Saturday, 24 January 2009

Colombia: Battalion Dismantled over Human Rights Abuses

On the whole, I would say that this is a good news story, or at least that you can select the positive aspects of it. Let's have a look.

A battalion of the Colombian army has been dismantled over the scandal of the killing of civilians 'dressed up' to look like guerrillas. This is quite an obvious public measure and indicates that it is no longer possible for the military to deny or ignore reports of human rights abuses.

The 15th mobile brigade was completely replaced Friday by a new unit, the 23rd mobile counterinsurgency brigade, whose 1,400 members have reportedly received training on human rights, according to official reports.

Let's hope that the 'reports' are true and this is not merely a name change.

In another battalion, 11 officers have been removed from their posts.

The 10 officers and one noncommissioned officer who were sacked Wednesday – in a decision that was not reported until Thursday – formed part of La Popa in the past but were now serving in other army units.

Armed forces chief General Freddy Padilla said legal charges have not been brought against the officers. But the conclusions of the internal military investigation will be turned over to the ordinary courts, which have received complaints of 150 civilians allegedly killed by the La Popa battalion.

So presumably the possibility of legal measures is still open, and ordinary courts, not military courts, is where we want to see them.

The article also includes a slightly weary comment on US involvement in Colombia from Adam Isacson (who writes at the excellent Plan Colombia and Beyond).

"there has been – and still is – frustration among many U.S. officials over the repeated human rights scandals in the (Colombian) armed forces.

"My impression is that, despite their indignation, they continue to move forward in the belief, in first place, that the main interest of the United States, whether it be the anti-drug or counterinsurgency struggle, is more important than these ‘side-effects’," he wrote in an email interview with IPS.

In addition, the officials believe that "contact and training with U.S. soldiers will lead to a reduction in these abuses," said Isacson.

He added that "many officials have told me that the abuses by the armed forces in the 1990s were partly due to a lack of contact with the United States. I don’t know what they blame the abuses of this decade on."

I'm of the opinion that we should applaud any progress on rooting out human rights abuses; but I'm not deluded enough to think that this will solve the problem of military violence against civilians in Colombia. It's just a tiny step. The issue was not confined to one or two battalions. We can only hope that 1) this sends a message that action will be taken against offenders, ie at a minimum they will lose their jobs, and 2) that it raises awareness of the issues both nationally and internationally.

Colombia: Entire Battalion Dismantled over Killings of Civilians (IPS)

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