Colombia

In solidarity with the Mothers of Soacha

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The Mothers of Soacha discovered their sons were being extra judicially executed by the Colombian Army to boost their combat killings. This practice is known as ‘Falsos Positivos’ (false positives). Their work has created awareness around the world of this horrendous practice in Colombia. In February 2021, the true extent of this practice began to be revealed by the Colombian Transitional Justice Tribunal.

On 18 February 2021, the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), announced they had documented at least 6,402 people illegally executed by the Colombian Security Forces between 2002 and 2008. [1]

According to the JEP 66% of the national total of extrajudicial execution victims were concentrated in 10 departments and 78% occurred during former president Álvaro Uribe Velez’s time [2] He strongly denies this.

For human rights organisations, victims and mothers of false positives, the revelation of the number of victims came as no surprise. [3] Since 2005, the government had been given the approximate figure of 5,763 cases between 2000 and 2010, which had been obtained through documentation of cases, carried out by the Colombia, United States, Europe, Coordination (CCEEU) made up of 285 human rights organisations. [4]

The JEP and other human rights organisations confirm that the victims were mainly rural dwellers, people in vulnerable conditions and of scarce economic resources. The events occurred in 29 of Colombia’s 32 departments, with Antioquia having the highest number of cases. [5] The disappointing aspect for the victims is that the majority of those convicted of involvement in these killings have been low-ranking military personnel. [6] It is therefore essential to investigate and identify who gave the order for these false positive killings. High level ranking officers have not shown themselves willing to take responsibility to date for these crimes.

According to the Civil Society Organisations, expert in investigating these cases, ‘there are [still] thousands of cases whose information is in the possession of Military Criminal Courts and military units that have not been reported as extrajudicial executions, thus preventing them from being investigated and the victims being located, identified and handed over to their families’. [7] The practice of extrajudicial executions, in many cases, was associated with forced disappearance and many of these bodies are still buried as unidentified in cemeteries across the country. [8] Given that many more cases of falsos positivos are still undocumented and in the Military Court’s Jurisdiction, as killings in combat, both the Constitutional Court and the JEP have urged the Inspector General’s Office to continue with the investigations. [9]

But, beyond establishing the number of crimes, and satisfying the rights of the victims, the JEP needs to ‘obtain relevant information on the survival of structures and doctrines that have allowed the existence of this criminal phenomenon in the Security Forces’ and, in addition, contrast other sources of information with that of the versions of the perpetrators. [10]

Background

In 2010, a group of 19 women from Soacha and Bogotá began a campaign demanding to know the truth about the disappearance of their children, siblings and relatives who had left their homes with the promise of a permanent job in another city in the north of the country.

It was thanks to the work of these mothers supported by CSOs that brought to the public’s attention the horrific story of a systematic practice of extrajudicial executions by the army of ordinary citizens. The story is macabre, the Army placed adverts in poor areas of the cities about work in other regions of the country. When the young people arrived for work, they were shot, dressed in combat gear, and recorded as a guerrilla killed in combat. Army personnel received bonuses for the number of people they killed in combat under the presidency of Álvaro Uribe Velez. This modus operandi of the killing of innocent civilians is called “*Falsos Positivos*” (False Positives). [11]

During the government of the former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez a system of rewards for the “death or capture” of leaders, members of guerrilla groups, heads of criminal gangs and terrorists was initiated. [12] The UN Special Rapporteur reports that ‘one soldier explained how a killing by his unit would be rewarded with 15 days’ vacation. When important holidays approached, he stated, soldiers would attempt to “earn” vacation time.’ [13] Significantly, members of the military were provided with various incentives to kill, not only vacation time, but also for medals and promotions. [14]

With the obsession of showing military results against the insurgency, massive and systematic practices of human rights violations were generated. These were associated with the government’s priority of carrying out a counterinsurgency project and resolving the internal armed conflict exclusively by military means. Considering it important to defeat the guerrilla militarily led to an intense militarisation of society and the State developing authoritarian security policies that generated violations of the rights to life, liberty and individual security, of millions of Colombians, including millions who were forcibly displaced.

One of the saddest truths of the false positives episode was the process of deception experienced by the thousands of victims who went in search of work to support themselves and their families or were simply going about their everyday lives. In addition, several people extrajudicially executed had cognitive disabilities, mental illnesses and other physical ailments that did not match the army’s description of them as rebels who were constantly fighting against the civilian population and military squads. [15]

The killings of civilians to be presented as members of illegal armed actors killed in combat (false positives), are also being observed by the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, in a case created in 2004, against the Colombian state.

The whole truth about false positives has not yet been told. There are still many cases to be solved, many truths to be known and many people to admit and tell the truth about the known victims and those who remain anonymous. The demand made by the families to the judicial bodies. Current sentences for the military are minimal and many have not yet shown their desire to participate in the clarification of the truth, to submit themselves to justice, to provide reparation. Guarantees of non-repetition for the victims, is that the cases of false positives are not forgotten and that those most responsible at the highest levels of the armed forces are indicted on charges related to these killings.

[1] JEP, ‘La JEP hace pública la estrategia de priorización dentro del Caso 03, conocido como el de falsos positivos’, 2021, https://www.jep.gov.co:443/Sala-de-Prensa/Paginas/La-JEP-hace-p%C3%BAblica-la-estrategia-de-priorizaci%C3%B3n-dentro-del-Caso-03,-conocido-como-el-de-falsos-positivos.aspx.

[2] Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, ‘Sitio web de la Comisión Colombiana de Juristas’, COLJURISTAS.ORG (blog) (Área de Gestión Documental, 2021), Colombia, http://coljuristas.org/nuestro\_quehacer/item.php?id=463.

[3] Juristas.

[4] Juristas.

[5] ‘Caso 003: Muertes ilegítimamente presentadas como bajas en combate por agentes del Estado o “falsos positivos”’, Rodeemos el Diálogo (blog), 21 January 2020, https://rodeemoseldialogo.org/caso-003-muertes-ilegitimamente-presentadas-como-bajas-en-combate-por-agentes-del-estado-o-falsos-positivos/.

[6] Human Rights Watch, ‘El rol de los altos mandos en falsos positivos’, Human Rights Watch (blog), 2015, https://www.hrw.org/es/report/2015/06/23/el-rol-de-los-altos-mandos-en-falsos-positivos/evidencias-de-responsabilidad-de.

[7] Colombian Commission of Jurists, JEP reconoce la magnitud de los ´falsos positivos´, February 2021

[8] Juristas, ‘Sitio web de la Comisión Colombiana de Juristas’.

[9] Colombian Commission of Jurists, JEP reconoce la magnitud de los ´falsos positivos´, February 2021

[10] Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, ‘Sitio web de la Comisión Colombiana de Juristas’, COLJURISTAS.ORG (blog) (Área de Gestión Documental, 2021), Colombia, http://coljuristas.org/nuestro\_quehacer/item.php?id=463.

[11] Comision de la Verdad, ‘“Queremos una verdad completa y profunda”: madres de víctimas de falsos positivos’, 2018, https://comisiondelaverdad.co/actualidad/noticias/queremos-una-verdad-completa-y-profunda-madres-de-victimas-de-falsos-positivos.

[12] Diana Salinas, ‘Falsos positivos: un horror en busca de justicia’, Cuestión Pública (blog), 18 December 2019, https://cuestionpublica.com/falsos-positivos-horror-busca-justicia/.

[13] UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alton, https://reliefweb.int/node/355857/ para 27

[14] UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alton, https://reliefweb.int/node/355857/ para 27

[15] Salinas, ‘Falsos positivos’.