Fourteen members of state security forces upheld their commitment to appear before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and join its effort to provide reparations and truth to the victims of Colombia's internal armed conflict.
Colombia: Peace Court Rules Approved, Military Hearings Delayed
"I ask forgiveness, with all my heart and from the depths of my soul if I have committed any fault or made the wrong decision. I ask forgiveness from Colombia, the society in Soacha, and the army for those of us who made bad decisions and stained the institution," a retired colonel said in front of the relatives of the victims.
Soacha is a working-class neighborhood near Bogota. In 2008, 19 young men were tricked in Soacha and Ciudad Bolivar by soldiers who offered them jobs and took them to farms; they were later dressed in military uniforms and executed. Their bodies were later found in the department of Norte de Santander
At least 1,750 members of Colombia's army were involved in creating "false positives," the name given to the practice of killing civilians and disguising them as combatants. According to Colombia's Office of the Attorney General, this phenomenon claimed the lives of at least 2,248 persons between 1988 and 2014.
The Colombian government provided an incentive for these extrajudicial killings by issuing a secret order, called "Directive 29," that offered a financial reward to those who killed guerrillas or paramilitaries.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace is a transitional justice mechanism created during the peace process between the demobilized members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of Juan Manuel Santos. As an incentive to uncover the truth behind the crimes perpetrated during Colombia's armed conflict.
It establishes prison sentences of between five and eight years for those who accept their responsibility and shed light on the cases under investigation.
However, the court also establishes ordinary sentences of between 15 and 20 years for those who do not accept their responsibility and are found guilty.
One of the victims' mother said she hoped to know the truth and decried the lack of interest shown by high-ranking officers, who failed to attend the hearings. "I would like for the top brass who ordered the actions to be here," she said in the trial.
A recent legislative act ordered the creation of another court for state security officers involved in human rights violations, arguing the JEP is biased against them.
The move has given members of the army, and the police the right to choose whether to appear before JEP or the future court.