New Army Commander General Oscar Pena and Human Rights

(Translated by Anne Schoeneborn, a CSN volunteer translator)

Medellin, IPC, 6/11/08

Non-governmental human rights organizations in Antioquia possess numerous registers of extrajudicial killings that occurred between December 2003 and October 2006, a period during which general Oscar Pena Gonzalez, new commander of the National Army, commanded the Fourth Brigade and the Seventh Division Brigade, both military garrisons headquartered in Medellín.

Pena Gonzalez commanded the Fourth Brigade from December 15, 2003 until July 16, 2005, after which he went on to lead the Seventh Division as its primary commander from August 16, 2005 until October 17, 2006. Dozens of extrajudicial executions were reported and documented during both periods. Their gravity was of such a magnitude that, in non-governmental reports about these atrocious crimes, military sources were quoted as saying, “the assertions are credible that not all the civilian casualties of the Fourth Brigade were armed men.”

The situation became so complicated that in its 2004 report, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about the extrajudicial executions and referred to the Fourth Brigade, commanded at that time by Pena Gonzalez, as the military garrison apparently responsible for the civilian deaths because accusations against some of its members had been increasing.

According to the non-governmental reports, the majority of these killings have occurred in eastern Antioquia, an area patrolled by troops of the following (all of which fall under the command of the Fourth Brigade of the National Army): Grupo de Caballeria Mecanizado N. 4 Juan del Corral, Batallon de Artilleria no. 4 Jorge Eduardo Sanchez, Batallon de Contraguerrilla N. 4 Granaderos, and Batallon de Plan Especial Energetico y Vial N. 4 BG. Jaime Polaina Puyo.

The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group’s Observatory of Human Rights, which analyzed the occurrence of extrajudicial executions throughout the country between August 2002 and July 2006, noted that Antioquia, with 183 killings, is one of the provinces most affected by extrajudicial executions committed by the Army.

This Observatory, consisting of nearly 199 non-governmental organizations, received reports of 74 cases (with 110 victims) of extrajudicial executions carried out by members of the Fourth Brigade of the National Army during the period from August 2002 until July 2006 in eastern Antioquia. During this period, the following operations were carried out: Operation Marcial Norte (2003), Operation Espartaco (2004), Operation Ejemplar (2005), and Operation Falange I (2006). These reports include cases which occurred in most of the different municipalities of eastern Antioquia, although a greater numbers of cases occurred in the Muncipalities of Cocorná, Granada and San Luis. One local human rights report stated that during Operation Espartaco, which was carried out by Batallon de Artilleria N. 4, at least 22 people were executed extrajudicially.

According to the profiles of the 110 victims reported by the Observatory, 98 were male, 12 were female (including one who was pregnant), 12 were adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17, 3 had a mental or physical disability, and the majority worked as agricultural laborers on their own, or on neighboring, plots of land.

The Liberty Legal Corporation is doing legal follow-up on 38 cases of extrajudicial executions that occurred between 2002 and 2006 in eastern Antioquia and that involved civilians presented in military reports as guerrillas killed in combat. Also, this organization has a register of 195 cases of extrajudicial executions that occurred during 2004 and 2005, 98 of which occurred in eastern Antioquia and 46 of which occurred in Valle de Aburra.

According to a report about the situation regarding human rights and international humanitarian law during 2005 in eastern Antioquia, which cites information about each municipal agent and non-governmental organization that works in the sub-region of the province, there were at least 25 cases of documented complaints of extrajudicial executions and acts of “social cleansing” attributed to the Army during that year. In several, the Army was also accused of tampering with the scene of the crime in order to simulate the combat scene.

Everything has been denied.

In spite of the evidence of extrajudicial executions in eastern Antioquia that has been repeatedly presented, the national government has rejected the veracity of these claims time and time again.

While in Cocorna, one of the municipalities most affected by these crimes, President Alvaro Uribe Velez stated, “since they move around in small groups and dress as civilians, every time one of them is killed, they accuse the Army and say it’s an Army that murders, that instead of being combat casualties, they were killed outside of combat.”

On that occasion, the head of state noted the importance of rigorously explaining each case of extrajudicial execution “to show before the district attorneys, before the national judiciary and before international critics, how those bandits are now dressing as civilians in an “operación pistola,” and when they are killed, their comrades allege that they were killed outside of combat. We will clarify the situation with all the evidence to move forward in defense of our soldiers and police.”

This presidential assessment was preceded by declarations made by the outgoing Commander of the Army, the now ex-General Mario Montoya Uribe. In statements made to the newspaper El Tiempo, published in the July 11, 2006 edition, he explained that this group of “irregulars” in his operational results had nothing to do with pressure on his subordinates.

Montoya Uribe went on to state that, “if this had been a generalized situation, then we could expect that the fact of asking for results would have led to this. However, the UN and other organizations say that there were 24 cases this year, and that those that happened last year added up to 40 people presented irregularly as combat casualties. I am not sure of the number of people. There are 29 investigations being carried out and, of these, five are in the civilian courts and 24 are in the military courts. The Commander of the Seventh Division (General Pena Gonzalez) indicates that this is the work of guerrillas committing subterfuge with the help of some NGOs.”

One of the contrasts between the abundant documentation amassed by non-governmental organizations of extrajudicial executions committed during the time that General Oscar Pena Gonzalez held the post of Commander of the Fourth Brigade, and the Brigade’s operational successes, is that in 2006 it was singled out as the most effective military unit, with the best results during the last five years. Also, it’s one of the garrisons that opens the way for those that hope to make it to the command level of the military or the army, as this is this path that the generals Mario Montoya and Oscar Pena Gonzalez took.

Agencia de Prensa IPC
Medellin, Colombia

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