Twenty-one former members of Colombia’s National Army were convicted to lengthy prison sentences for their role in executing civilians.
The convicted military members offered non-existent job to five jobless boys and men from Soacha. After taking them far away from their hometown, the victims were executed and presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
Nevertheless, the scheme was discovered and started a criminal investigation that, according to the prosecution, involved the killing of more than 4,000 civilians during the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe.
The former president is currently being sued by the victims’ families for publicly implicating the victims were criminals.
The 21 soldiers were convicted to prison sentences ranging from 37 to 52 years for the crimes of enforced disappearance, conspiracy to commit criminal acts, aggravated felony and aggravated homicide . In addition, the judge ordered them to offer public apologies for the murders
The former military men sentenced by the court in the province of Cundinamarca included retired colonel Gabriel de Jesus Rincon.
The judge rejected arguments from the defense that the case should be transferred to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) since it does not yet exist. Additionally, the judge said, it would be irresponsible to suspend current proceedings.
“It would be inconvenient to declare incompetence and file a lawsuit until the Chambers of the JEP are legally and materially created, while the people on trial and the victims have the right to a speedy trial,” the judge was quoted as saying by newspaper El Espectador.
Carmenza Gomez, the mother of one of the five victims was satisfied that that justice was done. “It’s not a joy, but it’s a bit of satisfaction,” she said.
The sentences apply to five civilians including one minor who were recruited with false promises of jobs in Soacha and then taken to Ocaña, a municipality in the Norte de Santander province.
Once in Ocaña, the victims were stripped of their identification and executed. The victims were put on camouflage uniforms and placed with weapons in their hands to make the victims of the cold-blooded executions look like guerrillas.
The soldiers than registered them as unidentified guerrillas killed in combat.
Prosecution officials later discovered that the victims had been reported missing in Soacha and began investigations linking other cases of disappearance with reported combat kills.
While governmental and non-governmental organizations had been denouncing the practice for years, Uribe has consistently denied the armed forces were systematically executing civilians, even after the evidence in the Soacha case forced him to take action and purge the military.
The victims’ mothers have received death threats over their attempts to seek justice and an apology from Uribe for implying their sons were criminals.
The false positives scandal has landed hundreds of soldiers in prison already and is considered one of the most heinous of war crimes committed during the country’s 52-year-long armed conflict.
In a June 2015 report, the Prosecutor General’s Office said it had found that the armed forces and civilian collaborators had killed 4,475 civilians since 1986.
The same office said that 5,137 officials were implicated in the extrajudicial killings.