Impunity feared in Colombia military justice law

By FRANK BAJAK and LIBARDO CARDONA

BOGOTA, Colombia — The crimes were shocking, even for a country hardened by the atrocities of decades of internal conflict.

Colombian troops had killed hundreds of innocent civilians for no apparent reason other than to boost rebel body counts, U.N. investigators found. Typically, the victims were down-on-their-luck men lured to their deaths with job promises then dressed in military fatigues and registered as guerrillas slain in combat.

Five years after the scandal broke, roughly one-sixth of the soldiers accused have gone to trial or pleaded guilty, only a handful of the convicted holding the rank of major or higher. In all, authorities registered some 3,900 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings involving security force members.

Human rights activists say they are afraid a new law pushed through Congress by President Juan Manuel Santos in June will make it even harder to pursue those responsible, particularly senior officers. The law, which is under review by the Constitutional Court, would broaden the military justice system’s jurisdiction and narrow the definition of extrajudicial killings.

Santos says the reform is needed to assure armed forces members they have nothing to fear from making peace with the country’s main leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

But activists fear the reforms could hinder prosecutions of past and future war crimes by security force members and thus hurt prospects for peace talks launched in Cuba last year.

Colombia Extrajudicial Killings

International Court of Justice sets borders in Colombia-Nicaragua dispute over Caribbean islands

Colombia’s government is not happy with the outcome of the court’s ruling.  The Hague court delineated a horseshoe around the English-speaking archipelago, which was first settled by Protestants and claimed by Colombia in the early 19th century. President Santos of Colombia, bowing to pressure from environmentalist and local politicians, announced last year would be no oil exploration in the islands’ waters (the reef is a divers’ paradise). All indications are that Nicaragua will drill. A good Oxfam blog posting on the victory against drilling.  And a description of the Old Providence barrier reef at the islands, designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2000.

See also AP correspondent Andrew Selsky’s 2003  piece on the islands.

Colombian govt cool to FARC cease-fire announcement

As peace talks get under way in Havana, the FARC announces a cease-fire. Not a big surprise, and not well-received by the government.

HAVANA (AP) — Colombia’s main rebel group announced a unilateral cease-fire on Monday as it began much-anticipated peace talks, but the Bogota government responded that it would continue military operations. Top negotiator Ivan Marquez said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would halt all acts of sabotage and attacks against government and private property starting at midnight Monday and running through Jan. 20.

He made the announcement as negotiators for both sides entered the talks in Havana without other comment.

Marquez said the move was “aimed at strengthening the climate of understanding necessary for the parties to start a dialogue.”

Hours later, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters in the Colombian capital that while the government hoped the FARC would keep its promise, “history shows that this terrorist organization has never kept its word. It’s very difficult to believe.”

He added that Colombian security forces have “the constitutional duty to pursue all criminals who have violated the Constitution.”

Read more at AP’s “The Big Story”