BOGOTA, Colombia – Human Rights Watch is denouncing Colombia's government for appointing at least nine officers to key army positions despite credible evidence implicating them in serious human rights violations during the country's long civil conflict.
The human rights organization released a report Wednesday condemning the government of President Ivan Duque for promoting Gen. Nicasio de Jesus Martinez Espinel as army chief and promoting eight other officers linked to abuses.
The men are "credibly implicated" in what is known as the "false positive" scandal, in which security forces killed several thousand civilians during the height of the military's offensive against leftist guerrillas and counted them as rebels to inflate combat deaths to obtain coveted bonuses, the group said.
"The Colombian government should be investigating officers credibly linked to extrajudicial executions, not appointing them to the army's top command positions," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch.
He said their appointments send a troubling message to troops: "That engaging in these abuses may not be an obstacle for career success."
A request for comment by The Associated Press to Martinez Espinel's office was not immediately returned.
It's not the first time Human Rights Watch has accused Colombia's government of turning a blind eye to war-time violations in making army promotions. In 2017, the group expressed concern that four coronels and one general strongly linked to the extrajudicial killings were on a list of candidates for promotions.
Colombian courts have convicted hundreds of mostly low-ranking soldiers for their roles in the "false positive" killings but more senior army officers have largely escaped unscathed.
The country's special peace tribunal is also reviewing the cases. The court was established following the signing of a 2016 peace deal with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to end Latin America's longest-running conflict. Those who fully confess to any crimes are unlikely to spend any time in jail.
Human Rights Watch notes that Martinez Espinel was second-in-command of the 10th Brigade during years for which prosecutors have opened investigations into 23 killings.
The group said a document it had obtained indicates Martinez Espinel certified the payment of about $400 to an informant who provided information leading to "excellent results" in which two purported guerrillas were killed.
Human Rights Watch said courts concluded the two dead were Hermes Carillo, an indigenous civilian, and 13-year-old Nohemi Pacheco. Two soldiers and a former paramilitary were convicted in 2011 of abducting them from their home, murdering them and putting weapons on their bodies so that they appeared to be rebels killed in combat.
Under international law commanders can be held responsible for crimes carried out by subordinates that they knew about or should have known about.