Colombia: First General to be detained for “false positives”. When will there be more detentions?

Press release
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FIDH and its member organisation in Colombia, CAJAR, welcome progress made by the Colombian justice system in detaining General Henry William Torres Escalante on 28 March, and the scheduled prosecution of Ex-National Army Commander Mario Montoya Uribe on charges of crimes against humanity.

“For senior officials to be connected to false positive trials constitutes progress on the part of the Colombian justice system; the effort must be sustained and all high-ranking officials who designed, incentivised, and promoted this criminal policy should be tried and sentenced.””

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

The first arrest of a general on the charge of false positives has been made ten years after the event, and only after the filing of national and international reports on the serious criminal policy practised by the armed forces, which involved an internal system of recognition, rewards and promotions designed to inflate operational achievements. This system led to the extra-judicial killing of at least 5600 individuals, as documented by the Extra-judicial Executions Board of the Colombia Europa USA Co-ordination entity (CCEEU).

In 2012, the FIDH published a report entitled “War is measured in litres of blood. False positives, crimes against humanity: highest ranking officials responsible for impunity”. The report underscores the systematic and widespread nature of the false positives phenomenon in Colombia in the years between 2002 and 2008. Then President Alvaro Uribe Velez ignored reports from human rights defenders on these crimes while the practice was being extended to all national army units. These acts were supported by the highest-ranking army officers, who not only failed to exercise their duty to prevent these crimes, but actually encouraged this behaviour. Despite the reports, most of these cases have gone unpunished.

On 28 March, the Public Prosecutor’s office issued an arrest warrant for General Torres Escalante, who coincidently was discharged from the armed forces the previous day and who voluntarily gave himself up to the authorities. Escalante, former Commander of Brigade 16, is charged with the assassination of peasants, a father and a son, who were reported as having fallen in combat in March 2007. According to the investigators, the assassination of the son was a reprisal for reporting the death of his father a few days earlier. Similarly, General and former Army Commander Mario Montoya, is scheduled to be charged at a hearing on 31 May for at least ten cases of murder of protected persons and, according to the information available, these charges not only entail the failure to act when faced with what at the time were qualified “isolated acts”, but that, in his capacity of Commander of the National Army, he fostered this criminal practice in various areas of the country.

The International Criminal Court, in its preliminary examination of the Colombian situation, informed the government that the prosecution and sentencing of the main culprits in the “false positives” case is essential in deciding whether or not the Court will open an investigation. In any event, the Colombian justice system cannot stop with these prosecutions, for there remains a large number of high- ranking officials who must be tried.

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