In 2008, the killings of dozens of young men from Soacha, a poor neighbourhood near the Colombian capital, Bogotá, finally forced the government to acknowledge that the security forces were responsible for extrajudicial executions. The young victims were lured to the north of the country with promises of paid employment, killed in collusion with paramilitary groups or criminal gangs, and then presented by the military as « guerrillas killed in combat ». In most cases, as a reward for having “killed a guerilla member” soldiers received money, extra days of holidays and a congratulations letter from their superiors.
Since the discovery of the mass graves in which some of the youth disappeared from Soacha were buried, and the outcry which ensued, many of their mothers and other relatives who have been campaigning for justice, including the mothers and other relatives of those killed from Soacha, are being threatened and have been subjected to surveillance and harassment in an effort to stop their campaign.
The Attorney General’s Office is investigating more than 2000 cases of extrajudicial executions reportedly committed directly by members of the security forces, 17 such cases being found in the Soacha neighbourhood alone.
The scale of the scandal at national and international levels was such that it led, in October 2008, to the sacking of 27 army officers, including three generals and, in November of that year, forced the resignation of the head of the army, General Mario Montoya, who had been linked to human rights violations. Since then, all of these army officers have simply been moved to other positions and General Montoya has now taken up the office of Ambassador in the Dominican Republic.
Luz Marina Porras Bernal, whose son Fair Leonardo Porras Bernal, aged 26, was abducted on 8 January 2008, and killed on 12 January, represents the organization of the Mothers of Soacha. Eight months after her son had disappeared, she received a phone call which informed her that his body had been found in a mass grave in the north west of the country. She recalls that the military said that her son was a member of an illegal armed group, and accused him of being a terrorist. Fair Leonardo was severely handicapped and was attending a special school. « He could not read or write, and he did not know the value of money, how could he have been in an illegal armed group ? » his mother wonders. She points out that verdicts were delivered only « against those who fired the gun, but not against those who gave the orders ». In all those trials, « the defense is doing all it can to prolong the proceedings, and those responsible are still free. »
Translation of the letter
Your Excellency :
I was informed by the human rights organization ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) in Luxembourg of the campaign by the Mothers of Soacha to seek justice for their sons who have been killed.
In the Soacha neighbourhood, near Bogotá, 17 homicides of young men were reported so far. The victims were executed extra judicially by the security forces, in collusion with paramilitary groups or criminal gangs. These young people had been lured to the north of the country with promises of paid employment. After killing them, the military presented them as “guerrillas killed in combat” and very often the soldiers who had committed these murders received rewards for having “killed a guerrilla member”.
To this day, no one was sentenced for these crimes. Like in many of the more than 2000 registered cases of extrajudicial executions reportedly committed by the Colombian army over the last few decades, presenting the victims as guerrillas serves to reinforce impunity.
I therefore call on the Colombian authorities to urgently take effective measures in order to identify and bring to justice all those responsible for extrajudicial executions, whatever their rank and position, and to provide all the necessary support to the Mothers of Soacha as well as to all the relatives of murdered victims in their quest for truth and justice.
I thank you for your attention to my appeal.
Yours sincerely and respectfully