By Rodrigo Uprimny, EL ESPECTADOR, August 22, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Attorney General’s Office decision to file criminal charges of “false positive” killings against General Mario Montoya, Commander of the Army under the Uribe administration has some positive elements, but others that are very problematic.

This decision is new legal evidence that the false positives—that is, the killing of thousands of young men by members of the Army to present them as guerrillas killed in combat—were not simply the fault of some “rotten apples.” The phenomenon was of such magnitude, and not only for the quantity of military units involved, that inevitably implies the responsibility, by action or by omission, of certain high-ranking officers.

That’s already been pointed out by the 2010 report of the United Nations rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, who said there were “too many murders of a similar character to characterize them just as isolated incidents perpetrated by some renegade soldiers or units.” The JEP reached the same conclusion in its Orders this year that demonstrated not only the magnitude of the phenomenon, pointing out that there were more than 6,000 executions, but that the killing was in keeping with certain patterns, and implied the responsibility of commanders of battalions, brigades, and even the 2d Division, whether it was for instigating those killings, or for failing to exercise the necessary vigilance over their subordinates.

So it’s a step forward that even an Attorney General like Barbosa, who’s very close to the administration and to “Uribism”, concludes that the Commander of the Army at that time is responsible, as the decision-maker, for those crimes, as it confirms that these were not isolated cases by a few “rotten apples”. Nevertheless, the decision is problematic, for two reasons at least.

First, it’s illegal, as Yesid Reyes demonstrated in his last column, and in his interview in this newspaper. The reason: The Attorney General’s Office has to continue investigating the crimes committed by the military or police in the armed conflict before the Peace Agreement, but it cannot take a position on their guilt, because that is the JEP’s decision to make. The Attorney General thus cannot file criminal charges, which is an attribution of responsibility; rather it must turn those investigations over to the JEP so it can decide the cases. Barbosa’s decision will thus create a lot of confusion, which facilitates impunity.

Second, its basis is odd, and could have very serious implications. According to Barbosa, the charge against Montoya is because he kept on demanding “kills” after November 2007, thus disobeying Directive 300-28 of that date, which gave priority to capture and demobilization instead of “kills”. But the Attorney General’s Office will file charges based on “only” 104 executions that took place after the directive, when there were thousands of false positives in the prior years, and Montoya was already the Commander of the Army and was demanding “kills”. So does Barbosa mean that the thousands of false positives perpetrated when the prior directive was in effect, the one that prioritized “kills”, did not involve responsibility of high-ranking officers, even when they were demanding “kills” at whatever cost, in order to show operational results? If that’s the way it is, who must answer for the false positives that were perpetrated in the prior years? Only the soldiers that perpetrated them, but not those who prompted that killing because they were following a directive? And where is the responsibility then, according to Barbosa, for those that prepared and promoted the prior directive?

Barbosa owes the country a better explanation of his theory about the responsibility of high-ranking officers, Ministers, and the sitting President.

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