Former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos acknowledged Friday that thousands of civilians were executed by the military in Colombia because of the pressure they received to produce results in the fight against the guerrillas and asked for forgiveness for those crimes.
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"There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the original sin, what in the end gave rise to these atrocities, was the pressure to produce casualties" as well as "the rewards for achieving it," Santos said in a voluntary statement to the Truth Commission investigating the half-century conflict with the now-defunct FARC.
The commission is an extrajudicial body created under the 2016 peace accords pushed by Santos that led to the disarmament of the rebels.
Santos held power between 2010 and 2018 and previously served as defense minister under Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), under whose rule thousands of civilian killings were perpetrated and then presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
Moved, the former president apologized to the families of victims present at his appearance.
"I apologize to all the mothers and all their families, victims of this horror, from the depths of my soul. May this never happen again," he emphasized.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which tries the worst crimes of the conflict with the FARC, documented 6,400 killings of civilians at the hands of the military during Uribe's term, three times the number estimated until recently by the prosecutor's office.
The military high command has always denied that the killings, encouraged by a "body count," were a systematic practice in the military.
However, Santos affirmed that they are "an indelible stain on the honor of an army that has every reason to boast, but which must also have the fortitude to recognize the truth and ask for forgiveness. It is one of the ways to repair the damage".
Known in military jargon as "false positives," the executions of civilians are the biggest scandal involving the Colombian army. Officers and soldiers have confessed their involvement before the peace tribunal, seeking criminal benefits.
Santos told the Truth Commission that he learned of the military's crimes as soon as he took over the defense portfolio in 2006. Still, he played down the credibility of the allegations.
According to the former president, warnings from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross were fundamental to investigate and sanction 30 officers and non-commissioned officers.
"Later, we found out that the paramilitaries were collaborating with members of the military forces to produce these false positives," he concluded.