RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Special Court for Peace (JEP) today charged two colonels and 13 more military personnel for 127 murders and forced disappearances in the Colombian Caribbean region, in the second indictment in the case of executions of civilians known as “false positives”, for which last week it already charged 10 Army personnel and one civilian.
“The JEP charges another 15 members of the Army with war crimes and crimes against humanity for false positives on the Caribbean coast: two colonels, six officers, four non-commissioned officers, and three soldiers from the La Popa Battalion (based in Valledupar, in the northeast),” said Magistrate Oscar Parra.
The JEP again found “patterns of macro-criminality” in the army’s actions and alliances with paramilitary groups to lure innocent young men and kill them to present them as downed guerrillas and thus inflate the figures of “combat deaths” and obtain rewards and incentives from their superiors.
“These events would not have occurred without alliances with members of paramilitary groups and without a set of incentives, threats, and pressures that the commanders exerted on their subordinates to increase reported combat deaths,” the SJP considered.
ATTACKS AGAINST INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
Lieutenant colonels Publio Hernán Mejía and Juan Carlos Figueroa Suárez, as well as the rest of those implicated, were declared most responsible and charged with the crimes of homicide of protected persons and forced disappearance, crimes against humanity of murder and forced disappearance of persons and the war crime of homicide.
“The chamber determined that there was a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population in relation to these events,” said Judge Parra, who added that in this context of the Caribbean region, they demonstrated that “the Wiwa and Kankuamo indigenous peoples suffered particularly serious, differentiated and disproportionate harm by the actions of this military unit.”
Thus, these fifteen alleged perpetrators “were part of a criminal organization that was formed in the military unit and through which a widespread and large-scale conduct was deployed to present fictitious operational results in which people killed in a defenseless state by members of the Army or paramilitaries” of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) were presented as combat casualties.
Of all the murders, 75 occurred under the command of Hernán Mejía, who was already convicted by the ordinary justice system in 2013 for links to paramilitarism precisely because of cases related to “false positives,” and 52 under Figueroa Suárez, who has not appeared at the JEP’s summons.
In addition, 58 of these crimes were investigated by the ordinary justice system and 13 by the military, and around 280 members of the Army were involved. Still, there were only 14 convictions for five of these acts, and only seven were executed.
On July 6, this transitional body, which arose from the peace agreement with the FARC, decided to indict eleven military personnel and one civilian for their “decisive participation in the murder of at least 120 people in a state of defenselessness” in the region of Catatumbo, in the department of Norte de Santander, crimes perpetrated between January 2007 and August 2008, in addition to 24 other forced disappearances.
Among the eleven accused are Brigadier General Paulino Coronado Gámez, who was the commander of Brigade 30, and two colonels, Santiago Herrera Fajardo and Rubén Darío Castro Gómez, who were commanders of Mobile Brigade No. 15.
This second-order -of at least six- is part of the case 03 of the “false positives” and renamed as “Assassinations and forced disappearances presented as combat casualties by State agents”, where 1,043 victims have been accredited to date, of which 658 are women, in what was one of the darkest chapters of the Colombian armed conflict and which involves some 1,500 military personnel.
Last February, the JEP raised to 6,402 the number of people who “were illegitimately killed to be presented as combat casualties throughout the national territory between 2002 and 2008”, which corresponds to the government of Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010).
The JEP does not impose custodial sentences if there is an acknowledgment of responsibility for the crimes, but otherwise, those responsible may be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
If the accused acknowledge responsibility and provide truth, special sanctions will be imposed, such as limitations on freedom of residence and movement, the performance of work to repair the victims and society, for example, the construction of schools or roads, or participation in environmental promotion programs.