Colombia peace court finds army killed thousands of civilians

Colombia peace court
Hundreds of thousands protested in the late 2000s, calling for an end to kidnappings and the conflict between the government and guerilla groups. Source: AlCortés (via. Flickr)
A special peace court in Colombia has found that the military killed more than 6,400 civlians, falsely passing them off as enemy combatants.

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

An inquiry by a special court in Colombia has found that the military killed 6,402 civilians between 2002 and 2008, passing them off falsely as enemy combatants.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) was set up as part of the 2016 peace deal between the Colombian Government and the rebel group FARC.

The peace deal brought an end to a 52-year war, in which 260,000 people were killed and millions displaced.

Eight former commanders of FARC were charged with war crimes by the JEP, including FARC’s former leader Rodrigo Londoño (also known as Timochenko).

Former FARC commanders issued an apology for the first time last year, for the thousands of kidnappings carried out by FARC.

The JEP is now investigating crimes committed by government forces.

This includes ‘false positive’ killings, in which the Colombian army would attempt to pass off young men they had killed as FARC members in order to raise its ‘kill rate’, giving the impression it was doing better in the conflict than it actually was.

Members of the military have testified that they were pressured to drive the rate of killings up, and would be rewarded for doing so, including with days off.

The figure of ‘false positive’ killings found by the JEP is much higher than originally thought – the Colombian public prosecutor’s office had previously acknowledged just 2,249 ‘false positives’ between the years 1998 and 2014.

Now at 6,402, the JEP has said it is not ruling out an even higher total as the investigation continues.

More than 1,700 people have been sentenced so far for playing a role in the ‘false positives’.

Despite FARC officially accepting the peace deal, some former rebels were against the 2016 peace deal, and have since formed dissident groups, continuing drug trafficking and killings.

The second largest rebel group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN) is still active despite talks with the government, along with other criminal and paramilitary groups.

What is the background to the conflict?

The conflict between guerilla groups and the Colombian Government started in 1964, with FARC founded two years later.

Decades of warfare eventually led to peace talks in the early 2000s, with FARC being given a demilitarized haven the size of Switzerland in south-east Colombia as part of an effort to facilitate the talks.

However the initial peace talks stalled in 2002, and the Colombian Government declared a war zone in the south.

Later that year Alvaro Uribe was elected after campaigning on the platform of a harsh crackdown on rebel groups. It was during this time that the ‘false positives’ were most prevalent.

In 2007, the government released dozens of FARC guerillas from jail, hoping to encourage FARC to release some of its hostages, though FARC rejected this move.

Soon after, hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets in protest of the widespread kidnappings and the decades-long conflict.

Juan Manuel Santos was elected as Colombian President in 2010, and after preliminary ceasefires and peace talks, the government and FARC agreed to set up the JEP peace court in 2015.

One year later, a peace deal was made, formally ending the 52-year conflict. The first agreement was rejected narrowly in a referendum put to the Colombian people, but Santos said he would continue to push for peace.

Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts. Later that year, a revised deal was finally signed.

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