UN human rights office, OHCHR, has welcomed progress on the investigation in Colombia of people falsely presented as having been killed in combat as “an important step in fighting impunity”.
So-called “false positives” cases refer to civilians that have been extra-judicially killed by the Colombian army and then falsely labelled as enemies in order to inflate body counts and receive promotions or other benefits.
“On Thursday, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which was set up to prosecute crimes committed during the armed conflict, announced that it was investigating the killing of 6,402 people, far higher than the initial figure of some 2,000 that they received to investigate”, said OHCHR Spokesperson Liz Throssell.
She underscored the extremely important and legitimate work of victims’ groups and non-governmental organisations in combatting impunity and obtaining justice, calling their contributions “essential for the realisation of the rights to truth and reparation for victims”.
Prosecuting war crimes
Ms. Throssell also welcomed the Special Jurisdiction’s decision to prosecute the secretariat of the former FARC freedom fighters for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, particularly hostage-taking.
She maintained that the Special Jurisdiction’s work to fight against impunity will help Colombia to address past serious violations of international law and prevent future recurrences.
“We stress once again that accountability for these crimes and the protection of victims’ rights is essential for the consolidation of peace and the strengthening of rule of law in Colombia”, Ms. Throssell said.
Two years after the signing of the historic peace agreement in Colombia in January 2019, and following a recent escalation of violence, the newly-appointed representative of UN in the country, told the Security Council that its people have established a “broad consensus” against further conflict, before highlighting key steps to stabilise the nation.
The briefing from Carlos Ruiz Massieu took place less than a week after a car bombing outside the National Police Academy in the capital Bogotá, which left 21 dead and injured dozens. The attack was claimed by the National Liberation Army (the ELN), one of the remaining active armed opposition groups in Colombia.
In total, more than 220,000 people were killed during the long-running conflict beginning in 1964, between Government security forces, and various armed opposition groups, chiefly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerilla movement, or FARC, and drug traffickers.
“In the swift rejection of the attack from across the political spectrum in Colombia, and in the marches held around the country this past Sunday, Colombians demonstrated their ever-broader consensus around the rejection of violence”, said Ruiz Massieu, who was appointed on 7 January to head the UN’s mission in the country mandated with verifying the implementation of the November 2016 peace agreement. “This consensus must continue to be nurtured,” he told the Security Council.
Special Representative Ruiz Massieu went on to highlight some of the recent major achievements of the peace process, including the fact that the Government’s High-level Forum on Gender – responsible for implementation of the gender provisions of the peace agreement – met for the first time on 16 January.
He also noted “an important milestone” with the inauguration in May 2018 of the ‘Truth Commission’, a body created to examine past human rights violations, including sexual violence, and to foster reconciliation over the next three years.
Ruiz Massieu stressed that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – the transitional body in charge of deciding responsiblity for crimes committed during the armed conflict and which started working a year ago – is currently examining five cases of “violent actions impacting no less than 32,000 victims”.
“As this Council has itself insisted, it remains vitally important that the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction are respected and that it receives the support required to operate effectively”, stated the Special Representative.
Two major challenges
Among the near-term challenges ahead, Ruiz Massieu cited the gaps remaining for the economic reintegration of former combatants, including members of the FARC. He said the various meetings he held in the field have “confirmed both the strong desire of former combatants to work and to find their place in society, as well as the uncertainty many still feel regarding their security, including their legal security, and economic future”.
The 26 December 2018 quarterly report prepared by the UN verification mission for the UN Secretary-General, notes that efforts must be accelerated “to advance on the acquisition of land and to work on the development of markets for goods and services produced.”
In another step forward for full political integration and reform, on 27 October the FARC party, now a democratic force, will take part for the first time in regional and local elections. Representative Ruiz Massieu noted that efforts are being made to guarantee their and every other party’s security and protection.
In Colombia, the security situation remains fragile, as highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report. According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement, 163 killings of social leaders and human rights defenders have been verified and a total of 454 deaths reported.
In the first week of January alone, seven leaders were killed and a total of 31 attacks reported. FARC members are also regularly the targets of attacks, a major challenge to national reconciliation.
“The security of communities, leaders and FARC members are ultimately tied to the ability of the State to establish an integrated security and civilian presence in conflict-affected areas”, said Ruiz Massieu, as he welcomed the efforts made by the Colombian Government to address this issue.
“I would like to stress that one of the messages I have heard consistently from Colombians during my first weeks on the ground, is how strongly they both welcome and expect the support and accompaniment of the international community as they seek to overcome the many challenges to consolidating peace”, he concluded. “The continued engagement and support of the Security Council will remain a vital pillar of Colombia’s peace process.”
In the same January 2019, a car bomb attack at the National Police Academy in the Colombian capital Bogotá, which left at least nine dead and dozens injured, was ‘strongly condemned’ by the UN.
The UN Office in Colombia, described it as “an unacceptable criminal act which goes against the efforts the country is making to steer away from violence and work with its people to build a more prosperous and peaceful future.”
The UN in Colombia “expressed solidarity with the families of the victims and the National Police and wished a speedy recovery to all those who were injured in this criminal act”, UN Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric told reporters at UN Headquarters. “We join this condemnation of this attack”, he added.
The Colombian government signed an historic peace deal with the FARC rebel group in November 2016, ending five decades of armed conflict.
The UN Verification Mission in the South American country, based on the agreement, has been overseeing the laying down of arms, after the bilateral ceasefire, and verifying the reintegration of former fighters into civilian life.
According to news reports, the bombing occurred shortly after a ceremony inside the General Santander Academy, in the south of the city. So far, the identity of the assailants or motivation for the attack is unknown.
Then President of UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, a former Foreign Minister of Colombia’s southern neighbour, Ecuador, also issued a statement condemning the “atrocious attack”.
On Twitter, she expressed her solidarity with the people of Colombia, “who continue to demonstrate their tireless commitment to achieving peace.”
Her Spokesperson, Monica Grayley, said that Ms. Espinosa “expresses solidarity with the victims and their families, the people, and the Government of Colombia.”