Peace court: Colombia army 'behind 6,400 extrajudicial killings'

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People demonstrate against the "false positives", executions of civilians at the hands of the military who presented them as combat casualties to swell results of the armed conflict, in front of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Bogota, on February 12, 2020.Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Thousands of civilians were killed and passed off as enemy combatants by the army

An inquiry in Colombia has found that 6,402 civilians were killed by the military between 2002 and 2008 and falsely passed off as enemy combatants.

The number of killings, known as "false positives", is almost three times higher than previous estimates.

The inquiry is by a special court looking into crimes committed during a half century of conflict between troops and left wing rebels.

A peace deal ending the conflict was signed in 2016.

What were the "false positives?

It is the name given to the killings of young men - mainly from poor families - carried out by the Colombian army.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Doris Tejada's son disappeared 12 years ago, her face mask bears the question "Who gave the order?"

The army's aim was to pass them off as left-wing rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) to boost its kill rate and give the impression it was winning the armed conflict against the group.

Read more about the "false positives":

Who's behind the investigation?

It is being carried out by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which was set up as part of the peace process after the left-wing Farc rebels signed the 2016 peace deal with the government.

The JEP is a transitional court system which was put in place for a period of 10 years to try all participants in the conflict, be they rebels or state actors.

Those who admit to their crimes up front will avoid jail time, but will be required to contribute in other ways to reconciliation - such as participating in programmes to remove landmines, build key infrastructure or construct monuments.

What did the court find?

After having investigated kidnappings carried out by the Farc rebels, the court has now turned its attention to the "false positives" and crimes committed by government forces.

Colombia's public prosecutor's office had acknowledged that there had been 2,249 "false positives" between 1988 and 2014 in a report it handed to the JEP last year.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Investigators have been exhuming bodies in a cemetery in Dabeiba in their search for victims

The investigation suggests the real figure is almost triple that.

It also suggests that the majority of the "false positives" were carried out between 2002 and 2008, during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe.

What's the background?

The "false positives" scandal first erupted in 2008, but the practice is thought to date back as far as the 1980s.

More than 1,700 people have been sentenced for their role in the false positives.

Members of the military have given evidence in a number of court cases over the past decade and told how they were pressured by their superiors to drive up their "kill rate" and how they would be rewarded by being given promotions or extra days off.

In one case, eight soldiers were jailed for taking four farmers from their homes by force, shooting them in the back and dressing them up as rebels.

In other instances, young men were lured from poor neighbourhoods of the capital, Bogotá, with promises of work, only to be murdered and dressed in rebel fatigues.

The JEP says it does not rule out that the total number of victims may be higher as its investigation is still in the early stages.

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