Colombian human rights judge given asylum by Swiss

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Judge and family fled death threats after exposing military

Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Alexander Cortes, a Colombian military judge who left his country because of death threats against him and his family, was granted asylum by the Swiss government Wednesday 12 January. Cortes and his wife, Maria Elvira, who is also a judge, left Colombia with assistance from the Swiss embassy there in November 2010 after he was asked to resign from his job and following repeated threats in Bogotá.

Military faked combat casualties


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Cortes, a former captain in the Colombian army who went on to study law, was assigned to the military district of Urabá, Antioquia Department in March 2007 where he was asked to review 55 cases involving the deaths of young men allegedly killed in gun battles with the Colombian army during its counter-insurgency operations. He quickly concluded that none of the dead had actually died in combat and that the army had falsified evidence in order to make them look like legitimate casualties. At the same time some families approached him asking the whereabouts of their disappeared sons.

Cortes told GenevaLunch that he put two and two together and realized that the Colombian army was following a policy of abducting young men from poorer neighborhoods, killing them and dressing them up as “enemy combatants killed in action”.

The order came from very high up, to provide “more kills” in Colombia’s fight against the decades-long insurgency by the Farc and ELN rebels, says Cortes, and the military responded by killing innocents and counting them as combat deaths: “false positives”, as the case is known in Colombia. His conclusions led Cortes to refer the cases to civilian justice, potentially compromising several high-ranking military officers. Information on his case was discussed at the highest government levels and has been corroborated by the recent revelations of US State Department cables by WikiLeaks, according to Cortes. “If it hadn’t been for WikiLeaks,” he says, “my case would not have had the repercussions it has had.”

Geneva becomes home for asylum pair

The Cortes couple have been living in a refugee centre in canton Geneva since before Christmas. Their case was favourably reviewed by the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (FOM) in Bern, where Cortes and his wife were interviewed 6 January. They now plan to make Geneva their home and have already begun learning French and seeking employment.

They cannot practise law without an onerous and time-consuming revalidation of their Colombian law degrees. Caritas, the Catholic social services agency, will provide help finding housing.

Links to other sites: Semana (Spa),  Semana interview with Cortes (Spa)

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