Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Colombia's 'Genocide.'

Courts rulings these past few days have reminded Colombia of some of its most notorious human rights violations - and can serve as guides for bringing a lasting peace.

One ruling, by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, found the Colombian government responsible for the 1998 bombing by the Colombian Air Force of the town of Santo Domingo, Arauca, in which 17 people were killed and dozens injured, including many children. At the time, the Army was fighting guerillas in the jungle just outside of town. Military officials and others variously charged that the victims were guerrillas or that guerrillas had planted a car bomb in the town. But investigations, including by the Los Angeles Times newspaper, showed that the Air Force had bombed the town without justification. The tragedy also implicated United States companies, because the Occidental Petroleum Company, whose Caño Limon pipeline is nearby, had provided the local military with food and other supplies, and a Florida-based company helped locate bombing targets for the planes.

Victims of the Union Patriotica Genocide.
A second ruling, by a Bogotá court, called the killings of thousands of Union Patrotica political party members a 'political genocide.' Leftists and human rights activists generally have long used the term genocide to describe the episode, which lasted from the UP's founding in 1985 thru the early 1990s. By officially terming the killings a genocide, as well as finding military and government participation, the court ruling increases possibilities for wider investigations and prosecutions.

The tomb of Jaime Pardo Leal, the UP's presidential candidate,
assassinated in Cundinamarca in 1987.
The UP was created by lefist political parties, including the Communists, and ex-guerrillas who had returned to civil society following a peace treaty with the government. But during the next decade more than 1,500 UP members, including two presidential candidates, were assassinated and disappeared, devastating it as a political force. The killers were right-wing forces, apparently working with the government. Many observers interpreted the UP's creation as the FARC guerrillas' attempt at entering politics. For them, the killings justify the guerrillas' subsequent fear of reaching an agreement with the Colombian government. The guerrillas have, of course, also committed widespread human rights violations.

And that history is why the peace talks now starting up in Havana face such a huge challenge to overcome the warring sides' mutual distrust.

The tomb of Manuel Cepeda Vargas,
a journalist, lawyer and leader of the UP.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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