Up to twelve children reportedly killed in military assault

The Colombian government is under renewed scrutiny over its human rights record following unconfirmed reports that twelve children were killed in a military bombing raid carried out against an alleged armed group in Guaviare, southern Colombia, on 2 March.

The reported victims were aged between nine and 16 years old, according to human rights activists. On 10 March, authorities confirmed that a 16-year-old had been killed in the operation and that two other bodies were awaiting identification. The government-run Forensics Service said eight dead people had been identified, of whom the rest were adults. Two 19-year-olds were among the confirmed fatalities.

However, a number of public figures said most of the victims were children. Journalist and former Bogota councellor Hollman Morris tweeted ‘The bodies of the children who died in the bombardment Jonathan Sánchez Zambrano, 15 years old, Sebastián Andrés Varón Rojas, 16, Dana Lizet Montilla, 16, are in the Villavicencio morgue.’ In a separate tweet, Morris said two girls injured in the attack were in hospital.

Senator Gustavo Petro, who was runner-up to Iván Duque in the 2018 presidential election, posted a list of names on Twitter, writing ’14 children killed [including the two 19-year-olds] in a bombardment ordered by the Minister of Defence. These are their names. End the war, end the genocide of children in our country.’

The military said it had conducted the operation against a faction of so-called ‘dissidents’. Last week, defence minister Diego Molano said the operation had killed ten members of the armed group and captured three more. He later revised the number of dead to twelve, with five captured.

Following the reports of child fatalities, Molano said that the armed group aimed to ‘recruit young people to convert them into war machines.’ He also claimed the military’s ‘legitimate operation’ complied with international humanitarian law.

The incident has raised concerns over a repeat of the military raid in Caquetá in August 2019 which killed at least eight minors, with some of the victims reportedly chased down and killed by soldiers after surviving the initial bombardment. Despite knowing the identity of victims, the Defence Ministry did not release details until three months later. A public outcry over the killings and several other human rights scandals involving the military forced the resignation of then-defence minister Guillermo Botero.