Santos defends army as Human Rights Watch publishes new evidence alleging senior officers were implicated in false positives scandal
What are false positives?
Between 2002 and 2008, the Colombian military were offered rewards of cash bonuses, vacation time, food and cigarettes for increasing the body count of FARC and ELN rebels.
This pressure led to the deaths of innocent people, who were murdered by army troops then dressed up in fatigues and presented to superior officers as dead guerrilla fighters.
Close to 3,000 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings are currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s office.
More than 800 mostly low-ranking soldiers have been convicted for participating in the killings.
Some of Colombia’s highest ranking army officers were complicit, or actively involved in dozens of extrajudicial killings over a six year period, a recent Human Rights Watch report reveals.
While the false positives scandal came to light in 2008, the 95-page report entitled ‘On Their Watch’ analyses the Attorney General’s Office’s investigation, including previously unpublished witness testimony that shows just how high up the chain of command the practice went.
“False positive killings amount to one of the worst episodes of mass atrocity in the Western Hemisphere in recent years, and there is mounting evidence that many senior army officers bear responsibility,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
President Santos questioned the veracity of the report and defended the officers.
Addressing the army in a ceremony on June 25, he said: “There wasn’t a single investigation into these officials. So don’t come and point them out and cause enormous damage without any documentation. That is not the way to police the respect for human rights.”
The report documents the numbers of killings being investigated for specific brigades and commanders. It alleges that Colombia’s two highest ranking officers – General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, the current Chief of the Armed Forces, and Army Chief General Jaime Lasprilla Villamizar – knew or should have known about the wrongful killings.
By Mark Kennedy