Colombia has arrested army General Henry Torres for his role a decade ago in the killing of civilians presented as guerrillas killed in combat. General Torres turned himself in on Monday as soon as the arrest order on charges of homicide against him was issued.
He is the highest-ranking military officer to ever be detained for such crimes.
Between 2002 and 2008, army brigades across Colombia systematically executed more than 4,000 civilians to make it appear they were killing more rebel fighters in combat. To date, more than 800 members of the security forces have been convicted and hundreds more are under investigation.
Torres was the head of a military unit in eastern Casanare state that in 2007 killed a father and son and later presented the two as guerrillas killed in combat.
Torres’ arrest comes as Human Rights Watch said in a report on Monday that many of those accused of implementing or carrying out the extermination policy would probably have their cases heard in a special peace tribunal set up to implement a peace accord being negotiated in Cuba. Under the proposed terms of the accord, rebels and state agents who confess their crimes will be spared jail time and sentenced to a maximum eight years of labour in projects to rebuild communities torn apart by the conflict.
“The agreement is a checkmate against justice,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. He added that “the web of loopholes and ambiguities in the agreement could guarantee that many of those responsible for false-positive killings, ranging from low-ranking soldiers to generals, will escape justice.”