Human Right Watch (HRW) on Thursday called on Colombia’s Defense Ministry to prevent the promotion to general of at least five top military officials accused of executing civilians, but to no avail.
The allegedly disgraced officers are linked to so-called “false positives,” a euphemism for executing civilians to present them as guerrillas killed in combat, a practice that killed at least 4,000 civilians, according to the prosecution.
“The Colombian Senate should review these promotions carefully and ensure that any officer against whom there is credible evidence of abuses is not promoted. Otherwise it would reinforce the longstanding message that senior officers in Colombia can get away with murder.
Human Rights Watch Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco
In spite the human rights’ organization’s protest, a Colombian senate commission approved the officials’ promotion, which will now be sent to the full senate for approval.
Brigadier General Barrios, head of the Army’s Aviation and Air Assault Division, would be promoted to Major General, despite being under investigation for 19 killings that occurred when he was head of the 8th Brigade in 2008.
Also up for promotion to Major General is Brigadier General Navarrete, second-in-command to Barrios in 2008.
He is investigating for executing two civilians and ties to paramilitary groups.
Colonels Marcos Evangelista Pinto, Edgar Alberto Rodriguez, and Adolfo Hernandez are under investigation for 19, 22, and 3 killings, respectively.
HRW said that the widespread nature of the false positives suggests that upper-level officials must have been aware that the policy was going on, but while 800 soldiers have been convicted, not one high-ranking officer has been imprisoned.
While the military has been executing civilians since the 1990s, this practice became increasingly widespread during the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe and particularly when current President Juan Manuel Santos was Defense Minister.
After the scope of the killings became known in 2008 and the international community got involved, the practice became less common, but are reportedly ongoing.