Commentary: Murder of civilians in Colombia must be punished

A United Nations investigator confirmed last week what had become all too evident in a series of reports in this newspaper about the appalling murder of innocent civilians in Colombia by members of the armed forces.

After a 10-day visit to the country, U.N. official Philip Alston minced no words in condemning what he called "the cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit." He rejected the notion that this reprehensible practice was the work of a few bad apples:

"The sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military."

This is unusually straight talk for a U.N. diplomat, but altogether justified by events on the ground. Ever since Gen. Mario Montoya, commander of the army, resigned last year after an investigation tied dozens of military personnel to these killings, the scandal has become a source of embarrassment and shame for President Alvaro Uribe.

At the time, the government fired 27 officers and soldiers, including three generals, for their links to the alleged crimes. That's a start, but it's not enough to account for the government's responsibility in this sordid affair.

Much more must be done to ensure that these wrongful practices are stopped, the guilty are punished, and survivors of the victims are protected and compensated.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.