Case 03: Killings and forced disappearances presented as casualties in combat by state agents

In National Case 03 there are six different areas of priority where ordinary citizens were killed and forcibly disappeared by state agents and subsequently presented as casualties in combat. They are the Caribbean Coast, Catatumbo, Antioquia, Huila, Casanare y Meta

First Priority Area – the Caribbean Coast

Colombia’s war crimes tribunal, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) charged 13 members of the Batallón de Artillería No.2 La Popa (La Popa Colombian Artillery Battalion) with their decisive participation in the killing of 127 ordinary citizens in the north of Cesar and the south of La Guajira, between 9 January 2002 and 9 July 2005 and forced disappearance many other people. Also charged were the two former Coronels of this Battalion, Publio Hernan Mejia Gutierrez – who was named “Best Soldier of the Americas” twice – and his successor at the La Popa Battalion Juan Carlos Figueroa. The Wiwa and Kankuamo indigenous peoples, especially, were victims of serious, differentiated and disproportionate damage from some members of this military unit.

The JEP determined that each of the accused had an essential role in shaping the criminal patterns and participated in particularly serious and representative conduct, without which the crime would not have been developed and have perpetuated this criminal plan. The Reconnaissance Chamber charged them with the crimes of homicide of a protected person and forced disappearance, as well as, the crimes against humanity of killings and forced disappearance of persons, and the war crime of homicide. The Chamber determined that there was a generalized and systematic attack against the civilian population in relation to these events.

The JEP determined that the 15 defendants were part of a criminal organization that was formed within the military unit and through which, and on a large scale, their fictitious operational results presented as “casualties in combat” people killed in a defenseless state by members of the Army or paramilitaries. They acted, moreover, in the full knowledge of their illegality covering up their acts to make them look legal. The evidence reveals collaboration between the Army Unit La Popa and the AUC right-wing paramilitaries.

The judicial verification allowed the Chamber to determine that the murders carried out by the 15 accused had occurred within a criminal plan, articulated by common objectives, resources, roles and modes of operation aimed at territorial consolidation and to show progress in the war in against the guerrillas.

Both Mejia and Figueroa had been serving prison sentences, they were both released following the signing of the Peace Accord, because they had agreed to submit to the JEP and to tell the whole truth about what had happened during the conflict. However, Mejia has declared that he knew nothing of the extrajudicial killings until informed of them by the JEP.

The investigation into Mejia’s activities by the JEP has resulted in alleged death threats against witnesses. They agreed to testify despite Mejia being feared war criminal. Two previous witnesses were assassinated before they could testify, Fredys Oñate and Jose Trinidad, they had information of ties between Mejia and “Jorge 40,” an infamous paramilitary commander.

Figueroa Suarez as commander of the La Popa Battalion between 2004 and 2005 was part of a criminal network with alliances with paramilitaries to present civilians as guerrillas killed in combat. The Truth Recognition Chamber in October and November 2019 called Figueroa Suarez to testify voluntarily, he failed to attend on either occasion. It was discovered that in 2019 went to France and there is no evidence of him returning.

La JEP estableció que hubo una alianza entre militares y paramilitares

VIDEO in Spanish of the presentation in the Examination Chamber of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which established an alliance between the Colombian Military in the La Popa battalion and the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) right-wing paramilitaries in order to erroneously present casualties from combats. Their victims were ordinary citizens taken and presented as combat killings. The JEP documented that the acts were perpetrated by members of the La Popa battalion and that those responsible, in some cases, maintained contact with the paramilitaries.

La JEP imputó crímenes de guerra y de lesa humanidad a 15 miembros del Ejército

VIDEO: The Reconnaissance Chamber charged 15 members of the National Army, including Colonels Hernán Mejía and Juan Carlos Figueroa, with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Second Priority Area – Casanare

JEP avanza en Casanare en caso de falsos positivos

The victims accredited before the JEP who participate in case 03, known as the false positives case, will be able to present directly before the Recognition Chamber any observations they may have on the 104 versions of members and former members of the Sixteenth Brigade of the National Army, State agents who are not members of the Public Force and civilian third parties in the Casanare sub-case, one of the six territories prioritized in the first phase of the investigation.

During the observations hearing, which will take place on July 16 and 17, the JEP’s magistrate will receive the victims’ truth claims. The proceedings will be held in Yopal (Casanare), under the semi-presential modality, and will offer the possibility for the participants to follow the proceedings virtually from anywhere in the country.

Through this proceeding, the Examination Room will document key elements for the contrasting work it is currently carrying out. As pointed out by the Appeals Section of the SJP, the memory of the victims is fundamental to accurately determine the time, place, perpetrators and circumstances in which the violations were perpetrated, to clarify the motivations of the perpetrators, the context or plan in which the attacks took place, and the effects they caused immediately and over the years.

Third Priority Area – Catatumbo

General Coronado supo de falsos positivos 14 años después de los hechos

Audios of the version of Colombian Army General Paulino Coronado before the Recognition Chamber of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, in the investigation into false positives. Coronado is the first general charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, due to extrajudicial executions in the area of Catatumbo, Norte de Santander. Paulino Coronado commanded the 30th Army Brigade in Norte de Santander from 27 November 2006 to 29 November 2008. He will have to answer before the JEP for 55 cases of false positives committed under his command between December 2007 and August 2008 and for 24 forced disappearances, but in his two versions before the JEP he assured them that he was only made aware of the extrajudicial executions when he was called before the JEP.