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Colombian Military Scandal - Fall 2008

Army officers fired for killings received US training and assistance
October 29, 2008
By: John Lindsay Poland, FOR

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced the dismissal today of 25 military officers, including three generals and 11 colonels and lieutenant colonels, for human rights abuses. The abuses include involvement in the killings of dozens of youths who were recruited in Bogotá slums and shortly after were reported as killed in combat by the army, hundreds of miles away.

The dismissal is a positive action, which we applaud. Officers responsible for killing civilians must face consequences, or the killing will continue.

Human rights organizations have documented more than 500 reported extrajudicial killings by the army since the beginning of last year. This week, Amnesty International issued a scathing report on worsening conditions in Colombia, including massive displacement of internal refugees, increased extrajudicial killings, and attacks on human rights defenders. But it was the report that poor Bogota youths whose families said they had disappeared, had been recruited by the army or others, then reported as dead in combat, that detonated the issue. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos admitted that the army still harbors “holdouts who are demanding bodies for results.”

The dismissal of officers also demonstrates extensive US complicity with the abuses. The United States gave military training directly or assisted the units of nearly all of the officers implicated in the killings. At least eleven of the officers, including Brigadier Generals Paulino Coronado Gamez and José Cortes Franco, were trained at the US Army School of the Americas, and Cortes even served as an instructor at the school in 1994. Most of the officers commanded units that had been ‘vetted’ by US officials for human rights abuses and approved to receive assistance in 2008, in spite of extensive reports that their units had carried out murders of civilians.

Yet the dismissal, which focuses on officers operating in a northeastern region of Colombia where the disappeared youths were found, addresses only a small number of the army units responsible for civilian killings. In the oil-rich Casanare and Arauca departments, the US-trained 16th and 18th Brigades have reportedly committed dozens of killings, as has the US-supported 9th Brigade in the coffee-growing department of Huila. In southeastern Valle and Cauca, the Third Brigade’s Codazzi Batallion receives US support and reportedly committed at least nine killings of civilians last year, as may be implicated in firing on peaceful indigenous protesters this month. In southern Meta and Guaviare departments, the United States supports multiple mobile brigades in areas where the army has committed a large number of civilian killings.

In addition, most of the army’s current leadership – including 17 of 24 brigade commanders - were trained by the United States at the School of the Americas, on top of US training provided to Colombian officers at dozens of other military schools and in Colombia. Washington in involved in the army’s human rights problem through and through, and journalists, activists, and Congressional staff ought to be asking why.

"Widespread and systematic" army killings:
Who replaces General Montoya?

November 4, 2008
By: John Lindsay Poland, FOR
(With correction below)

Colombian Army commander Mario Montoya resigned today, in the wake of a scandal over army killings of civilians that a United Nations official on Saturday called “widespread and systematic.” A protégé of the United States, Montoya was an architect of the “body count” counterinsurgency strategy that many analysts believe led to the systematic civilian killings. His record is full of reports of collaboration with paramilitary units, from the 1970s into the 2000s.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation believes General Montoya’s departure because of criticism of his human rights record reflects an important step in the effort to make human rights a central measure for military officers’ performance. We urge Colombian authorities to pursue all relevant investigations of crimes committed under General Montoya’s command.

“The Colombian government presumably sought to replace General Montoya with an officer with a spotless record,” said John Lindsay-Poland, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. “But the reported executions of civilians under General González Peña’s command suggests that such high-ranking officers in the Colombian army are far and few between.” The United States continues to fund the training and operations of these officers. The Fellowship urges activists, journalists, and legislators to ask when the United States will stop the unconditional flow of lethal assistance to the Colombian Army. And we call on the incoming administration in Washington to cease such assistance as criminal and ineffective in its aims.

CORRECTION (11/5/2008)

President Uribe announced this afternoon that the replacement for Army chief General Montoya will be General Oscar Enrique González Peña
General González Peña was commander of the Fourth Brigade, based in Medellín, from December 2003 to July 2005, when units under his command reportedly committed 45 extrajudicial executions in eastern Antioquia, according to a report last year
González Peña also commanded the 11th Brigade in Cordoba in 2002-03, when the paramilitaries were operating freely in the area and the Army apparently could do nothing about it. In 2005, he commanded the Seventh Division, with jurisdiction over the brigades with among the worst human rights records in the Army: the 11th, 17th, 4th and 14th Brigades. He attended the School of the Americas in Panama in 1980.

That General González Peña also brings to the army leadership a history of extrajudicial executions under his command reinforces the observation we made earlier in the day – it is hard to identify Colombian army commanders who have not commanded units committing gross human rights violations. And most of them have received US training or assistance.

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