World

In Colombia, activists fear impunity for war crimes under new military justice law

  • FILE - In this April 7, 2011 file photo, students hold up a sign that reads in Spanish "Impunity Soacha equals false positives" during a protest where police stand guard in Bogota, Colombia. Military jargon identifies a “positive” as a slain enemy combatant.  Authorities are investigating some 3,900 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings involving security force members. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

    FILE - In this April 7, 2011 file photo, students hold up a sign that reads in Spanish "Impunity Soacha equals false positives" during a protest where police stand guard in Bogota, Colombia. Military jargon identifies a “positive” as a slain enemy combatant. Authorities are investigating some 3,900 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings involving security force members. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Jan. 12, 1996 file photo, security guards enter the maximum security prison La Picota in Bogota, Colombia. Cashiered army Major Julio Cesar Parga inhabits a prison cell in the capital’s La Picota prison. Parga was sentenced to 30 years in prison in July 2013 for murder after confessing to ordering or taking part in the killing of 47 noncombatants lured to their deaths with employment promises then presented as guerrillas killed in action so the army could boost its body counts. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

    FILE - In this Jan. 12, 1996 file photo, security guards enter the maximum security prison La Picota in Bogota, Colombia. Cashiered army Major Julio Cesar Parga inhabits a prison cell in the capital’s La Picota prison. Parga was sentenced to 30 years in prison in July 2013 for murder after confessing to ordering or taking part in the killing of 47 noncombatants lured to their deaths with employment promises then presented as guerrillas killed in action so the army could boost its body counts. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)  (The Associated Press)

The crimes were shocking even for a country hardened by decades of internal conflict.

U.N. investigators found that Colombian troops had killed hundreds of innocent civilians for no apparent reason other than to boost rebel body counts. Typically, the victims were lured to their deaths with job promises, then dressed in military fatigues and registered as guerrillas slain in combat.

Five years after the scandal broke, only about one-sixth of the soldiers accused have gone to trial or pleaded guilty. In all, authorities are investigating some 3,900 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings involving security force members.

And human rights activists say they are afraid a new law pushed through Congress by President Juan Manuel Santos will make it even harder to pursue those responsible, particularly senior officers.