The False Positives

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Colombia’s government issued an official apology this week for the extrajudicial killings of civilians by the military, a move seen as a key step toward acknowledging past war crimes committed during the country’s decades-long civil war, the Associated Press reported.

The apology is specifically for the murder of 19 civilians between 2004 and 2008. Known as “false positives,” these killings involved the military falsely registering civilians as rebel fighters.

Victims were mostly young men from poor neighborhoods, lured away from their homes with deceptive promises of employment. They were then killed and presented as combat casualties to benefit soldiers’ careers.

Since 2015, Colombian courts have been ordering the government to apologize for these crimes as part of reparation measures. But previous right-wing administrations have defied such orders as they hesitated to publicly acknowledge the military’s war crimes, according to human rights groups.

Meanwhile, the current government led by leftist President Gustavo Petro has expressed more willingness to collaborate with investigations into these crimes, including those undertaken by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – a transitional justice system created by the 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

According to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, Colombian armed forces committed at least 6,402 extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2008, as commanders pressured troops to show battlefield results.

While many of the victims’ families welcomed the apology, some relatives said they were not ready to forgive.

The move comes as Colombia’s government attempts to negotiate peace deals with the remaining rebel groups.

Analysts said the government’s decision to apologize also seeks to build trust with communities affected by human rights violations, which is a prerequisite for lasting peace agreements.

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