By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Human Rights Watch is criticizing Colombia’s 2017 list of candidates for army promotions. The list contains candidates who are under criminal investigation for strong evidence that links them to extrajudicial killings.

Students in Colombia protest false positive killings. Image Courtesy of Fernando Vergara.

In total, ten military personnel are being promoted in the Colombian military who have been credibly linked to the “false positive” killings. Evidence implicates five military officials, four colonels, and one general, who have been nominated. They are part of a group of 33 nominees. At this point, the group just need to be approved by the Senate which is only a formality.

America’s director at Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said, “the Colombian Senate should disqualify any officers credibly implicated in serious abuses, unless and until those allegations are fully and properly investigated.”

This “false positives” scandal occurred between 2002 and 2008, and resulted in the killings of over 3,000 innocent civilians. Colombian soldiers lured poor, jobless, and sometimes mentally impaired men to rural regions with promises of work. Once there, the men were executed and dressed in military fatigues to make them look like Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels. The soldiers were rewarded for “accomplishing their mission” with promotions and budget raises. This raised the army’s statistics and exaggerated its body count.

Human Rights Watch research showed the patterns of these killings were systematic and occurred under implausible circumstances, strongly suggesting that the commanders of units knew or had reason to know the truth. These nominated commanders are being investigated in Colombia and internationally for ordering crimes. If they knew or had reason to know their subordinates were committing these crimes, they had responsibilities under international law to prevent or punish those acts.

A resolution from November 2015 was designed to guarantee transparency of military promotions and requires the Defense Ministry to publish a “summary of the resumes of candidates” online. However, this entire round of army promotions is only showing limited transparency. Their resumes lack dates for their service in military units which makes it extremely difficult to assess whether they were involved in the abuses. The resumes provide greater detail on irrelevant information such as the date of their marriages and their children’s birthdays.

“Naturally, each of these five officers enjoys the presumption of innocence,” said Vivanco. “But promoting them while they are still under investigation would signal that Colombian authorities are not serious about ensuring justice for false positives.”

The officers are Brig. Gen. Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, Cols. Miguel Eduardo David Bastidas, Mauricio José Zabala Cardona, Óscar Reinaldo Rey Linares, and Raúl Hernando Florez Cuervo.

For more information, please see:

InSerbia – Colombia: Military Figures in “False Positives” To Be Promoted – 18 November 2017

The Bogota Post – Human Rights Watch criticises Colombia’s promotion of officers linked to killings – 15 November 2017

Human Rights Watch – Colombia: Don’t Promote Officers Linked to Killings – 14 November 2017

Toronto Star – Rights group urges Colombia to scrub promotions for 5 officers allegedly linked to killings – 14 November 2017

Author: Emily Green