Eight Colombian military personnel were arrested Wednesday for the alleged extrajudicial killing of two civilians, in what is the latest episode in the ongoing “false positives” saga.
The killings took place in 2006, the height of a notorious military practice in which soldiers murdered civilians and disguised their bodies as rebel combatants in exchange for bonuses and paid vacations.
FACT SHEET: False positives
Yamit Verbel Paternina and Jorge Eliecer Barbosa were killed in a run-in with soldiers in the Dabeiba municipality of the central state of Antioquia. In what has become a typical narrative in the false positives revelations, 17th Engineer’s Battalion General Carlos Bejarano Muñoz and troops belonging to the Halcon Special Squad claimed the killings had been the result of a clash with guerrillas.
It has since been determined, however, that the victims in question were in fact Colombian civilians.
The soldiers now implicated in the murders are Luis Fernando Murillo Hinestroza, Luis Fernando Gutierrez Hernandez, Jairo Alfredo Saenz Teheran, Jorge Otoniel Chala Lemos, Dairon Teheran Cavadia, Ever Enrique Fuentes Angel, Estibenson Antonio Perez Graciano and Yesid Ramos Pitalua.
Arrest warrants were issued by the National Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights Unit of Bogota for charges of aggravated homicide and forced disappearance, and the captured personnel are currently being held in the military prison of the 17th Brigade of Carepa, in the state of Antioquia.
In 2013, a report by the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that of the 4,373 people implicated in extrajudicial killings, 1,948 had been charged, while 230 mostly low-ranking military personnel had been sentenced to prison.
The practice of disguising the execution of civilians by security forces as combat kills is a phenomenon that reached its peak in Colombia during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, which lasted from 2002 to 2010.
During Uribe’s two terms as Colombian president, the number of extrajudicial killings by the Armed Forces rose 154%, according to a 2013 report by the Universities of Sabana and Externado. The rate increased from 0.11 per 100,000 inhabitants between 1990 and 1999 to 0.28 between 2000 and 2009.
It was revealed that it was common for soldiers to kill civilians, dress them as guerrilla fighters and present their bodies as combat kills, reportedly in return for bonuses and paid vacations.
The result was a deceiving boost in figures relating to the eradication of insurgents, and the illusion of radical improvements in the effectiveness of the Armed Forces under Uribe’s rule.
The 2013 report from the PGO, stated that Armed Forces and civilian collaborators had killed 3,896 civilians since 1986.
In the year 2007, in which the highest number of false positives were registered, one in five reported combat kills were in fact civilians.
Recently it was revealed that high-level officials in the military were using embezzled defense contracts to pay off the families of soldiers incarcerated on charges relating to false positives.