By Silvia Corredor Rodríguez, EL ESPECTADOR, May 6, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Strategic Litigation Space, composed of ten human rights organizations, on Thursday presented in Bogotá a report on the extrajudicial executions. The report asks that the JEP put under the microscope those they consider to be the most responsible: former Presidents Álvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos, and Retired Generals Mario Montoya, Fredy Padilla, and Óscar González.
“The report we are presenting, as ten human rights organizations, hopes to call the attention of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to those that were most responsible because of their senior levels in the government. They should be taken before the JEP for forced appearances, to be heard in voluntary testimony and so, after comparing their testimony with prior testimony and other evidence, the JEP can consider their level of participation in the design, implementation, diffusion, and continuing of the governmental policy that facilitated the commission of the extrajudicial executions.” That’s how the report, “They Knew, did they Give the Order? The Leap from the Principle of Distinction to Barbarism” begins. It was prepared by the Strategic Litigation Space, composed of ten Colombian human rights organizations that participate in and influence the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition.
The document was based on an exercise of comparison between the testimony of others who have appeared, files, and/or reports by the Attorney General’s Office, Inspector General’s Office, the Accusatory Penal System, the Observatory of Memory and Conflict at the National Center of Historical Memory, as well as Coordination Colombia, Europe United States (CCEEU).
The report was published last March 18 to the JEP’s Branch for the Recognition of Truth, Responsibility, and Determination of Conduct, in the framework of Case 03 on extrajudicial executions, also called “false positives”, but it was only presented to the public this Thursday. In the text, it states that ever since 2006, high-ranking military and civilian commanders were aware of the extrajudicial executions, the practice in which they murdered civilians to make them look like guerrillas killed in battle, and which cost the lives of 6,402 victims in the period from 2002 to 2008, according to the JEP’s findings.
In the list of those responsible proposed by the organizations of Strategic Litigation Space, so that they can be summoned by the JEP to furnish testimony about their responsibilities, knowledge, and omission, either voluntarily or as witnesses in this case, are Álvaro Uribe Vélez, President at the time of the executions, and his two Defense Ministers, Camilo Ospina Bernal and Juan Manuel Santos. Also Sergio Jaramillo Caro, former Vice Minister for human rights in the Defense Ministry, and one of the negotiators of the Peace Agreement. In the same manner, the former Commanders of the Colombian Army, Generals Fredy Padilla de León, Mario Montoya Uribe, and Óscar González Peña would appear, as well as Major Generals and former Inspectors in the Army Carlos Lemus Pedraza, and Carlos Orlando Quiroga Ferreira. Colonel Roberto Pico Hernández, the former Commander of the Pedro Nel Ospina Battalion is also mentioned.
The report also includes analysis of at least 50 public statements by President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. According to the organizations, his speeches of hatred and stigmatization, characteristic of the policy of Democratic Security, an insignia of his administration, sustained the development and persistence of the false positives. “Every time a policy of achieving security in Colombia by defeating terrorism would appear, just when the terrorists are starting to feel weakened, they immediately send out their speakers to talk about human rights. They have taken many of those criticisms from the FARC’s web site. They have neither shame nor limitations. They borrow books about rumor and slander in Europe. They know that slander is their only weapon, and they hide it hypocritically behind human rights,” says one of the phrases in the report and which makes up part of a speech by the former President when he was recognizing the Armed Forces in the José María Córdoba Cadet Military School on August 15, 2002.
One of the report’s principal conclusions is the direct relation between the increase in extrajudicial executions and the consolidation of the policy of Democratic Security, the hunt for successful results, which was the battle flag of the Uribe administration.
“We view the political use of the extrajudicial executions as serving to implement a perception of the triumph of military activity in the imagination of the Colombian people, military activity commanded by the President at the time, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who defined himself by ‘Democratic Security’ (2002 until 2010)”, explains the document.
For the Litigation Strategy Space, the objective of this report is to urge the JEP to focus on the responsibility of the people who by their leadership, autonomy, and degree of power, incentivized, motivated, and failed to punish or deter the extrajudicial executions or to punish anyone who participated at any level.
“It is necessary in order to be able to analyze whether or not there was any criminal responsibility in the people who at the time made up the command of the Armed Forces and the Colombian Army, to study the directives, circulars, and other documents that were issued at the time, and that in some manner conveyed the demand for operational results (combat kills) or stimulated their commission by using rewards such as decorations, leave permissions, promotions and other benefits, or simply the furnishing of basic survival provisions to soldiers in the countryside, conditioned on presenting results,” states the document.
The organizations also request that the information contained in the report “be copied, systematized, and compared” in order “to determine the elements that would sustain the responsibility of those who gave the orders or those who knowingly omitted to take action to stop those practices.”
The Strategic Litigation Space also asks that the JEP order interim equitable relief to protect the documentation used for the creation of the report, and to authorize judicial inspection of the Congressional Archive to have access to additional material on the complaints and statements about the extrajudicial executions between 2004 and 2008.
