Risk Areas

3.5 Abuse of civilian populations

Explanation of risk area

Where armed forces are pushed to corruption, either due to greed or because of need (for example, due to unpaid salaries), the consequences are frequently felt by the civilian population. Whether subject to extortion or in danger of physical harm, the civilian population begins to see the armed forces as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. As civil-military relations break down, the military’s ability to provide security for the population ebbs away; the flow of information needed for operational effectiveness and minimisation of casualties is interrupted; there is a growing disconnect between civilians and military personnel; and armed forces’ legitimacy and effectiveness suffer. It also becomes more difficult for donors to help create effective institutions.


Case Study: Corruption and Plan Colombia: The Missing Link

False positives in Colombia

During Plan Colombia, the phenomenon of ‘false positives’ – the extrajudicial killing of civilians by soldiers or by criminals they hired in order to present their bodies as guerrillas or criminals killed in combat – was the most significant form of abuse toward the civilian population. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions found that the killings were committed across the country, and by a large number of different military units. The phenomenon of false positives is widely linked to the pressure the Uribe government placed on the Colombian military to achieve results, often combined with search for private gain: soldiers who could show results – measured in body counts – would be rewarded with promotions, cash, and overseas trips.

View case study

Case Study: Afghanistan: Corruption and the making of warlords

Illegal checkpoints in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, abuses perpetrated by the security forces directly on the civilian population have ranged from establishment of illegal checkpoints to extorting bribes for unlawful, arbitrary arrests and detentions. A 2013 report identifies bribes extorted at illegal checkpoints set up by the ANP as one of the main grievances of long-haul truck drivers, often abused and humiliated as police officers sought to break their resistance. The problem was widespread: about 59% of police checkpoints in the country were found to have been collecting illegal tolls.

View case study
External Link

Abuse of civilians in DRC

In the DRC, abuse by unpaid troops has led the population in conflict-affected provinces to perceive the DRC armed forces as a threat rather than a source of security.

View external case study

Indicators & Warnings

Reports of abuse from civil society or in intelligence reports

Adversary casualty reports do not match physical evidence; for example, the suspected opponents' age or physical fitness makes them unlikely to be combatants

Adversary casualty reports to not match operational reports of unit activity

Low salaries for military personnel

Unexplained wealth among military personnel

Demands for fees at checkpoints without appropriate receipts or tariffs