The work of the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COS-PACC) in coordination with other organisations, including the Foundation Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (FCSPP), have borne results.
For the first time in history, a high ranking officer of the Army will be put on trial for his alleged responsibility in several extrajudicial executions. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has charged General (r) Henry William Torres Escalante with being the intellectual author of the murder of farmers Daniel Torres Arciniegas and Roque Julio Torres, who were father and son, and grassroot members of COS-PACC from the municipality of Aguazul.
Their case is another in a long list of so-called ‘false positives’, the unlawful killing of innocent civilians by members of the Armed Forces who then manipulate the scene to make it appear that these are legitimate deaths of guerrillas killed in combat, for the purpose of “showing results” in the Colombian armed conflict. This case drew attention because Roque Julio Torres had appeared as a witness in a military tribunal a few months before his death, in the case of the extrajudicial killing of farmer Hugo Edgar Araque in the same municipality. According to sources from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Roque Julio Torres’ testimony enabled the authorities to progress the investigation which implicates over 27 soldiers of various ranks of the 16th Brigade.
Stories from the field: He left before his time
Following these events, Torres Escalante was detained in March 2016 and called to trial in August of the same year; it was considered an historic event for being the first general arrested for his alleged responsibility in an extrajudicial execution. The relatives of other victims have called on the Public Prosecutor to bring charges against the retired general for other cases presented as ‘false positives’ which occurred during his time as commander of the 16th Brigade. In the charges against him he is allegedly responsible for approximately 85 extrajudicial killings in Casanare department.
In the words of Fabian Laverde, a member of COS-PACC, “we are dealing with the responsibility, through actions or omissions, of the commander of the 16th Brigade in Casanare. During his command in 2006 and 2007, the number of cases of extrajudicial executions increased. […] It is even believed that the Army offered a reward to anyone who murdered Daniel and Roque Julio Torres, who had denounced ‘false positives’ carried out by members of the Army”. The defence lawyers for the retired senior officer lodged an appeal with the Assistant Public Prosecutor, Maria Paulina Riveros, arguing that “due to the “key witness” [Lieutenant Marco Fabian Garcia Cespedes] withdrawing from the investigation, the trial against the officer for the crime of homicide of a protected person should be annulled”. This request was denied; and in September 2016 the Public Prosecutor’s Office called Torres Escalante to trial.
For the FSCPP, “the important issue in all these cases which we are handling on behalf of the victims of extrajudicial executions, is that we see concrete results, such as guilty verdicts against members of the military who are responsible for the events, be it through their actions, or because they played a role by way of omission. In line with this, the Foundation presented a claim to the Public Prosecutor at that time, Eduardo Montealegre, calling for the investigation of approximately 80 homicides involving soldiers of the 16th Brigade. The information available and the evidence that the Public Prosecutor’s Office has gathered leave no doubt that the person in charge must answer to justice as the person who ordered, who determined the execution of Daniel and Roque Julio. The fate of the other victims also warrants attention.” (Fernando Kekhan, lawyer and member of FCSPP)
The FCSPP also highlights the importance of the issue of truth, because the degree to which the truth can be uncovered about the methods of the extrajudicial executions (such as what happened, the motives behind the practice, the norms and regulations which led to the armed forces to commit these crimes) which were systematic and generalised in Colombia, to be able to determine what reforms are need to the armed forces to guarantee that they are not repeated.
 FCSPP: Pedirán traslado del general Escalante a cárcel del Inpec, 5 April 2016Fcspp: Pedirán traslado del general Escalante a cárcel del Inpec, 5 April 2016
 Human Rights Watch: El rol de los altos mandos en falsos positivos: evidencias de responsabilidad de generales y coroneles del Ejército colombiano por ejecuciones de civiles, 23 June 2015
 FCSPP: Avanza proceso en contra de militares por ejecución extrajudicial en Casanare, 4 August 2014
 El País: Capturan a cabo primero del Ejército involucrado en ‘falso positivo’ en Casanare, 18 March 2014
 El Espectador: Se entregó el general Torres Escalante por “falsos positivos”, 28 March 2016
 Interview with COS-PACC, August 2016
 El Espectador: Llaman a juicio al general (r) Henry Torres Escalante por falsos positivos, 11 August 2016
 Blu Radio: El general Montoya exigía muertos, no le servían desmovilizados: cabo Rivas, 29 March 2016
 El Espectador: Así pidió el general (r) Torres Escalante que no lo llamaran a juicio por ejecuciones extrajudiciales, 5 September 2016
 El Espectador: Fiscalía ratificó llamado a juicio al general (r) Torres Escalante por “falsos positivos”, 7 September 2016
 PBI Colombia, Interview with Zoraida Hernández, 29 September 2016
*Cover photograph: Accompanying Fernando Kekhan, lawyer with FCSPP, during a public apology in June 2016, in which the Colombian State apologised to the family of Jose Lorenzo Taborda Taborda, a young man from Casanare who was the victim of an extrajudicial execution in 2007 by the ‘Ramon Nonato Perez’ Infantry Batallion No. 44 of the 16th Brigade.