On Friday 8 February 2008, Alfamir Castillo’s 23-year-old son Darvey and his friend Alex were murdered by the Colombian army, near the central city of Manizales. They were lured into a trap – the promise of paid work in another city – then driven into the countryside, where they were made to kneel in the road before being shot dead from behind, at point-blank range.
The army passed off the corpses of Darvey and Alex as those of drug traffickers ‘fallen in combat’. They were motivated by military ‘body count’ incentives of cash bonuses and extra holidays.
This shocking double-murder ‘for perks’ was not an isolated act. The systematic murder of civilians, later passed off as enemy combatants, was once widespread. Colombians call these extrajudicial executions ‘false positives’. Up to 3,000 citizens died in this way between 2002 and 2008, when the scandal finally broke.
Since then, justice has progressed painfully slowly – or not at all. As of last August, fewer than 10 per cent of investigations resulted in a conviction, and then mostly of rank-and-file soldiers.
In the case of Darvey and Alex, the killings only came to light by fluke. Darvey’s cousin happened to belong to the same army unit that committed the executions. When his colleagues bragged about their deed the following morning, he realized Darvey was one of the victims.
The cousin’s evidence was key in a trial that secured the conviction of seven soldiers last year. Now, two army generals are on trial, the highest-ranking officials to date. The court hearing is due on Friday 24 May.
Alfamir Castillo’s success in fighting to bring her son’s murderers brought to justice, in a country where impunity rules, has come at great personal cost. Since the court cases began in late 2010, she and her family have been subject to intense persecution: attacks, death threats and even an attempted kidnap. ‘It wasn’t enough for them to kill my son,’ she said. ‘Now they want to kill me and my family too.’
The latest threat to Castillo arrived on 17 May and reads ‘death to Alfamir [and] her lawyers for interfering with wolves…’ (Muerfe [sic] a Alfamir a sus abogados por meterse…).
Celeita, director of the human rights organization Nomadesc, says ‘the more high-ranking the military officer, the higher the level of danger to the victims.’
False positive murders have dramatically reduced. Nonetheless, cases were reported in both 2011 and 2012. Despite strong criticism from the UN, the ministerial directive unearthed by the 2008 scandal, which gave soldiers incentives to present dead combatants in return for perks such as promotions and holidays, remains in place.
War on Want is in regular contact with Alfamir and our partner Nomadesc, which accompanies Alfamir and her family, and will continue to monitor the case and pressurise the Colombian government to protect the lives of Alfamir and her family.
Take action to protect Alfamir Castillo at the War and Want website.