Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has admitted that his army had illegally used the logo of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during their high-profile operation to release 15 hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt. In a speech in Bogota Uribe apologized for misusing the logo, but international experts say that doing so is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions – to which Colombia is signed up.
The July 2nd military operation was carried out by Colombian military intelligence agents posing as humanitarian aid workers. A website set up as part of the operation also stole the registration number of a Spanish anti-poverty NGO, known as ‘Global Humanitaria’, which has caused further complaints.
Immediately following the operation Uribe and other senior Colombian officials categorically denied that the agents had impersonated ICRC staff. However, the US news network CNN later discovered video and photo evidence showing that at least one agent was in fact wearing an official ICRC bib.
Using the Red Cross symbol in a military operation violates the Geneva Convention because it could damage the relief group’s neutrality in conflicts and could endanger medical personnel using the symbol.
According to Gustavo Gallon of the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), if those who planned the operation “used a humanitarian mission as cover, that is perfidy, and a breach of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)” under the Geneva Conventions. “It’s like using a white flag of truce to get close to an enemy and then killing him.”
Gallon went on to point out that “humanitarian missions are protected, and cannot be used in any way, either for acts of war or for confrontations with the enemy. Their absolute inviolability is the grounds of their credibility.”
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This post was written by Justice For Colombia