Renewed Controversy about the Responsibility of Generals for the False Positives


Saturday, July 25, 2015


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Today the question of the responsibility of high-ranking military officers for the extrajudicial executions is more urgent than ever.  Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced that this Wednesday morning in a report that accuses 16 generals of responsibility for the deaths of nearly 3,000 civilians, presented as guerrillas killed in combat.  Juan Manuel Santos came out in defense of the Armed Forces, while the Attorney General announced that he is carrying out judicial investigations to determine their responsibility.  Will the country be able to overcome the impunity of the extrajudicial executions?

Leading up to the HRW report was Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre’s statement to the media announcing that General Mario Montoya, former Commander of the Colombian Army, as well as three other retired members of the military, are being investigated for their participation in several false positives.

The Report

The Human Rights Watch report identifies current commanders of the Colombian Army and Armed Forces as responsible for numerous cases.  This document was prepared based on the testimony of retired Colonel Róbinson González, who is charged with corruption and with false positives.

Along with that, HRW’s press release asserts that his testimony had been analyzed and contrasted with criminal files and testimony of witnesses, as well as interviews with prosecutors, witnesses, victims’ lawyers and family members, among other sources.

This material was put together in spite of the fact that many of the cases of extrajudicial executions have been processed in the military courts, which suggests a significant level of impunity.

The Guilty Parties

General Mario Montoya is mentioned in the HRW report and in the Attorney General’s investigation. At least 44 killings are attributed to him, committed by soldiers under his command at the time he was in command of the Colombian Army, between 2006 and 2008.

Montoya was implicated by former paramilitary commander Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, alias “Don Berna”, for having directly coordinated the development of the military operation Orion, carried out in 2003, when Montoya commanded the Army’s IVth Brigade.  “The self-defense forces of the Cacique Nutibara Bloc arrived in Comuna 13 (the 13th ward) as part of the alliance with the Army’s IVth Brigade,” stated the paramilitary in one of the confessions he made under the Justice and Peace law.

The list gets more and more potent.  General Oscar González Peña, Commander of the Army from 2008-2010, is accused of knowing that soldiers under his command committed at least 113 murders of civilians whom they presented as guerrillas killed in combat.

In the same way, the report states that the investigations involve General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, who was the leader of the IVth Brigade and knew of actions in which 28 people were executed.  Today Barragán is the highest-level officer in Colombia.  He is the Commander of all of the Armed Forces.

Finally, the report states that soldiers of the IXth Brigade carried out 48 extrajudicial executions during the time that General Jaime Lasprilla Villamizar was in command.  Lasprilla Villamizar is the current Commander of the Army.

The legitimacy of Santos and the Armed Forces

Far from showing solidarity with the victims of the 3,000 cases of extrajudicial execution or from showing anything close to any doubt, or willingness to wait for the results of the judicial investigations, Santos gave a big pat on the back to the Armed Forces.  At the installation ceremony for the new Minister of Defense, Luis Carlos Villegas, the President said that he would defend the legitimacy of the Armed Forces “to the death”.

It is worth remembering that it was during the term in which Santos served as Minister of Defense in the Uribe administration that the first false positives scandal that made an impact on public opinion was brought to light.  At that time, the current President insisted that they were isolated cases of  “rotten apples” in the ranks of the Army.

What the President seems to forget is that it was just in that period in the government of Alvaro Uribe Vélez that this state crime reached its peak.  According to Attorney Sergio Arboleda, of the Sergio Arboleda Liberty and Justice Corporation, the executions were not isolated instances, nor were they caused by abnormal behaviors by some members of the Armed Forces.  “According to the Cinep report on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights in Colombia, there were 5,700 victims between 2002 and 2014 and the years of 2003 and 2004 marked the highest number of victims”.  In the case of the Pedro Nel Ospina Battalion, which presented an extremely high body count, in spite of being a Corps of Engineers dedicated to infrastructure and not to that kind of combat, it was evidence of a criminal enterprise in the Armed Forces.  In the case of that battalion, this year charges were brought against every member if its command staff for its responsibility for the extrajudicial murders.”  Arboleda added that this systematic practice has two clear objectives:  Presenting  results to prove that the war against the insurgency is being won, at the cost of murdering civilians, and earning rewards for the soldiers.

The Arboleda statements permit the conclusion that, in a system as rigid and organized as the Armed Forces, the superiors ought to know about the actions of their subordinates.  Even if that were not true, did the commanders never ask their soldiers about the insistent complaints, or even about the sudden jump in the body count?  Were there omissions on the part of the leaders? Did they never figure out that something very special was going on?

However that may be, Arboleda stated that every rank in the Armed Forces was aware of these practices and even promoted them by not intervening.  “That led us to build a relation between victimizing events and military doctrine that was designed to carry out actions not just against the insurgent forces but also against civilians, responding to the theory of the internal enemy.”

Impunity reigns

This is not the first time that the country finds out that high-level commanders in the Armed Forces are involved in serious violations of human rights.  As Attorney Sergio Arboleda has said, this was the modus operandi of the military commanders.  “The fact that the Attorney General’s Office is investing high-level military commanders causes complicated feelings for the victims, even though they are glad that, after they have insisted for 15 years, the legal system is listening to their requests.”

According to Arboleda, the risk that the cases will pass over to the jurisdiction of the Military Legal System continues to be high, with the congressional approval of broadening the military criminal privilege.  “Even though the situation of General Montoya is not isolated, it is part of a practice that has been going on for a very long time in the Armed Forces system.  We hope that the investigations have a result that is satisfactory to the victims.”

Up to now, they are few verdicts against members of the military at important levels of the Armed Forces command structure.  The question of whether this first announcement of investigations will arrive at a good solution remains open, especially when it is being carried out in the midst of the peace negotiations with the FARC.  It is hoped that there will soon be an announcement of advances in the dialogs with the ELN.  The goal of justice is to permit a new time in this country, where the victims are taken into account and the truth can be known.  Thus we can begin the path to real peace, which without doubt implies a profound revision of military teachings and of all of the Armed Forces as a whole.

Colombia Reporting

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