Colombian authorities should ensure that generals and colonels against whom there is credible evidence of involvement in extrajudicial executions and other abuses are not elevated in rank during impending promotions, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
On October 10, 2016, the Defense Ministry released the resumés of the members of the armed forces it seeks to promote. These include at least five senior officials and commanders about whom Human Rights Watch has identified credible and convincing evidence of involvement in “false positive” killings. These killings were committed in a systematic manner between 2002 and 2008 to boost body counts in the war. A Commission of the Senate will evaluate the promotions.
“The Colombian Senate should review these promotions carefully and ensure that any officer against whom there is credible evidence of abuses is not promoted,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, it would reinforce the longstanding message that senior officers in Colombia can get away with murder.”
In the June 2015 report, “On their Watch: Evidence of Senior Army Officer’s Responsibility for False Positive Killings in Colombia,” Human Rights Watch presented convincing evidence suggesting that numerous senior officials, including some who have now been put forward for promotion, would bear criminal responsibility for false positive killings. In addition to the commanders mentioned in the report, Human Rights Watch has reviewed the investigations on extrajudicial executions opened by the Attorney General’s Office as of December 2014, and found that brigades commanded by many of the officers set to be promoted in the new round of negotiations engaged in a significant number of killings.
Patterns in “false positive” cases – including their systematic nature and the implausible circumstances of many of the reported combat killings – strongly suggest that commanders of units responsible for a significant number of killings at least knew or should have known about the wrongful killings, and therefore may be criminally liable.
Senior officers, set to be promoted but against whom there is strong evidence of their responsibility for “false positives,” are brigadier generals Emiro José Barrios Jimenez and Jorge Enrique Navarrete Jadeth, who would be promoted to major generals, and colonels Marcos Evangelista Pinto Lizarazo, Edgar Alberto Rodríguez Sánchez, and Adolfo León Hernandez Martínez, who would be elevated to brigadier general.
Brigadier General Barrios Jimenez, who faces a criminal investigation, commanded the 8th brigade of the army while it allegedly engaged in at least 19 killings. In October 2015, the Attorney General’s Office summoned him for questioning – the first step of the criminal procedure under Colombian law – on his role in these killings.
Colonel Marcos Evangelista Pinto Lizarazo commanded the Magdalena battalion of the 9th brigade between December 2007 and July 2008. The Attorney General’s Office has open investigations on at least 19 alleged killings committed by soldiers of Magdalena battalion during his command.
Colombian courts have convicted over 800 army members involved in extrajudicial killings, the vast majority of them low-ranking soldiers. However, authorities have failed to prosecute senior army officers allegedly responsible for killings and instead have promoted many of them through the military ranks, allowing several to hold top positions within the Colombian armed forces. Two of the nine Colombian army divisions are currently commanded by senior officers who are suspected of army killings and set to be elevated in rank in this impending round of promotions. In addition, the country’s current top commander, Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, remains under investigation for his alleged role in false positives. Under his command, the army’s 4th brigade allegedly extrajudicially killed at least 28 people.
“Each of these officers enjoys the presumption of innocence unless and until they are held guilty by a court,” Vivanco said. “But given the gravity of the ‘false positive’ cases and the evidence against these officers, promoting them before criminal proceedings are completed would only convey that Colombian authorities are not serious about ensuring justice for these atrocity crimes.”