Justice for Colombia: Day 2 – Continued


Day 2 of Colombia

False Positives

This blog is a continuation, following on from Linda Stewart's visit to the CUT Headquarters.

Monday afternoon we headed out to Soacha, a poor neighbourhood south of Bogotá's city centre. We went to meet with the mothers of young men murdered by the military in 2008, which was to become known as the 'false positives' scandal.

In Nov 2005 the Ministry of Defence issued a 'secret order' establishing a financial bonus system for those who killed guerrillas. In 2008, 23 young men from Soacha disappeared after accepting what transpired to be bogus employment in other parts of Bogotá.

Their families later discovered that they had been taken hundreds of miles away by the Army, dressed in guerrilla uniforms and shot. The Army claimed they had been killed in combat. None of the killers have yet been brought to justice.

One mother described how her 23 year old son had failed to return home in August 2008.

In October, she received a call from her nephew, a student of forensic medicine at Bogotá University. He told her the first face appearing on his computer screen that morning was that of his cousin from Soacha.

She refused to believe it, until her daughter visited the university to see for herself. The family then travelled for two days to the north east of Colombia to retrieve the body.

On arrival, this mother was told by the Army that her son was killed during armed combat.

In the days that followed she sought an official enquiry into her son's death. After many months the family had heard nothing. Frustrated with the lack of progress, the older brother of the murdered son started to make enquiries of the state authorities.

Thereafter both he and his mother received death threats. Sometimes they would wake to find notes pushed through the door with threats to 'fill your face with flies like your son'.

Then in 2009 the brother was kidnapped, beaten and thrown off a bridge. Miraculously he survived but couldn't walk. After many months of intense physiotherapy, medics at the Soacha Hospital aught him how to walk again.

He eventually returned home but the death threats continued, until one day he received a call asking him to meet a friend at a shop. When he got there, two men got out of a car and shot him in broad daylight.

The men, it transpired, were from a state-backed, right-wing paramilitary group.

His mother continues to receive death threats and other forms of intimidation. Having joined together with other 'Mothers of Soacha', she refuses to give up until her sons' killers are brought to justice. The boys' killers are yet to face trial.

Another of the Soacha mothers, Maria, who offered up her home for our meeting, tells us how her 14 year old boy Jaime, disappeared on his way home from school one day in 2008, only to be found months later in a mass unmarked grave outside the Army barracks in north east Colombia. She too, was told by the Army that her son was killed in armed combat. Stricken with grief she asked, "What kind of guerrilla sets off from home in his school uniform?"

Maria and the mothers of 23 other young men from Soacha killed for profit, continue in their struggle to obtain justice for their sons.

With help and support from human rights lawyers (themselves under constant threat of arrest, imprisonment and death from paramilitary groups) some of the accused will shortly face the first of 2 court hearings.

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