The tribunal investigating crimes committed during internal conflicts in Colombia revealed on Thursday (18) that at least 6,402 civilians had been murdered by soldiers in the country between 2002 and 2008.
The army recorded these deaths as a result of fighting, but according to the courts, they were in fact extrajudicial executions.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a body created by the 2016 peace agreement that ended the confrontation between the Colombian state and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), investigating crimes committed in over half a century of conflict.
The court had access to the archives of the attorney general’s office, which indicated that 2,248 people had been murdered by the military during the period analyzed.
With the update, the death toll, known in military parlance as “false positives,” nearly tripled. The revelation that the military rigged the numbers and killed innocent people – mostly peasants or residents of small rural towns, including locals and children – sparked a scandal in the country.
Although military leaders have always denied that extrajudicial killings were a systematic practice, soldiers and officers told the peace court that they had committed “false positives” to increase their operational results under pressure from their superiors.
In response to an uncompromising security campaign, which was part of the policy of then-President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), the armed forces distributed cash prizes, promotions and other benefits to officers who were very effective in eliminating guerrillas.
To receive these awards, military personnel set traps inside the country. But instead of guerrillas, civilians were killed and dressed as fighters in scenarios set up to simulate conflict.
In 2008, however, a similar operation in Soacha, near Bogotá, was unmasked. Relatives of 19 murdered youths denounced the soldiers responsible for the deaths of the boys, showing evidence that they were not part of armed organizations.
Since then, hundreds of similar complaints have emerged.
In 2020, the prosecution had recognized only 2,249 murders of civilians committed by soldiers between 1988 and 2014, including 59% between 2006 and 2008, under the Uribe government. According to JEP, most of the crimes took place in the Antioquia department in the northwest of the country, where the army and far-right paramilitary groups were fighting the rebels.
In August last year, Uribe was placed under house arrest, but released two months later – accused of supporting the paramilitaries against the guerrillas, encouraging the practice of so-called “false positives”.
It is no coincidence that he and his political godson, the current president, Iván Duque, were against the peace agreement – negotiated and approved under the administration of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) – and the installation of a special court to investigate human rights violations committed during this period on their own.