Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) said on Thursday that there were at least 6,402 extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2008. The figure is nearly three times the number the group received when it began investigations.
The figures were released on the heels of a “false positives” scandal in which civilians murdered by members of the army were identified as guerrillas killed in combat in an effort to boost combat kill rates so soldiers could receive benefits including bonuses, financial rewards and extra holiday time.
While a report by the public prosecutor’s office to the JEP documented more than 2,248 false positives, the tribunal determined there are 4,154 additional victims of extrajudicial killings after two years of investigations.
The killings are widely considered one of the worst human rights abuses in Colombia’s history. Although cases of false positives have been reported since 1986, about 78% of killings occurred from 2002 to 2008, under former President Alvaro Uribe.
The crimes drastically reduced in 2009, going from 792 victims in 2008 to 122 reported cases one year later.
The scandal erupted in 2008 when prosecutors found the bodies of unidentified rebel fighters in the north belonged to people who had been reported missing in Soacha, a city neighboring the capital of Bogota.
Young, poor men were promised well-paying jobs, then murdered and their bodies presented in rebel uniforms as having been killed in combat.
About 1,500 members of the military have been involved in the killing of victims between the ages of 18 and 30 as part of the scandal, but only a handful of soldiers and officers have been convicted.