The Colombian Prosecutor General’s Office said Tuesday that only 10 people were killed during the 1997 Mapiripan slaughter, rather than the 50 that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said were killed.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, which is investigating nine demobilized paramilitary fighters who allegedly carried out the atrocities, victims presumed murdered in the massacre have turned up alive or were determined to have died in separate circumstances. In other cases, witnesses have recanted earlier testimony.
Justice and Peace Prosecutor Yolando Prado said that the list of victims used in 2005 by the international human rights court to condemn the Colombian state “does not match the facts under investigation” by the prosecution in Colombia.
Colombian Judge Teresa Ruiz ordered the verification of the 50 deaths officially recognized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after a witness recanted earlier testimony that her husband and sons had been killed in the slaughter.
The witness admitted at the hearing that her husband had disappeared prior to the July 1997 massacre. She also claimed that of her two sons she originally said were killed by the paramilitary death squad, one had disappeared right after her husband’s death and another was fighting for a guerrilla group until 2008.
According to Caracol Radio, more than $2.7 million has been paid to the families of “false victims” of the massacre. Contreas had collected nearly $1 million in compensation after testifying before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The founder and highest commander of the paramilitary umbrella organization AUC, the late Carlos Castaño, and his successor Salvatore Mancuso have publicly admitted that there were at least 49 people slaughtered.
According to Castaño, who claimed that he masterminded the slaughter, members of the Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), a paramilitary group under the control of the AUC, were trained at his estate in the Meta department. They then traveled to Mapiripan to kidnap, torture and kill at least 49 civilians suspected of supporting the leftist guerrilla group FARC with chainsaws and machetes over a period of five days, he said.
If the new evidence indicating that there may have been as little as 10 deaths is confirmed, an army general’s 40-year sentence — the longest ever given to a high-ranking Armed Forces officer in Colombia’s history — stands to be reduced and it is unclear what will happen to the compensation the state has paid to fake victims.
Colombia’s Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra called the fake victims and their lawyers “shameless” and said that they should be tried for fraud and conspiracy to commit a crime for defrauding the Colombian state and the international court.