Colombian military murdered 6,402 civilians between 2002 and 2008

Colombian security forces murdered at least 6,402 civilians between 2002 and 2008 during the government of Álvaro Uribe, according to findings by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the transitional justice tribunal created in the 2016 peace agreement to investigate and prosecute major human rights violations in the armed conflict. The killings were committed while Colombia was receiving extensive military aid from the United States as part of the Plan Colombia agreement between the two countries.

The JEP case is formally titled ‘Deaths illegally presented as combat falls [kills]’, widely known as ‘False Positives’. Many victims were lured with fake job offers before being killed and dressed in guerrilla uniforms in order to imply success in the state’s counterinsurgency operations and in return for financial incentives. The JEP has yet to establish how high up the chain of command knowledge or involvement in the False Positives reaches.

The true scale of the abuses has not been confirmed but relatives of the victims and human rights organisations have long believed that a very high number were killed, with one former military official claiming more than 10,000 people had been murdered. The confirmed figure could still rise higher. The tally represents an almost threefold rise on the 2,248 victims documented by the Office of the Attorney General.

Around two-thirds of the killings were committed in ten of Colombia’s 32 departmental regions, with Antioquia, the Caribbean Coast, Norte de Santander, Huila, Casanare and Meta among the worst affected parts of the country. The figures have been compiled through data from different organisations and official institutions, while former military officials have also testified to the JEP.

The court’s investigation focused on six regional ‘sub-cases’ to establish the extent of military killings in each. A quarter of all the 2002-08 cases were carried out in Antioquia, with the army’s IV Brigade implicated in up to 73 per cent of cases. Last year, military officiales testified to the JEP over a mass grave in Antioquia’s Dabeiba zone, which led to the discovery of several people forcibly disappeared during the conflict.

The Caribbean departments of La Guajira and César also accounted respectively for four per cent and 7.3 per cent of documented victims, with most killings attributed to the Artillery Batallion No. 2, known as ‘La Popa’. The northeast department of Norte de Santander, and particularly its Catatumbo region, also saw a high number of cases. Huila saw at least 327 cases, while the region with the highest per capita rate was Casanare, with 12 killings per 100,000 people.

Many of the affected regions continue to see high levels of human rights violations today, as more than a thousand social activists have been killed since the signing of the peace agreement, according to national human rights organisations. Soldiers and security forces continue to be implicated in killings of civilians with recent state abuses in, among others, departments such as Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Cauca and Nariño.

With the JEP to continue its investigation, families of victims will be hoping to finally learn the truth about the deaths of their loved ones. Former president Uribe, under whose watch so many people were killed by the army, has rigorously opposed the JEP since its creation, while several politicans in Uribe’s Democratic Centre party have called for it to be abolished.