EL ESPECTADOR, October 1, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

That’s the report of a detailed investigation of 111 cases of the wrongly named “false positives” that were carried out between 2002 and 2003 by solders of that military unit. It was known as “most effective” within the Colombian Army in Chocó and Antioquia. The report was turned over to the JEP by collectives of victims and social organizations.

According to statistics from the Defense Ministry, between 2002 and 2003, the Armed Forces reported 4,142 persons killed in combat.  At that time, they said that the dead bodies were those of guerrillas killed in battle. Actually, the 4th Brigade of the Army was one of the tactical units that emphasized its crackdown, being the one with the highest number of “kills” in combat presented in that period. So much so that it was known as the “most effective”, and so a major portion of Plan Colombia funds were invested in the 4th Brigade during the administration of Andrés Pastrana and later with the democratic security policy of Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

That’s what’s stated in the report titled “The ‘most effective’ Brigade; the crimes of the fourth brigade under democratic security and Plan Colombia (2002-2003)”. The report was turned over this Thursday to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and was made available to Colombia 2020. In the document, nine human rights organizations condemn the 111 cases of extrajudicial executions, in which 232 unarmed civilians who had nothing to do with the war were murdered. These murders of protected individuals, the technical name of the crime, were committed by soldiers attached to the 12 battalions of this Brigade, charged with ensuring the safety of 127 municipalities in Chocó and Antioquia between 2002 and 2003.

According to the Observatory of Human Rights and Coordination of International Humanitarian Law—Colombia—United States, this Brigade carried out 21.8% of the cases of the wrongly named “false positives” committed in the whole country. Because of that, the prestige of this military unit began to decline in 2007, when campesino families started to file complaints when they found out that their loved ones had been wrongly presented as killed in combat, accused of being guerrillas. From that time until 2015, the social organizations started investigating to find out what was going on, especially because the murders of campesinos in rural areas of Antioquia, principally in the eastern part of the province, were not stopping.

The Observatory of Human Rights, which was quoted in the report, states that the 4th Brigade was the military unit that committed the most crimes of this type between 2002 and 2007 in those two provinces of the country. And not only in rural areas, but also in the urban centers. In the working class neighborhoods of Medellín, for example, the report documented the murder of young men who were later presented as militia or collaborators with the guerrillas.

In the first two years of Democratic Security, the collectives report, 59 people were murdered by the battalions of the 4th Brigade, commanded by General Mario Montoya, who today is being held to account before the JEP within Case 03, which the Court is pursuing, entitled Deaths Illegally Presented as Being Killed in Combat. The high-ranking military at that time, in order to evaluate the performance of their troops, had profiled the units in a Top 10 according to the number of “kills” that they had presented as killed in combat.

How do the cases in the 4th Brigade compare with the national statistics? How many cases of extrajudicial execution of the 4,342 complained of were killed in combat? Who and where were the victims? These are some of the questions that the Weaving Memories Collective and Strategic Litigation Space* are formulating and trying to answer in the report.

The Findings

According to the investigation of the 232 civilians that were presented as combat “kills”, 20 were women and 395 were men. “There are at least 40 minors that were executed at the hands of the Army and 32 of the victims have still not been identified,” states the document. Among those cases were Erika Viviana Castañeda, 13 years old, and Deisy Johana Carmona Usme, 16. They were invited to a party in the town (vereda) of El Silencio in the municipality of San Rafael. The one that offered to take them there on that March 9, 2002 was Parmenio de Jesús Usme García, a paramilitary belonging to the Metro Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), who was driving a dump truck.

Parmenio picked up three more men: Nelson Alfredo López Hernández, 21 years old, Jhon Jairo Hincapié Ciro, 25, and Yobani Uribe Noreña, 19. When they passed the Las Balsas bridge, near the town (vereda) of El Jordán, around 5:00 p.m., a group of soldiers attached to the Colonel Jorge Eduardo Sánchez Rodríguez Artillery Battalion Number 4, known as BAJES, fired indiscriminately into the vehicle. The impacts killed all of the occupants except Parmenio.

“The soldiers dressed the bodies in camouflage uniforms and planted weapons on them to present them to the press on March 10, 2002, as members of the 9th Front of the FARC-EP, killed in combat in Operation Minerva Number 033 on March 8, 2002, as signed by Colonel Julio Alberto Novoa Ruiz, Commander of the Tactical Unit,” reads the report. Years later, the former paramilitary, in testimony furnished to the prosecutors of Peace and Justice in Medellín, said that they were civilians.

