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Five Years After Colombian Massacre, Justice Is Still Elusive

The case against 10 soldiers involved in the Peace Community massacre is just the first step in a long journey toward justice.

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Of course, military operations don’t take place without an order from ranking officers. On February 4, the first day of the most recent hearing in the case, Captain Gordillo confirmed the participation of General Mario Montoya in the planning of the operation and in ordering non-military guides. At the time, General Montoya commanded the army’s 7th Division, of which the 17th Brigade is a part.

General Montoya was later promoted to commander of the Armed Forces, and it was largely under his watch that the army committed what has become known as "false positives," in which members of the Colombian army kidnapped and killed young men from poor neighborhoods and then dressed them up as guerrillas killed in combat in order to earn rewards like days off. Since this so-called “false positives” scandal broke in late 2008, the Prosecutor General’s office has opened nearly 1,500 investigations into such crimes. In the wake of the scandal General Montoya resigned, but was later appointed ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

In 2009, Colombia’s Defense Minister admitted that the practice of false positives continues. Just after the New Year the army changed its practices so that days off are no longer rewarded for deaths in combat; instead, such rewards are now bestowed for captures or demobilizations. However, according to a government investigator who requested anonymity, it appears that false positives continue. Instead of killing the young men they kidnap, members of the army are presenting them as demobilized combatants.

The case against 10 of the soldiers involved in the operation that led to the Peace Community massacre is a first step in a long journey toward justice. In order for such brutal practices to end, however, high-ranking officials like General Montoya and General Fandiño, who commanded the 17th Brigade at the time, must be tried and punished so that the message is sent loud and clear that such behavior is not acceptable.

Moira Birss is working in Colombia as a Human Rights Accompanier with the Fellowship of Reconciliation . She blogs at One Peace at a Time .

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