Colombia’s Defense Ministry is set to review the promotions of 11 generals in the national army who have been accused of war crimes, revealed Caracol Radio on Wednesday.
The action comes as the ministry and the army itself comes under increasing pressure following revelations in a New York Times article that soldiers are being encouraged to up their kill-counts, which in turn may compromise civilian life in the process.
Ironically, Colombia’s Congress appears to be pressing ahead with the promotion of National Army chief Major General Nicacio Martinez, who is linked to 23 homicides and has become the center of controversy.
According to the New York Times, Martinez ordered his troops to double the number of combat kills and captures, promised rewards for killed enemy combatants and lowered the standard on when soldiers may engage in combat.
The article sent shock waves through Colombia with many fearing a return of the mass killing of civilians that marred the presidency of Alvaro Uribe following similar incentives.
Colombia to investigate army chief over order to increase combat kills, despite possible civilian deaths
The decision of the Ministry of Defense to review the promotions awarded to leading Generals reflects the increasing pressure on the military that was recently criticized by leading US senators for the promotion of suspected war criminals in the military ranks.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) penned a letter to President Ivan Duque echoing the sentiments of the Human Rights Watch, which slammed the appointment of nine army officials linked to war crimes to top positions.
With the defense ministry backed into a corner, its latest move seeks to re-assess the feasibility of having alleged war criminals in key positions in the military and avoid any further humiliation for an institution whose credibility has been frequently undermined by scandals.
The likely promotion of Martinez is the outstanding contradiction of current proceedings with a presentation in favor of his promotion filed before a plenary session of the Senate with a formal vote scheduled for next week.
Martinez commanded the 10th Brigade of the army from 2004-2006 in the provinces of Cesar and La Guajira and is reported to have had between 72 and 100 false positive cases occur under his jurisdiction.
He is accused of carrying out 23 extrajudicial killings but Liberal Party Senator Jaime Duran has moved to defend the General highlighting that there is no current investigation against him.
“It was up to us to make a political decision and verify the suitability of his resume, and we did that. Until now, there is no investigation against him,” Duran said to reporters.
“His personal, professional and military background, which make up the profile of Major General Martinez Espinel, strengthen confidence among the senators of the Republic that his promotion will generate more security in the strengthening of civic coexistence and respect for institutions, especially our democracy,” added Duran.
“We have to set ambitious goals and objectives. What we did was update, we made rules of engagement where we told them what they should do in combat and what they should not do,” Martinez told local media in his defense.
“Each said I want to improve results and we are not talking about dead but the location of laboratories, location of weapons and supplies,” he added.
The official claims that he has submitted documents to Colombia’s war crimes tribunal to defend his innocence claiming that “we have a clear conscience,” referring to accusations against him and his colleagues.
Estimates vary as to exactly how many innocent civilians fell victim to this practice of false positives. Colombian prosecutors found around 4,200 false positive cases, but a study published in 2018 puts the number as high as 10,000.
Colombia’s defense minister Guillermo Botero has consistently claimed that the national army, which is fighting several illegal armed groups, would comply fully with international humanitarian law and respect human rights while President Ivan Duque is in office.