By Rafael Barrios Mendivil, Confidencial Colombia, July 25, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
So far this year, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) has issued three important decisions in Case 03, which deals with the killings illegitimately presented as “combat kills”) by government agents, or the misnamed “false positives.”
The first one, Order 033, issued February 12 (press release 019, issued February 18), evaluated the magnitude of the extrajudicial executions, making it clear that there were more than 6,000, and established the strategy for prosecuting those cases, as I reported in my column “False Positives Scrutinized by the JEP” on March 8, 2021.
The second one, Order 125, issued July 2 (press release 071, issued July 6), investigated the false positives committed in the Catatumbo region, in the northeastern part of Norte de Santander Province. The Order attributed responsibility for 140 cases to ten individuals, including a number of high-ranking members of the military, a Brigadier General, two Colonels, and two Lieutenant Colonels, members of the Santander Infantry Battalion and the 15th Mobile Brigade.
In the third one, Order 128, issued April 12 (press release 077, issued July 15), the Investigation Branch pinpointed the acts and events in the Carribbean Coast sub-case on the illegal military practices of the La Popa Battalion in Valledupar, which took place between January 9, 2002, and July 9, 2005. The Order charged Colonel Publio Hernán Mejía, his successor, Colonel Juan Carlos Figueroa, and 13 soldiers, with more than 126 murders and 120 forced disappearances.
The JEP found two patterns of extrajudicial killings in the La Popa Battalion. In one of them, they would justify the murder of people alleged to belong to or be helpers of the guerrillas, or of being outlaws. They did that, mostly, in collaboration with paramilitary groups or with guidance from those groups. In the other pattern, “some members of the Unit would pick out citizens in different marginal economic and social situations to be killed, disappeared, and presented as supposed “combat kills”.
The JEP also documented injuries that were “serious, differentiated, and disproportionate” to the victims that were Wiwa and Kankuamo indigenous people in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. Among the 127 murders, nine victims were Kankuamo men and three were Wiwa young people; that even included a 13-year-old girl who was pregnant.
The JEP’s prosecution strategy has been to begin from the bottom and lead to the top. They began with the regional cases, such as in Catatumbo and the Carribbean Coast in Valledupar, and to establish the national responsibilities later on.
All of these judicial decisions, which are readily accessible, share the same merit. By means of rigorous comparisons of differing sources, testimony by demobilized fighters and former members of the military, testimony by victims, investigative reports by the Attorney General’s Office and civil society organizations, and others, the JEP reconstructs, as has not been done earlier by any judicial entity, the magnitude of these crimes, their impact on the victims and their families, and the evidence supporting the responsibility of those charged. It has revealed the dynamics that nurtured these crimes, and how they turned into systematic attacks against the population, which is why they have been identified as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On the basis of the first Order, the United States Ambassador to Colombia, Philip Goldberg, expressed his support for the JEP in the weekend of February 27 in Bogotá when he met with the President of the JEP, Eduardo Cifuentes Muñoz, to talk about the system.
On March 31, it was recognized in the United States annual human rights report, which highlighted the JEP for its effective actions “to place responsibility on the perpetrators of serious violations of international human rights law.” The report stressed the progress made in Case 03 on “false positives” committed by the First, Second, Fourth, and Seventh Divisions of the Colombian Army, alluding to Order 033.
On May 11, the United Nations (ONU) Security Council, by a unanimous vote, supported the special sanctions that the JEP will impose, and ordered that the UN Verification Mission support the monitoring of compliance with the special sanctions. The President of the JEP praised the decision and stated that this opens a new chapter at the international level, as it confirms the connection between the transitional justice system and the system of justice that contains a strong restorative justice component. This is the basis for effective sanctions that join not just restorative but also retributive elements.
After that, on July 2, the UN Security Council once again supported the JEP’s decision and praised its progress in the prosecutions for the killing of young people by the Colombian Army so they could present them as guerrillas killed in combat. Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Secretary General’s Special Rapporteur and the chief of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, said that this was “a highlight in the Colombian peace process and a benchmark for transitional justice.”
This recognition by powerful actors shows that the JEP is consolidating its credibility and legitimacy in the international environment. It is putting flesh on the bones of the claims that have been made from the beginning by Colombian officials who were praising the Colombian transitional justice model designed by the Peace Agreements of 2016.
Certain Colombian actors have not received the JEP decisions with praise. The Colombian Association of Retired Military Officers (ACORE in Spanish) insisted on July 6 that the JEP decision to charge officers and noncommissioned officers with war crimes and crimes against humanity, made the mistake of blaming the whole institution with a “generalized and systematic attack against the civilian population. But, on the contrary, we believe that identifying with names and surnames of the former soldiers responsible for the crimes, avoids a generalized accusation against the entire military establishment.
On July 18, Justice Eduardo Cifuentes reiterated that the Branch has established that the crimes were not committed in isolated manners, and that the decisions on the so-called “false positives” demonnstrate the environment suffered by the people what were the victims of this scourge.
Numerous members of the military deceived and murdered their victims. There are 6,402 cases of false positives. It’s welcome that the JEP is making progress in individualizing the responsibility of those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity after so many years, when other legal systems failed to do it—if they had ever tried.
Note: From the JEP orders, it’s easy to understand that there were mercenaries and hit men that came out of the Army, sold themselves for money, and have gone to foreign countries to carry out acts that offend the conscience of humanity.
 Readers can see the texts of the Orders on the JEP web site at https://relatoria.jep.gov.co/salareconoauto