Crimes of the powerful in conflict-affected environments: False positives, transitional justice and the prospects for peace in Colombia

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This article examines factors which led to what became known as the “false positives” scandal in Colombia, in order to analyse the extent to which socio-economic inequalities and the persecution of the poor impact conflict dynamics and prospects for sustainable peace. The false positives scandal concerned the arbitrary execution of, principally, poor, marginalized male civilians by the military, sometimes in collaboration with illegal armed groups, who were then presented as guerrilla fighters having been lawfully killed in combat. These crimes were primarily committed between 2002 and 2008 and involved the execution of over 3,000 civilians. The scandal constitutes one of the most shocking global examples in recent years of crimes of the powerful: crimes committed by state actors against the most dispossessed and marginalized members of society. It will be argued that criminal accountability for those responsible for these crimes is important, but it is not sufficient. There is a need to address extreme socio-economic inequalities that prevail in Colombia and socio-cultural attitudes towards the poor which dehumanize and, thereby, deny or justify crimes and other harms against them. Otherwise the poor will remain vulnerable to further victimization and peacebuilding will not be successful or meaningful to those beyond privileged and elite groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-155
Number of pages24
JournalState Crime Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2017


  • Conflict
  • Peacebuilding
  • Transitional Justice
  • Criminalisation
  • State Crimes
  • Inequalities

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