Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday asked for forgiveness for the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people committed by the country’s armed forces in part during his tenure as Minister of Defense.
Santos, who in 2016 signed the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that created the commission, testified before the Colombian truth commission on the so-called “false positives” scandal, when soldiers murdered civilians and registered them as killed combatants. in battle to receive rewards.
The country’s Transitional Court of Justice said at least 6,402 people were killed and falsely portrayed as rebels between 2002 and 2008, during the tenure of former President Alvaro Uribe. Some groups of victims claim that this figure could be higher.
Santos was Minister of Defense under Uribe for almost three years between 2006 and 2009 and was in office when the murders were discovered.
“The false positives chapter is one of the most painful moments I have had in my public life and is an indelible stain on the honor of the military,” Santos said, adding that he regretted that mothers have lost children because of the practice during her time as minister.
The pressure to produce a high death toll, backed by Uribe, was to blame, he said, and the military should apologize.
“It should never have happened,” Santos said. “I recognize this and ask forgiveness from all the mothers and their families, victims of this horror, from the bottom of my soul.”
Santos said he didn’t believe them when he first heard rumors of the murders.
Once it became clear that the rumors were true, Santos said he issued orders prioritizing demobilizations and captures over murders, changed battle fatalities treatment protocols, and changed the criteria for award of medals.
The results of an internal investigation left him stunned, Santos said.
“I had perhaps never felt so strongly a combination of anger and intense pain, with such deep sadness.”
Dozens of military officials have been removed from their posts, he said, and changes in protocol have led to a precipitous descent in killings by the military.
The False Positive Mothers of Colombia victim group had previously urged Santos to ask for forgiveness.
“Today we have little hope of you. [Santos] tell the truth. Ask forgiveness from all the mothers whose children were taken by Uribe, [Former Colombian National Army General Mario Montoya] and you. Today you can change history. For the memory of our children, tell the truth, ”the group tweeted.
Today we are expecting a little from you. @JuanManSantos Tell the truth. Apologize to every mother whose children have been taken from you by Uribe, Montoya and you. Today can really change history. For the memory of our children speak the truth. https://t.co/dhyZH6ZNc8
– False Positive Mothers from Colombia (@MAFAPOCOLOMBIA) June 11, 2021
Dozens of army officials have been arrested and convicted of involvement in the killings.
The 2016 peace deal with FARC fighters won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize and saw some 13,000 FARC members demobilize.
FARC leaders also admitted in April to kidnapping policies they called “unjustifiable”. About 21,396 people were kidnapped or taken hostage by the FARC between 1990 and 2015, according to figures from the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal that oversees the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian state.
The JEP indicted former FARC commanders with war crimes in January.
The conflict between the Colombian government and rebel armed forces, including the FARC, has lasted 50 years and left 260,000 dead and millions displaced.
Santos is the third former president to contribute to the commission, whose term ends this year.
It’s unclear whether Uribe – who vehemently opposed the peace deal – will eventually testify.
Right-wing President Ivan Duque, who took office in 2018, also opposed the deal. Some FARC fighters continued to fight the government, causing clashes and deaths, and jeopardizing the peace agreement.
The former FARC commander and leader of the Comunes, a name the group adopted after becoming a political party, sent an open letter to the US Congress in March, asking for help in saving the peace plan.