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Colombia: Court rejects charging former army commander over extrajudicial killings

Luis Jaime Acosta and Nelson Bocanegra. Reuters. August 31, 2021

BOGOTA (Reuters) – A court in Colombia has rejected a move by the attorney general’s office to bring charges against a former army commander for his alleged responsibility in 104 extrajudicial killings because it does not have jurisdiction, it said on Tuesday.

At the start of August the attorney general’s office said it would bring charges against retired General Mario Montoya, 72, in connection to a number of so-called false positive killings that took place from November 2007 to November 2008.

Despite orders from the defense ministry and military command to prioritize captures, Montoya did not pass them on and continued to incentivize combat deaths, the attorney general’s office said previously.

Montoya, who remains free, was commander of Colombia’s army between 2006 and 2008. He submitted himself to Colombia’s transitional justice court (JEP) in 2018.

However according to the high court in capital Bogota, while the attorney general’s office can investigate such crimes, the JEP is the only organization that can charge Montoya, the attorney general’s office said.

“In exercising their function of control, the magistrate … decided that while the attorney general’s office can and must investigate acts like these, bringing charges is exclusive to the JEP,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

Montoya has previously denied the charges of which he is accused.

The false positives took place between 2002 and 2008 when soldiers murdered civilians and registered them as guerrilla fighters killed in combat to receive benefits.

The JEP says at least 6,402 people were killed this way, but some victims’ groups allege the numbers could be higher.

The JEP was created under a 2016 peace deal to prosecute former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and military leaders for alleged war crimes.

Under the ordinary justice system Montoya could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison, but under the JEP he could receive a sentence of between five and eight years, which would not be served in prison.