Previously unpublished evidence strongly suggests that a former top commander of Colombia’s military did not take reasonable steps to stop or punish hundreds of illegal killings, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. The Colombian Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez Neira should revive the stalled prosecution of the general, Mario Montoya Uribe.
Montoya has been under investigation since at least 2015 for “false positive” killings throughout the country when he was the army commander between February 2006 and November 2008, a period during which these killings peaked. The thousands of false positive killings, committed systematically by soldiers throughout the country to boost enemy body counts in the war, began in 2002. In March 2016, Montoya was summoned to a hearing where prosecutors were set to charge him, but he has yet to be charged.
“Montoya led the Colombian army while it engaged in one of worst episodes of mass atrocity in the Western Hemisphere in recent years” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The case against him is a test on how far Attorney General Martínez is willing to go to prosecute those most responsible for these killings.”
Montoya was summoned to a hearing where prosecutors were set to charge him in March 2016, but the Attorney General’s Office cancelled the hearing. In November, lawyers representing victims asked the Attorney General’s Office to set a date for a new hearing, media reports said, but no date has been set and Montoya has not been charged. Later that month, the prosecutor in charge of the case reportedly replied to victims’ lawyers that his office was still reviewing the evidence against Montoya. However, lawyers with detailed knowledge of the case told Human Rights Watch that authorities within the Attorney General’s Office have apparently decided to stall the prosecution.
In October 2016, Human Rights Watch had access to hundreds of pages of transcribed testimony provided by six current and retired army generals to prosecutors in closed hearings carried out between August 2015 and January 2016. The testimony strongly suggests that General Montoya knew, or at the very least had information available to know, about false positive killings under his command, and did not take measures he could have taken to stop them.
Montoya is one of at least 14 generals currently under investigation for their alleged roles in false positive killings. Others include Luis Roberto Pico Hernández, who commanded one of the seven divisions of the army during Montoya’s time, and Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, the current commander of the Colombian armed forces.
Human Rights Watch is concerned that the prosecution against Montoya and others could be jeopardized because many false positive cases could be tried before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, an ad hoc judicial system created by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as part of their peace talks.