Dozens of senior Colombian army officers implicated in the killing of 3,000 civilians falsely claimed to be rebels a decade ago have risen through the ranks and are escaping punishment for their roles in one of Latin America’s worst atrocities, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
In a 95-page report titled “On their Watch,” the rights group offers the most extensive look so far at the pattern of killings by the U.S.-backed armed forces and the legal proceedings against military personnel who tried to present civilians as guerrillas killed in combat to inflate body counts that led to promotions and bonuses.
While more than 800 soldiers have been convicted for such killings, most are low-ranking soldiers. No charges have been filed against a single officer heading a brigade or anyone else higher up the chain of command at the time of the killings between 2002 and 2008, at the peak of the military offensive against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Among the senior officers singled out by Human Rights Watch are two of Colombia’s most distinguished soldiers: General Juan Pablo Rodríguez, the current head of the armed forces, and General Jaime Lasprilla, the army’s top commander. Both led brigades in different parts of the country that were accused of carrying out at least 76 of the killings while briefly under their command.
“The generals are pretty much off the hook,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch.