la dirección equivocada”, indicó Costa, quien advirtió que “Perú debe protegerse contra el regreso a los días cuando los terroristas y los insurgentes, como Sendero Luminoso, se beneficiaban de la droga y el crimen”.

    Además, el estudio de esta agencia de la ONU señala que la rentabilidad del cultivo de cocaína está bajando y que, sólo en Colombia, 20.000 familias, un 26 por ciento, abandonaron esta actividad en 2008.

    La oficina apoyó los programas de ayuda de los gobiernos de Perú y Colombia para que los campesinos opten por dedicarse a cultivos lícitos.

    Sin embargo, Costa reconoció que “mucha más ayuda al desarrollo es necesaria en los países andinos, especialmente en regiones pobres como la de Yungas, en Bolivia”.

    Además, los datos reflejan importantes éxitos en la lucha contra el narcotráfico. Durante 2008, en Colombia se decomisaron 200 toneladas de cocaína más que el año anterior y 3.200 laboratorios clandestinos fueron destruidos.

    En Bolivia, las incautaciones de cocaína base crecieron un 45%, hasta 21.641 kilos, mientras que los alijos de hidrocloruro de cocaína crecieron un 145 por ciento.

    Por su parte, las autoridades peruanas informaron de un aumento del 86 por ciento en las incautaciones de cocaína base y un 100 por cien en las de hidrocloruro de cocaína.

    Costa indicó que el abastecimiento de cocaína se está reduciendo al tiempo que el consumo está bajando en los mercados de Norteamérica y está dejando de crecer en Europa.

    “Esto puede explicar por qué los precios están altos y la pureza baja. Esto puede explicar también por qué los carteles se están volviendo tan violentos”, indicó Costa.

    Cuestionamientos a vecinos

    Por su parte, el viceministro de Defensa, Sergio Jaramillo, se quejó del incremento de cultivos, laboratorios de coca y el paso de insumos en fronteras con Ecuador y Venezuela.

    Así lo manifestó el funcionario desde la Casa de Nariño en la presentación del informe del Sistema Integrado de Monitoreo de Cultivos Ilícitos (Simci), de la la Oficina de las Naciones Unidas contra la Droga y el Delito, a cargo Aldo Lale-Demoz.

    Jaramillo se refirió en concreto a “la muy triste noticia del incremento de más del 1.000 por ciento del área del parque Los Motilones-Barí, en el Catatumbo (frontera con Venezuela)” y a “una estabilidad preocupante en Nariño”.

    El Viceministro dijo que ambos casos “están relacionados con la presencia de laboratorios en el área de frontera y si no hay esfuerzos de todos los países para impedir que esos laboratorios reciban los insumos, va a ser difícil reducir los cultivos”.

    Por su parte, Lale-Demoz destacó la reducción del 28 por ciento en la producción, al pasar de 600 a 430 toneladas métricas. También se confirmó, como lo dijo EL TIEMPO el pasado 21 de mayo, que el área de cultivos se redujo un 18 por ciento, también entre el 2007 y el 2008, al pasar de 99.000 a 81.000 hectáreas sembradas.

    El director nacional de Estupefacientes, Carlos Albornoz, resaltó que el informe del Simci es “el más real” de los que se han hecho hasta ahora, porque este último hizo un escaneo del todo el territorio nacional.

  4. Camilla Says:

    The Number One Chavista Objective, as illustrated by BoRev, is to halt Colombia’s free trade deal, by any means necessary. As the dictator of Caracas makes a disastrous hash of Venezuela’s economy, a free and prosperous Colombia will only lessen his appeal. Therefore, Colombia must remain poor so that citizens of both countries cannot see alternatives between the two. That’s the Chavista Plan for Latin America, equality through poverty. Except for the party elite, of course.

  5. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Hey Pargo Rojo, don’t come throwing info trash on Adam’s site, The decrease in production of the still number one cocaine producer in the world was most of all due to the dropping down of the demand in consumer countries. No big deal at all. Hey Camilla I thought you were no longer with us. What a pity.

