UN expert urges Colombian extra-judicial killing prosecution

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A UN expert on Thursday urged the Colombian government to prosecute soldiers engaged in extra-judicial killings, saying that it was the only way for the country to move on from the scandal.

"The current rate of impunity for alleged killings by the security forces, up to 98.5 percent by some credible estimates, is way too high," said Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, in a report on his fact-finding mission to Colombia in June 2009.

"Unless the Government ensures effective investigation and prosecution of killings by security forces, it will not be able to turn the page on the falsos positivos scandal.

"Victims and family members deserve justice. Colombian society and the international community need to know that security operations are lawful, or they will not be considered legitimate," he added.

Human rights groups have denounced over a thousand of so-called "false positives" -- extrajudiciary killings of civilians committed by Colombian soldiers who masked the victims as guerrillas in order to get rewards promised by the government.

Alston said that while such cases goe back to the 1980s, there was evidence that they began occuring with a "disturbing frequency across Colombia from 2004."

"Soldiers simply knew that they could get away with murder," said Alston.

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos had apologised for the killings at the UN Human Rights Council in December 2008, calling the soldiers' actions "a shame" for the nation.

Alston said that even if the government has moved to curb the killings, such as firing senior army officers, many others have not been brought to account.

In addition, the expert said paramilitary violence also has to be addressed.

"Colombia's effort to end and provide accountability for paramilitary violence is floundering," said Alston.

"The vast majority of paramilitaries responsible for human rights violations were demobilized without investigation, and many were effectively granted amnesties," he said.

"Today, the failure in accountability is clear from the dramatic rise in killings by illegal armed groups composed largely of former paramilitaries," he added.

Between December 2002 and June 2008, some 4,261 people, including 350 women and 181 children, were killed by paramilitaries or former paramilitaries, noted Alston, citing data from the Colombian Commission of Jurists.

© 2010 AFP

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