A demonstrator holding a baton posed for a photo with a Colombian military policeman. (Photo: Mauricio Romero/Long Visual Press/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
- Ten members of the Colombian military have been accused of murdering at least 120 civilians.
- The murder occurred in northern Santander between January 2007 and August 2008.
- The defendants included a general, six military officers, three non-commissioned officers and a civilian.
A Colombian court on Tuesday charged 10 soldiers and a civilian with forcibly missing 24 people, murdering at least 120 civilians, and falsely describing them as guerrillas killed in battle.
This is the first time that the Colombian Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP) court accused members of the Colombian army of involvement in a so-called misreporting scandal in which soldiers murdered civilians and classified them as insurgents killed in battle so that they could be promoted or otherwise welfare.
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The court stated that the defendant played a decisive role in the murders, which were described as fighting deaths in the Catatumbo area of Santander Norte Province, Colombia between January 2007 and August 2008, in order to exaggerate the death toll.
The JEP identified as the person responsible for issuing orders. Without these orders, the crime would not happen systematically. The defendants included a general, six officers, three non-commissioned officers and a civilian.
Magistrate Catalina Diaz said:
This is a macroscopic crime pattern, that is, the same group of people who are connected to a criminal organization and follow the same modus operandi have repeated at least 120 murders in the same area within two years.
She said that the victims included farmers and retailers.
JEP is a tribunal established under the 2016 peace agreement to prosecute former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and military leaders suspected of war crimes.
According to JEP, between 2002 and 2008, at least 6,402 people were killed by members of the Colombian army, and some victim groups say that this number may be even higher.
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Dozens of military officers detained and convicted for participating in the scandal testified before JEP, seeking a more lenient sentence.
Eduardo Cifuentes, a magistrate and JEP chairman, said that if defendants do not accept charges within 30 days on Tuesday, they could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison in civil courts.