The Colombian military carried out at least 6,400 extrajudicial killings and presented them as combat deaths between 2002 and 2008, a number significantly higher than previously estimated, a special court said on Thursday.
The Court, called the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, examines crimes and atrocities committed during half a century of armed conflict between government forces and the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC), Marxist rebels who laid down their arms following a historic peace agreement in 2016.
The tribunal, set up under the peace agreement, described the killings as “illegal deaths portrayed as fatalities in the fight”, which in military circles are known as “false positives”.
Until last year, the prosecution had recognized 2,249 executions of civilians between 1988 and 2014 – the majority of which were carried out between 2006 and 2008 during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, the political mentor of current President Ivan Duque.
Although the military commander has always denied that there was a systematic policy of declaring “false positives”, some soldiers and officials have told the court that they were put under pressure by superiors to inflate the success of their military operations against rebels.
General Mario Montoya, then an army commander, is the highest-ranking military figure to testify before the court.
Although witnesses blame him for the murder, Montoya denies that he ordered the execution of civilians.
There are 2140 military personnel currently under investigation for extrajudicial killings, which is less than one percent of the total number of troops working in the army at the time, Montoya’s lawyer Andres Garzon told AFP 2020.
“It shows that there was never a directive for the army to commit such atrocities,” he said.
The court is investigating the worst rights violations committed by guerrillas, paramilitaries and soldiers during the conflict.
Those who acknowledge responsibility and compensate the victims can avoid jail time, but those who do not receive up to 20 years in prison.
However, the court has not yet convicted anyone since it was set up in 2018.
It is said that most of the killings took place in the northwestern Antioquia ward where soldiers and right-wing paramilitaries fought with left-wing rebels.
It said the Army IV Brigade, which operated in the region, “could be responsible for 73 percent of the deaths identified in the department between 2000 and 2013.”
Some remains of victims have been found in a cemetery in Antioquia thanks to statements from members of the security forces, but the court said they “have not been investigated.”
According to Tania Parra, a lawyer representing soldiers who have confessed, Thursday’s report shows that there was “involvement” by the authorities “to conceal” the murders.
But she told AFP that while many investigations are underway, “either there are no results or … they are cleared.”
At least 20 of the 219 security forces who have testified before the court receive protection after threats.