Mothers of Soacha seek justice for army killings

A Colombian army colonel convicted of murdering civilians in the infamous ‘False Positives’ programme has appeared before Colombia’s transitional justice court, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), to testify over extrajudicial executions committed by state security forces.

Colonel Gabriel de Jesús Rincón Amado is serving a 46-year sentence over the murders of five young men from Soacha, near Bogota, in 2008. The five were lured by fake job offers before being abducted and killed by the army. Soldiers then dressed the victims in guerrilla fatigues and presented them as combat kills. It is believed that thousands of people were murdered this way during the 2000s.

Families of the dead men hope that the current trial – the third case to be heard by the JEP, which was created under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement – will uncover the extent of state complicity in the False Positives programme and hold those responsible to account. Human rights organisation the Mothers of Soacha, which has met with Justice for Colombia delegations on several occasions, was formed in response to the atrocities.

The JEP was established to determine the truth about Colombia’s long armed conflict. In return for testimony, human rights violators are offered lighter sentences. Those who do not testify before the JEP and are found guilty of serious human rights violations face more severe punishments.

Despite the JEP’s importance to the peace process, and to the challenge of national reconciliation following decades of conflict, it has faced repeated challenges in the political establishment, particularly from members of the governing Democratic Centre party. In a major setback to the peace process, on 10 March President Iván Duque announced a series of objections to the JEP which will return it to Congress for debate, even though it was previously ratified by the Constitutional Court. Duque’s party was founded by current senator and former president Alvaro Uribe, under whose administration the False Positives programme took place.  

Other cases under JEP review include the recruitment of minors into armed groups, kidnapping and the genocide of the left-wing Patriotic Union (UP) political party, which emerged from the 1984 peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC. This ultimate case refers to the extermination campaign in which security forces and state-backed paramilitaries murdered thousands of UP members during the 1980s and 1990s.