  6. Kyle Says:

    I’m glad such a respected entity has now come out and said what human rights groups, and anyone taking a deeper look at the issue, have been saying for quite some time. This may help with the actual issue of extrajudicial executions and false positives but also may improve the image of human rights groups when in a time where they are often painted by the government, and others, in such a negative light. Also, there is a chance that this report become the first stepping stone to getting rid of the process – only time will tell, and if history is any indicator, we should remain skeptical for many reasons.
    I don’t think the drop in production has such a clear, easy and superficial answer. After all, a drop in demand in consumer countries wouldn’t slow down production really – each cocalero family would still harvest their leaves, (those that do) would turn the leaves into base or pasta. It’s not like narcos see that demand is down and then “stop the presses” shall we say. A drop in demand would most likely translate into a drop in price higher up. The drop in production probably has to do most with the drop in producers – 20,000 less families, although that may be a tautology. We should try to find out why such a drop in cocaleros.
    Jaime, if Chavez doesn’t want a TLC between the US and Colombia it’d probably be more that he is afraid of losing influence and getting undercut. It also largely fits into his rhetoric and persona. Also, where did you even get Chavez from looking at any of this? Bold assumptions maybe.
    Lastly, did anyone really take a look at the page in the UN Coca report showing the armed groups’ presences and illegal crops. I thought this, outside of coca measurement, to be the most interesting page. The ELN is apparently much bigger than many thought – with at least about 4,000 members throughout the country – according to military intelligence. Mabe in other places other than Narino do they have non-aggression pacts with the other armed groups in the region. A few months back, in Cauca, according to the press, they carried out an attack on a casco urbano with the FARC. But would this lead to such a quiet resurgence though?
    Also, new armed groups aren’t in Putumayo, according to the government, despite countless reports to the country, even from regional authorities. Los Rostrojos have been making an incursion in the area and are apparently present in Puerto Asis, La Hormiga and Orito – including in the cascos urbanos. The new armed groups, in total, have at least 3,500 members roughly – and their dynamics vary greatly throughout the national territory. Out west, where we see large groups of at least 500 (Cuchillo country), it must be a field day. Four municipalities from the top 10 coca growing municipalities are out there – and those 4 have a cocaine production estimate of 90 mt – not to mention great geography for trafficking.
    And the FARC seem to be doing ok numbers wise in their traditional strongholds, but this doesn’t mean it’s any easy life. Roughly, they have at least 6,000 fighters, and they appear to have reluctance to minimize fronts to less than 50 fighters. Again, this is all according to military intelligence and are the minimums so some skepticism is necessary, in my point of view.
    I won’t touch on the methodology issue. But lastly, is it me or does there seem to be a floor for coca growth. The last 5 or 6 years has not seen coca growth drop below 75,000 and outside of last year it hasn’t gone about 86,000 or so. Maybe even with the whole region? Coca cultivation has been at fairly consistent levels since about 2003 and cocaine production,

  7. Pargo Rojo Says:

    Don’t be so naive Jaime. You think that drug traffickers in Colombia are producing less because of a decreased demand abroad? It’s easy to create demand, especially when the product is pure and cheap. The fact is that over the last two years in the U.S., the street price of cocaine has increased by over 100% and purity decreased by about 40%. The same is being reported in the U.K. If demand is down, why is the price up? I can put together a supply vs. demand curve if that would help you understand the concept. Let me know.

  8. Silly Says:

    Yeah , but come on. Lets look on the bright side here.

    Pretty soon the U.N. won’t be able to investigate all these silly Human Rights abuses,

    And anyway , at least the dollar is looking like it has a great future .

    Anyway , the NAAFA , FTA FREE TRADE mind warp is a good thing. The puppet regimes that support it are only doing it for the “good of the people” and to protect them, , , And anyway. Without drug dealing , crazed torturers and psychopaths like Uribe , the price of cocain would be twice as high.

    The DEA/CIA/MI.6 drug barrons must be protected and their supplies of drugs must be safeguarded.

    I would say Uribe has done a great job up to now.

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