BUCARAMANGA, Colombia – Doris Tejada last heard from her son on New Year’s Eve 2007. Óscar Alexander had left her home in central Colombia to travel to a city on the border with Venezuela and make money selling clothes to help his family after losing his job as a surveyor’s assistant.
Four years later, Tejada said, she felt a premonition when she saw a message on television that a group of Colombian mothers blamed the military for the murders of their missing children.
“What happens to your children is the same as what happens to us,” she said that night to her husband Darío Morales. “They say it’s false positive. I do not know what that is. “
Tejada and Morales later found that their son was indeed on the list of “false positives”, victims of extrajudicial executions by soldiers claiming to be guerrillas killed in combat during the country’s internal conflict, largely with The demobilization of the country in 2016 ended Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Military personnel could claim rewards for showing results – or bodies – in fighting armed groups.
Relatives of the victims, who are believed to be in the thousands, say the investigation into the false positive murders is not going as they would like. According to a 2019 prosecutor’s report, more than 10,700 people are being examined in the ordinary justice system, most of them military personnel, but only 1,740 of them have been convicted.
The office did not respond to requests from The Associated Press for comments on the investigation.
In the false positives scandal, some military officials have admitted, innocent men were deceived into distant places, killed, and then viewed as defeated criminals in battle.
The case of Tejada’s son Oscar, who was 26 years old when he disappeared, was placed in the Special Tribunal for Peace, the court competent to judge the facts of the bloody and long-running internal conflict. She has joined the mothers of Soacha, a group of mothers, women and sisters who have called for justice in 20 cases.
The mothers were the first to denounce extrajudicial executions during Alvaro Uribe’s presidency, which lasted from 2002 to 2010. Tejada, 70, is the only one who hasn’t found her son’s remains.
“I feel powerless because my strength is already lacking, because after 13 years I could not restore my son’s body and bury him in a Christian way, as every being deserves,” she told the AP with tears.
The scandal flared up again in February when Special Justice for Peace found 6,402 extrajudicial executions were carried out between 1988 and 2014, almost three times what the prosecution said. The special jurisdiction told the AP that the number could increase as the investigation is ongoing. The court will publish its first allegations against members of the security forces in the coming months.
According to a report by the court, 78 percent of extrajudicial murders occurred between 2002 and 2008.
Uribe said the new numbers were based on information from non-governmental organizations opposed to his government, and he defended his tough policy of “democratic security” which weakened the guerrillas and killed some of their key leaders.
“There is not a single military man who can say that I have given him a bad example or inappropriate accusation,” Uribe said in a statement released on February 18. He said 27 soldiers had been suspended during his presidency for irregularities in the application of protocols. Some of them were sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.
However, Human Rights Watch’s America director José Miguel Vivanco told the AP that the actions Uribe mentioned began in 2006, when “many murders had already taken place”.
Vivanco added that Uribe removed the soldiers in 2008 following complaints from the press, but “until then, Uribe has always chosen to believe the lies of the military and to turn a deaf ear to reports of human rights violations.”
Uribe did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AP.
The signing of the peace agreement with the FARC opened up the possibility for 2,000 soldiers to surrender their version of the armed conflict to the special justice for peace, before which ex-guerrillas also appear. Unlike normal criminal justice, this does not directly result in a prison sentence, although it can result in a temporary sentence.
Some soldiers have reported threats against them for testifying on the case and the government has given them some security measures.
The justice of the peace was turned down by a section of Colombian society led by Uribe who believes that true justice cannot exist without ex-rebels spending time in jail to commit crimes against humanity. The current president, Iván Duque, is Uribe’s political protégé.
After learning the new number of false positives, the Duque government asked the special court to review the data and identify all victims.
Tejada has her son’s face tattooed on her right arm. She said she trusts special justice for peace more than the ordinary judicial system, where Oscar’s case has been stagnant since 2016 and determined to find his body. But the coronavirus pandemic has further complicated their efforts.
In July, excavations aimed at the funeral of people who had died of COVID-19 revealed mass graves in the area where authorities said their son had been killed. A human rights organization intervened and demanded that the property be protected.
“Oscar is a wonderful being who gave me tremendous strength to keep looking for him. I long to find him and all the bodies that are in this grave, ”said Tejada.