The report was presented barely a week after the JEP held its unprecedented hearing for the admission of responsibilities by the military for the “false positives”. In that proceeding, which lasted two days and took place in Ocaña, Norte de Santander, ten soldiers took part, including one General, and one civilian, all of whom admitted their responsibility for at least 120 individuals who were murdered and presented as “combat kills” between 2007 and 2008 in the Catatumbo region of that border department. They also admitted having created a “military organization to improve the ‘kill’ statistics,” and they begged pardon of the victims’ families.
Nevertheless, after listening to the testimonies for two days, the victims demanded more truth about the participation of the high-ranking military commanders, officials, and civilian third parties in these crimes.
Carmenza Gómez was the mother of Víctor Fernando Gómez Romero, who disappeared on August 23, 2008, and who turned up dead on August 25, 2008 in Ocaña. She was the first victim to speak at the hearings, and she insisted that the victims want the names of those behind the decisions that led to the extrajudicial executions. “They did terrible harm to us, to the mothers, the neighborhood, the community. Now we ask that they tell us the truth and put the blame on (former President Alvaro) Uribe in the future, because I know it’s his fault; (former President Juan Manuel) Santos is guilty, (General Fredy) Padilla is to blame, (General Mario) Montoya is to blame. Say it. Say their names,” said Gómez.
In fact, in an episode that was not shown on television, they all rose to their feet and waved placards that read, “Here the truth is lacking”, “Who gave the order?” “Those most responsible are not here,” and “I want Montoya now!” That last one refers to General Mario Montoya.
International organizations have warned about the false positives.
The Strategic Litigation Space team analyzed warnings, communications between national and international institutions and agencies, and programs for meetings between public officials, members of the Colombian Army, the Defense Ministry and the President’s Office between 2006 and 2010, which evidence the presentation of information related to the extrajudicial executions.
For example, they show that in 2006 the Presidential Human Rights Council received a complaint of approximately 130 cases of extrajudicial executions. The complaints came from agencies like the Inter-Institutional Committee for Human Rights in Antioquia, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OACNUDH). According to the report, on March 21 of that same year, the Vice President at that time, Francisco Santos Calderón, received a direct communication from that United Nations office about “the persistence of murders with characteristics of extrajudicial executions in the Department of Antioquia.”
Another communication from that entity, but on June 1, 2006, was directed, according to the document, to the then-Minister of Defense, Camilo Ospina. The message expressed concern about the occurrence of extrajudicial executions between 2005 and 2006, with a total of 36 cases in different parts of the country. A stronger message was sent on September 12 to Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, and five cases in Putumayo were documented in that message.
According to the investigators, the information charged that during 2006, the government had ignored the complaints and the concerns expressed by human rights organizations, and it was only in June of 2007 that the government agencies started to take a position, although it wasn’t the hoped-for position.
“On June 22 of 2007, the Inspector General of the Colombian Army, Major General Carlos Orlando Quiroga Ferreira, issued an official letter directed to the Inspector General of the Armed Forces, in which he stated that he was presupposing that the accusations being put forward against the Armed Forces were a strategy by the enemies of the Democratic Security policy, so as to delegitimize the institution, and that, in his view, the use of the expression ‘extrajudicial executions’ violates the due process, the right to honor and defense of the institution and of the individuals that compose it,” are words found in the letter.
In the graphic that followed, which is part of the report “They knew about it, did they give the order?”, the names of the government officials that received the complaints or took part in meetings where the subject of extrajudicial executions was discussed are included.
The Strategic Litigation Space found that between 2006 and 2008, 2,401 extrajudicial executions were committed in ten departments in this country, registered as follows: 721 cases in Antioquia; 225 in Huila; 223 in Meta; 205 in Caquetá; 204 in Norte de Santander; 202 in Tolima; 168 in Casanare; 158 in Cauca, and 133 in La Guajira.
The report established the chain of command of the Armed Forces command during the eight years of the Álvaro Uribe Vélez Presidency, so as to be able to identify the grade of responsibility at the territorial and national level and that of the Ministers, Commanders, Inspectors, Chiefs of Staff and chiefs of Operations during that period.
For the victims, according to the report, the identification of the chain of command is key in order to identify the dimension of what happened. “They are responsible for the commission of the extrajudicial executions, because, as will be demonstrated, there were directives, circulars, and other documents that incentivized the practice, but there were also timely complaints from the civilian population, and they never did anything to control or to stop what was happening,” emphasized the authors of the report.
The Association for Alternative Social Promotion (MINGA); the Orlando Fals Borda Legal Socio Collective; Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ); Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission; Colombia Europe United States Coordination; José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective Corporation (CAJAR); Foundation Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP); Libertad Legal Corporation; Yira Castro Law Corporation; and Current Humanity Law Corporation make up the Strategic Litigation Space. They joined together in this setting to design strategies that could further “activities aimed particularly to obtain a better procedural result in the cases that have been presented, in different national and international legal settings.” One of those central subjects, the extrajudicial executions.