One night, 17-year-old Felipe simply didn't come home for dinner. Five days later, he was registered as “killed in combat” by the Colombian Army. He is one of many thousands of cases of non-judicial executions in Colombia and is included in the report submitted by Diakonia’s partner organisation.
Non-judicial executions got media's attention
The report led to an enormous amount of media attention, the forced resignation or dismissal of 27 members of the Armed Forces, and significant international pressure.
“Non-judicial executions are not a new phenomenon in Colombia,” says Mildrey Corales, head of Diakonia's partner organisation Cordinación Colombia Estados Unidos (CCE-EU).
What is a non-judicial execution?
The term ‘non-judicial execution’ means that military personnel murder civilians and then register their deaths as “killed in combat”; either as guerrilla soldiers or paramilitary personnel. The reasons behind these murders are many, but often it's about the Army being under pressure to demonstrate results, and there has been a policy under which individual soldiers received a financial reward for each death.
Felipe: One of thousands that have been executed
Mildrey Corrales says that Felipe is a typical case: the only difference being that the family found out what had happened to him thanks to a series of rather improbable circumstances.
Felipe’s family had some luck in their misfortune. Purely by chance, a distant relative saw Felipe being buried by the Army clothed in a guerrilla uniform and rubber boots. And after having phoned Felipe’s mother Adriana, the grim task began of getting confirmation that it really was her son who had been placed in a grave with other uniformed young men.
Felipe is one of over 3000 cases presented by the CCE-EU in 2008. The report, which has the support of Diakonia, deals with non-judicial executions in the years 2002-2008.
The president dismissed 27 persons
“The report was presented on Thursday and Colombia woke up to the sensational news that the President had dismissed 27 members of the Armed Forces, three of whom were Generals,” says Mildrey Corrales. The reason was that the Armed Forces stood accused of being directly responsible for the non-judicial executions. It was the first time in modern Colombian history that such a large group of high-ranking members of the Armed Forces had been dismissed at one time.
CCE-EU-report led to international pressure and attention
The CCE-EU’s international work led to the news spreading beyond Colombia's borders. The USA, which gives a high level of military support to Colombia, withdrew its financing of the battalions accused of being involved in the executions and also put pressure on Colombia to put a stop to the executions.
Non-judicial executions are now rare
After this international attention, the number of cases dropped dramatically and very few new cases were brought to light in 2009.
Although the violence in Colombia has not ceased, it is great victory that non-judicial executions are no longer a widespread phenomenon.
A cornerstone for Diakonia's human rights work
For Diakonia, the support we provide to organisations such as the CCE-EU are a cornerstone of our work for human rights and peace in Colombia, and a way of giving mothers such as Adriana a voice and hope in the midst of all their sorrow and pain. Much remains to be done in Colombia, and the CCE-EU is continuing its work. Very few of the members of the Armed Forces who were dismissed have been subsequently brought to trial, and there is a tendency for cases of non-judicial execution to be hushed up and quietly slip from the agenda.
“To be able to continue this work, we need international support and we need people in other countries to apply pressure to Colombia to put an end to the executions and the spiral of violence shaking our country,” concludes Mildrey Corrales.