Colombia: ex-army chief called to trial over killings

false positives

The former commander of Colombia’s armed forces, retired general Mario Montoya, was summoned late last month to appear before a trial to take place under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) concerning the grisly practice of “false positives“—the killing of non-combatants in the guise of military operations against the guerillas. Montoya has been called to testify in Case 03, officially dubbed “muertes ilegĂ­timamente presentadas como bajas en combate por agentes de Estado” (deaths illegitimately presented as fallen in combat by agents of the State). The testimony is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Under terms of the JEP, Montoya will receive leniency if he confesses the full truth. However, if he is caught lying or trying to conceal even a portion of the truth, he may be expelled from the transitional justice court and could face a 40-year prison term. Montoya has always maintained his innocence in the “false positives” scandal, but the JEP judicial authorities say this is contradicted by evidence and the testimony of 11 of his former subordinates. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 30; El Colombiano, Dec. 23)

A book released in 2018, co-authored by former National Police colonel Omar Rojas Bolaños, purports to reveal the true extent of the practice. Entitled Ejecuciones Extrajudiciales en Colombia 2002–2010: Obediencia ciega en campos de batalla ficticios (Extrajudicial Executions in Colombia, 2002-2010: Blind Obedience on Fictitious Battlefields), the book puts the number killed in “false positive” slayings at approximately 10,000—more than three times the number tallied by human rights groups. (The Guardian, May 2018)

Outrage over the revelations helped scuttle a proposal by the army last year to loosen the protocols for battlefield killings. Under the guidelines issued in May by the new army commander, Major Gen. Nicacio MartĂ­nez Espinel, soldiers were instructed not to “demand perfection” in the targeting of deadly attacks, and to “double results” in the campaign against remnant guerilla forces. After an outcry in the press, MartĂ­nez Espinel said the new orders would be withdrawn for re-evaluation. (NYT, May 18; NYT, May 21)

Photo: Contagio Radio