Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos apologized on Friday for the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people committed by the country’s armed forces in part during his time as defense minister.
Santos, who in 2016 signed the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that created the commission, testified of the Colombian truth commission on the so-called “false positive” scandal, when soldiers murdered civilians and registered them as fighters killed in combat to receive rewards.
The country’s transitional court has said so at least 6,402 people they were assassinated and falsely presented as rebels between 2002 and 2008, during the tenure of former President Alvaro Uribe. Some groups of victims allege that the figure could be higher.
Santos served as defense minister under Uribe for nearly three years between 2006 and 2009 and was in office when the killings were discovered.
“The chapter on false positives is one of the most painful moments I’ve had in my public life and it’s an indelible stain on the honor of the military,” Santos said, lamenting that mothers lost children in practice. during his time as minister.
He said the pressure to produce a large number of deaths, backed by Uribe, was to blame, and the army should apologize.
“That should never have happened,” Santos said. “I acknowledge this and apologize to all mothers and their families, victims of this horror, from the bottom of my soul.”
Santos said that when he first heard the rumors of the murders, he did not believe them.
Once it became clear that the rumors were true, Santos said he issued orders favoring demobilizations and captures for the dead, changed protocols for managing deaths in combat, and modified the criteria for awarding medals.
The results of an internal investigation left him stunned, Santos said.
“Perhaps I had never felt so strongly a combination of intense anger and pain, with such deep sadness.”
Dozens of military officials were removed from office, he said, and changes in protocol led to a hasty decline in army killings.
Victims group positive false mothers of Colombia he had previously urged Santos to apologize.
“We expect little from you today. [Santos] to tell the truth. Apologize to all the mothers whose children were taken by Uribe, [Former Colombian National Army General Mario Montoya] and yourself. Today you can change history. For the memory of our children, tell the truth, “the group tweeted.
Today we expect a little from you. @JuanManSantos tell the truth. Apologize to every mother to whom Uribe, Montoya and you took their children. Today can really change history. For the memory of our children tell the truth. https://t.co/dhyZH6ZNc8
– Positive False Mothers of Colombia (@MAFAPOCOLOMBIA) June 11, 2021
Dozens of army officials have been arrested and convicted of involvement in the killings.
The 2016 peace agreement with the FARC fighters he won the Nobel Peace Prize in Santos and saw some 13,000 FARC members demobilize.
FARC leaders too admitted in April to the kidnapping policies they called “unjustifiable.” Approximately 21,396 people were abducted or taken hostage by the FARC between 1990 and 2015, according to data from the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a court that oversees the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian state.
The JEP accused the former FARC commanders war crimes in January.
The conflict between the Colombian government and the rebel armed forces, including the FARC, 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 is unclear whether Uribe, who vehemently opposed the peace deal, will end up declaring.
Right-wing President Ivan Duque, who took office in 2018, has also been opposed to the deal. Some FARC fighters have continued to fight the government, causing clashes and deaths, and jeopardizing the peace agreement.
Former FARC commander and leader of the Commons, the name adopted the group after it became a political party, sent an open letter in the United States Congress in March, calling for help to save the peace plan.