Colombia’s controversial army chief faces possible removal from office

Major General Nicacio Martinez (Image: President's Office)

Colombia’s inspector general said Tuesday he will investigate whether controversial National Army commander Nicacio Martinez should be removed over “unsettling” orders to double combat kills and captures.

Inspector General Fernando Carrillo announced the preliminary investigation in the wake of multiple news reports that have raised concerns that Martinez’s orders could pave the way for extrajudicial killings.

Martinez has already been linked to 30 homicides.

Evidence links Colombia’s army chief to seven more homicides: AP

What are the allegations against Martinez?

The New York Times earlier this month revealed orders given by Martinez that reportedly had “sent chills down the ranks” of the army.

The orders cited by American newspaper were conceived with the aim of increasing the effectiveness of army operations, but allegedly would put civilians’ lives at risk.

One particularly disturbing example was the suggestion that the army should not “demand perfection” in operations and that military units can launch operations “with a 60-70% level of certainty” that their objectives will be completed.

Due to the collateral damage these operations can and do cause to innocents, this risk level was previously set at 80%.

Local media subsequently reported that lower-ranked soldiers were told that Martinez’ orders implied they could shoot and kill anyone carrying a gun and be rewarded if they reported it as a combat kill.

Colombia’s army chief in the corner: soldiers and evidence back New York Times

While Colombia’s government accused the New York Times of being “partisan”, Martinez vowed to change the directives and President Ivan Duque announced a commission to verify whether Martinez’s orders violated international humanitarian law and the human rights of Colombians.

The investigation

In an interview with El Espectador, Carrillo confirmed that he would investigate the orders, “to verify instances of irregular conduct”, “identify the supposed perpetrators” and “determine whether they constitute a disciplinary violation.”

Carrillo expressed his personal concern at the allegations and promised a thorough investigation.

The facts revealed thus far are deeply unsettling, to the extent that the government itself has put together a commission in order to clarify what happened. We must get to the bottom of the issue. The one thing we cannot do is leave this in limbo.

Inspector General Fernando Carrillo

If the investigation finds evidence of misconduct, Carrillo could remove Martinez from his position and bar him from holding public office.

Extrajudicial killings in Colombia

The New York Times article and subsequent reports shook Colombia because between 2002 and 2008, orders and incentives similar to those of Martinez resulted in the extrajudicial executions of thousands of civilians in what euphemistically has been called the “false positives” scandal.

Before Duque promoted him to army commander in December, Martinez was already heavily implicated in this scandal.

The army chief’s old regiment is under investigation for 23 extrajudicial killings, including that of a 13-year-old girl, who had weapons planted on her person after her death to give the impression that she was a FARC guerrilla killed in combat.

Martinez later described that operation as a “great success.”

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