As It Happens

Colombia's army killed civilians to fake battlefield success

A new report reveals damning new evidence about how the army in Colombia killed civilians, and then falsely depicted them as dead rebels
Colombian military forces / Max Schoening, Human Rights Watch (Left: Tech Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Force / Right: Human Rights Watch)

A new report reveals damning evidence about how the army in Colombia killed civilians, and then falsely depicted them as dead rebels

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch presented the report to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.

The report paints a disturbing picture of how the Colombian military killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians -- and then presented them as left-wing rebels killed in battle.

The new evidence also reveals that current top military brass in Colombia are linked to the so-called 'false positive' killings.

The lead author of the report, Max Schoening, tells As It Happens co-host Carol Off that "between 2002 and 2008 in Colombia the army committed widespread and systematic extrajudicial killings of civilians. In these cases...soldiers would either recruit or abduct civilians, execute them, dress them in military camouflage, and then report them as guerillas killed in combat."

Schoening adds: "Many of the officers who were in command of the brigades at the time when the killings were ongoing on a large scale have ascended the military command in Colombia and become top leaders of the armed forces. For instance, the current top commander of the Armed Forces of Colombia -- General Rodriguez Barragan --  was the commander of the fourth brigade in 2007 and 2008. Prosecutors are now investigating at least 28 extrajudicial killings during that period."

Speaking about the motivation behind these killings, Schoening tells Carol: "I would say the main motive behind these killings was pressure from senior commanders, that flowed all the way down the chain of command, that basically measured success by the number of supposed combatants killed. There were also systems of rewards in place. This is quite perverse: soldiers would be rewarded with vacation time, with promotions and get other types of rewards for killing what turned out to be innocent civilians."

Schoening adds that this week the Attorney General's office announced they were calling in four generals for questioning, about their possible knowledge of 'false positive' killings and their potential role in the crimes, "obviously this is not just limited to four generals. It's an important step, but it's a small one in the many steps ahead to ensure that they're brought to justice."

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