El BAJES was part of the five battalions that reported the most cases of extrajudicial executions within the 4th Brigade, according to the investigation by the social organizations. El BAJES, located in Medellín, is actually in first place, with 69 victims; in second place is the Juan del Corral Mechanized Cavalry Group No. 4, headquartered in a the rural part of Rio Negro, with 20 victims; Granaderos Counterguerrilla Battalion No.4 is in third place, with 14 victims; fourth is the Colonel Atanasio Girardot Infantry Battalion No.10, located in the Vista Hermosa neighborhood in Medellín, with 11 victims; and the General Pedro Justo Berrio Infantry Battalion No. 32, known as BIPE, and located in the municipality of Bello, is in fifth place.

“It’s necessary to emphasize that since the year 2000 until 2007, the 4th Brigade stayed in first place in the report of victims of extrajudicial executions. Ever since 1997 there have been numerous complaints about this garrison, which was held to be among the most noted for violations of the right to life. The implementation of the Democratic Security Policy shows increasing numbers of victims. Beginning in the year 2002, the rate of extrajudicial executions increased by 138% in relation to the immediately preceding year, with Antioquia being the province with the highest percentage of cases, with 26. That was 15% of all the executions committed by the Army in the whole country,” points out the investigation.

In at least 35 cases, the organizations maintain, you see a pattern of arbitrary retention of the victims by Colombian Army troops, “whether it was the place they lived, the home of a relative or a neighbor, working, doing errands, or on their way to another location.”

Different methods of selecting the victims are seen in the report. In some, notes the report, they used selection. In one case for example, you see the selection of the victim through an informant. They also used recruitment as a method. “It’s important to emphasize that the use of recruiters in the practice of extrajudicial executions at a national level was not repeated in the years 2002 and 2003. It was only in later years that they started using that method repeatedly, and it’s possible that the 4th Brigade was the pioneer in using that criminal method, says the document.

The recruiter was the person that had been hired by the Colombian Army personnel to co-opt people by making them a deceptive offer of a job opportunity with a high salary in a distant place, so they could later be executed extrajudicially and presented as guerrillas killed in combat. This scheme was best known with the wrongly named “positives” in Soacha (Cundinamarca Province).

“For the commission of extrajudicial executions, the soldiers transported their victims before and after taking their lives. Forty-nine victims were taken to places different from where they had been seized, to avoid witnesses to the killing and to facilitate the simulation of combat. The lifeless body of the victim was taken to a different part of the same municipality or to another municipality. That was done with at least 77 victims,” reads the report that was furnished to the JEP.

One of the cases took place on August 19, 2002. John Alexander Oliveros Marín , 20 years old, was at a party with some friends in the LA Torre sector in the Olaya Herrera neighborhood in Ward 7-Robledo in Medellín.  Some soldiers from the Halcyon Platoon, commanded by CT. Julián Ernesto Cadena Castillo, attached to AFEUR 5, arrived at the party. They starting asking everybody at the party for their identity papers.

The soldiers seized several people, including John Alexander. Some of them were let go, but he didn’t have the same luck. The young man was taken to an unpopulated place in the sector, known as Two Towers, where they killed him arbitrarily. Later he was presented by the Commander of the Cadena Castillo Patrol in a patrol report as an unidentified person.

In order to transfer the victims to the locations of the supposed combat, they have used self-propelled, buses, and even military helicopters (nine cases would corroborate air transportation). And to hide their identity and so they would not be recognized by their families or people living nearby, as happened with John Alexander, the organizations point out that “the soldiers reported the civilians as Unidentified Persons (PNI) and that’s the way that many of them were buried.” At least 115 of the victims were presented as PNI, and 32 of those still have not been identified.

Who were the victims? The document reveals that the majority of the civilians were campesinos, although there was also a significant number of young men from Medellín: among the cases analyzed in this report, eastern Antioquia is the subregion with the most victims reported, with 97 persons. Medellín comes in second with 47 persons.

The soldiers had reported them as members of insurgent groups. “45 people were said to belong to the FARC, 23 to the ELN, and 20 were supposedly members of the AUC. In addition, 6 of the victims were presented as bandits and one as an unidentified guerrilla.”

