Colombia: The JEP imputes war crimes and crimes against humanity to the military for 303 extrajudicial executions

Óscar Parra, Eduardo Cifuentes and Belkis Izquierdo, magistrates of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), in Bogotá, on July 25, 2022.
Óscar Parra, Eduardo Cifuentes and Belkis Izquierdo, magistrates of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), in Bogotá, on July 25, 2022.JEP

As a criminal organization that planned, executed and covered up the murder of innocent people to present them as “combat casualties” by State agents. This is how the alliance between members of the Army’s XVI Brigade, the former Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and civilian third parties that participated in the murder of 303 victims of so-called “false positives” in Casanare, in eastern Colombia, worked. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace charged war crimes and crimes against humanity to 22 members of the Army, the former sectional director of the former DAS in that department and two civilians allegedly involved in crimes of this nature committed between 2005 and 2008.

The victims, including women, older adults and people with disabilities, were equipped with weapons, ammunition and false clothing to make them pass as alleged guerrillas or criminals killed in clashes with the Public Force. Those involved gave it the name of “legalization kit.” “Among the documented crimes there are victims killed in a situation of total defenselessness.

The recruiters encouraged them to drink alcohol or take drugs. Specific profiles were also selected, such as the elderly, people with cognitive deficiencies or people in search of opportunities,” explained the JEP. “Under these circumstances, there was no resistance from the victims who were taken to the place of execution. The Chamber also found practices of extreme violence that reflect situations of mistreatment prior to the murders,” added Judge Óscar Parra.

Most of those killed were men between the ages of 18 and 25. However, nine women also appear, one of them pregnant, two who were sex workers and a young man with a diverse sexual orientation. “These were not isolated or spontaneous acts. There were specific forms of violence and cruelty, due to particular situations of vulnerability and social prejudice that made them the target of crimes,” said Parra, rapporteur of the case. For the first time, the JEP charges the crime against humanity of persecution for reasons of gender, as well as the war crime of using children and adolescents for involving minors under 18 as recruiters or those in charge of participating in the deception that led to the death of some of the victims.

This is how the alliance operated in Casanare

“In the XVI Brigade, a complex criminal organization was implanted that used the institutional architecture of the Army to present murders and forced disappearances as casualties in combat in Casanare,” indicates the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The false results increased under the command of retired Major General Henry William Torres, one of the defendants.

This organization worked in the form of a network with sub-organizations and a role system based on the specialty of the military. “To achieve this, they used the structure, functions, resources and dependencies of the military unit and, in the case of Casanare, also of the defunct DAS that used special groups as instruments,” the JEP statement said. “The members of the former DAS participated in the production of intelligence information to give the appearance of legality to the actions and in the execution of the events. In several cases they even murdered the victims,” the document adds. Supposed extortionists, for example, were presented as combat casualties. The DAS, a state agency that was in charge of Intelligence and Counterintelligence in Colombia, was suppressed in 2011.

The cover-up of the murders contemplated a series of strategies identified by the court: the operational documents were prepared after the events and included information that gave them a cloak of legality, the victims were reported as unidentified to hinder prosecution, the bodies were transferred by the military without the presence of the judicial police, and the victims were equipped with weapons, ammunition and clothing to pass them off as combatants. It was the so-called “legalization kit”.

According to the JEP, there were two policies that led to the configuration of this criminal pattern. One of them was “the will to annihilate the stigmatized population or demobilized people in the process of reinsertion for alleged links to insurgent groups or criminality.” The second consisted of a system of pressures and incentives. “Among others, the members of the XVI Brigade received permits, special meals, vacation plans, training courses abroad or the transfer to the Colombia Battalion No. 3 in Sinai and recognition to have the necessary conditions for promotion.” Threats were also presented to those who refused to participate in these crimes.

In addition, it was possible to detect that more than 140 million pesos (about 32,000 dollars), from public resources, were used to finance criminal actions. These resources, originally oriented to the anti-extortion and anti-kidnapping fight of the Gaula (Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty), “were destined to finance the recruiters, give them money for their displacement and buy weapons to implant the victims.”

The murder of the 303 people occurred in 218 events in Casanare, some municipalities of Boyacá, Meta and in Tame (Arauca), in the east of the country. These crimes constituted almost two thirds of the results reported by that military unit at the time of the events, at the end of the first presidency of Álvaro Uribe Vélez and half of his second term.

“Because of the disappearance and death of their loved ones, the victims faced moral, psychological and physical damage. They suffered from depression, anxiety, hallucinations with their relatives and even suicidal intentions, “said Judge Belkis Izquierdo. The crimes also caused the breakdown of family nuclei and the displacement of all or some of its members. Stigmatization, re-victimization and threats are other invisible consequences of “false positives”.

what’s coming

In addition to retired Major General Henry William Torres Escalante, two colonels (Wilson Camargo Tamayo and Cipriano Peña Chivatá), three lieutenant colonels (Germán Alberto León Durán, Henry Hernán Acosta Pardo and Marcolino Puerto Jiménez), and 10 other officers were also charged. in addition to 6 non-commissioned officers, the former sectional director of the late DAS, Orlando Rivas Tovar, and two third-party civilian recruiters. Of those investigated, Captain Miguel Andrés Sierra García and Second Sergeant Faiber Alberto Amaya Ruiz are still active.

This is the third imputation of the prioritized territories within the investigation carried out by the JEP for false positives. This process seeks to clarify and prosecute the crimes committed by State agents who would have presented more than 6,400 Colombians as alleged guerrillas killed in combat.

After being notified, the defendants will have 30 working days to acknowledge their responsibility or reject the imputation. Once the term has expired, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will decide whether to set a date to hold a public hearing to recognize these crimes, as has already happened in the cases of Norte de Santander and the Caribbean coast. If those appearing deny their participation in the crimes, the JEP Investigation Unit will take over the trial. They could face up to 20 years in prison.

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