Sunday, January 18, 2009

The "body count syndrome"

In October I posted an action alert from FOR that referred to a scandal unearthed that month about extrajudicial executions – euphemized here in Colombia as “false positives” (falsos positivos) committed by Colombia´s army. It was revealed that month that 11 young men of meager means from Soacha, small city outside of Bogota, were disappeared (kidnapped, in other words) from Bogota, taken to another departamento (department, like states in the U.S.), killed, dressed in fatigues, then reported as guerrillas killed in combat. In other words, in this and other cases publicized as the scandal erupted, the soldiers used innocent lives to improve statistics and perhaps to get an extra day or two off.

The scandal did not, in my opinion, get nearly enough news coverage, particularly in comparison to the amount of coverage given to the pyramid scheme chaos that also erupted at about the same time. Extrajudicial executions are back in the news, however, with the release last week, by the National Security Archive, of declassified documents from the CIA and US Embassy in Colombia.

The documents record that the US government was aware of cases of extrajudicial executions as early as 1994, and that the first case that the US government documented dates back to 1990. In the documents, US officials describe a “body count syndrome” that "tends to fuel human rights abuses by well-meaning soldiers trying to get their quota to impress superiors". Reports from then also linked Colombian army and paramilitaries in case of extrajudicial executions as well as other kinds of human rights abuses, and attribute the steep rise in paramilitarism in the last decade in part to the “body count syndrome”.

If anything, the practice of extrajudicial executions has increased in the past few years: recent research by the Colombian Commission of Jurists has shown that in the 12-month periods from July 2007 through June 2008, extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances for which the armed forces were responsible rose from 218 in 2004-05, to 267 in 2005-06, to 287 in 2006-07. In the five-year period from June 2002 to June 2007, extrajudicial executions rose 65%, to 955 total for the 5-year period, from the previous five years.