The victims were dressed in camouflage outfits and they planted weapons and equipment that they reported as having been captured. “49 people were dressed in military uniforms, and in the murder of 80 people, the soldiers scattered weapons and military equipment around the crime scene.”

The account calls attention to the fact that many of these cases could have happened as part of the Marcial or North Marcial operations, ordered on March 8, 2003 by the Commander of the 4th Brigade, Mario Montoya Uribe, to roll out troops in eastern Antioquia after March 10 and fight the insurgent groups. The one that headed that rollout was Lieutenant Colonel Humberto Sánchez Rey, commander of the Juan del Corral Mechanized Cavalry Group No. 4.

According to what the Brigade itself reported to the Inspector General’s Office, in 19 municipalities in the east there were “163 battles; 212 people were killed up to January 9, 2004. Of these 212, six were reported as deaths of members of paramilitary groups in three events.” The organizations, and even the Colombia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner  for Human Rights, reported that at this period the worst human rights violations were in Antioquia, because of the Army, but also because of the Army’s relation with the paramilitaries. The report delivered to the JEP documents that in that operation there were 27 victims of extrajudicial executions presented as “results”.

More cases were presented with the militarization of Medellín in 2002. A large part of the urban operation happened in the western center of the city, specifically, in the neighborhoods located in Ward 7-Robledo and Ward 13 –San Javier. Even though there were also military in the east, especially in the neighborhoods of Ward 1-Popular, Ward 3-Manrique, Ward 2-Santa Cruz, and Ward 9-Buenos Aires. The country found out about several of these operations, such as Orión, where 95 people disappeared.

The Province of Chocó also experienced these events. The collectives protested that there had been 12 cases of extrajudicial executions in the period covered by the report. These cases were located in the Atrato region and in the San Juan region.

The soldiers were rewarded for the extrajudicial executions with awards and days off. The officers got medals and promotions and the military units received “messages directed to public opinion about an effective force that was winning the war.”

The organizations are convinced that in order to have the orders dispersed to the troops, it was necessary to have them sent out by the officers that made up the different sections of the Tactical Units and the fourth Brigade, that means by the command staffs of the military units. “The top brass of each battalion was in charge of dispersing the orders for operations rendered by the Brigade to the companies, and from them to the platoons.”

To gather all of the information in the report. The collectives consulted decisions in criminal proceedings, including decisions by the Criminal Branch of the Supreme Court of Justice; sentences rendered in contested administrative proceedings, including decisions issued by the Council of State; pronouncements by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (CIDH); decisions of the Superior Board of Judges that adjudicates conflicts of jurisdiction; disciplinary findings by the Inspector General; reports of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights about the human rights situation in Colombia; ongoing investigations by the Attorney General’s Office; reports issued by national and international organizations of human rights defenders; information in the press and communications media, among others.

Up to now, in accordance with this review, the universe of cases only includes nine criminal conviction decisions, covering the murders of 16 victims. “That means that in only in 9.46% of the total number of murders that make up this report have the actual killers been punished.

Now the victims and their representatives before the JEP want to learn the truth that the JEP has examined about those that committed these crimes, and they want those responsible to provide an answer. That is why they are asking the JEP to summon the members of the battalions attached to the 4th Brigade in the period relevant to this report, as well as the members of every one of the patrols, platoons, and the noncommissioned officers that took part in the events that have been described. The great majority of them have been identified by the organizations.

Finally, the organizations want an admission that the 4th Brigade, the very one that was positioned as the “most efficient” in the whole country, reporting year to year “results”, that represented 20% of the “results” presented by all of the troops in the whole country, in reality was not a “model to emulate”, but rather one of the most heartbreaking chapters in Colombia’s armed conflict. And if its members don’t tell the truth about the crimes, the organizations ask that the JEP expel them.

* Strategic Litigation, which assembled this report, is made up of: Liberty Legal Corporation (CJL in Spanish), Yira Castro Legal Corporation (CJYC in Spanish), Current Humanity Legal Corporation (HVCJ in Spanish), José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective Corporation (CAJAR in Spanish), Minga Association, Committee in Solidarity With Political Prisoners Foundation (CSPP in Spanish), Colombian Jurists Commission (CCJ in Spanish), Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP in Spanish), the Fals Borda Socio-Legal Collective (COFB in Spanish), and Colombia, Europe, United States Coordination (CCEEU) in Spanish.

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