JFC Statement on invite to retired Colombian Army Commander from London think tank

Justice for Colombia (JFC) condemns in the strongest terms the decision by Canning House to invite retired Major General Emiro Barrios of the Colombian Armed Forces to speak at an online event titled “Politics and the Military in Latin America” on 23 September 2021.

Barrios stands accused of involvement in the worst human rights scandal of recent history – the so-called ‘false positives’, which saw at least 6,402 civilians unlawfully killed by the Colombian military between 2002 and 2008 under the government of former president Álvaro Uribe. 

The victims, predominantly young and poor Colombians lured from their homes with the promise of fake jobs, were targeted under a systematic policy to boost counter insurgency figures with soldiers offered financial rewards and other incentives if they increased the number of “combat” kills.

Barrios was Commander of the Colombian Army’s 8th Brigade while it was allegedly involved in multiple murders in 2007 and 2008.

In one case on 20 January 2007, two brothers, sugar cane farmers, were murdered by the army who then falsely claimed they were members of the FARC guerrillas and had been carrying out extortion activities. At the time, as commander, Barrios celebrated the operation. This case has recently been accepted into the transitional justice court set up under the peace agreement.

In another case, on 7 February 2008, Darbey Mosquera Castillo, a young man was shot dead by the army and dumped in a mass grave dressed up in guerrilla clothing. Barrios was the commander under which the killing took place and has his signature on a document authorising payment to an informant in an apparent attempt to cover up the killing.

Although Barrios faced a criminal investigation in 2015, he has evaded justice, instead rising through the military’s ranks to become Major General and Commander of the Colombian Army’s 5th Division.

In contrast, the mother of Darbey Mosquera, Alfamir Castillo Bermúdez, has faced repeated death threats during her search for justice. On 11 January 2019, the vehicle she was travelling in was shot at by unidentified men on a motorcycle, just one of many examples of violence and intimidation faced by her and other mothers whose children were killed by the army.

JFC calls on Canning House to; firstly, rescind the Barrios invitation, which is in no way compatible with an event asking: “Is there a positive role for the military to play in Latin America?”; and, secondly, offer an explanation into what assessment they had carried out into Barrios’ alleged role in the false positive killings and the potential impact on those families still searching for justice.

We further invite Canning House to host an event which gives voice to the victims of the families of those killed under the ‘false positives’ scandal – rather than an official accused of involvement – and to explore the work being done by the transitional justice courts to finally make steps towards some form of justice. Justice for Colombia would happily offer itself to facilitate such a meeting for Canning House.

Justice for Colombia

London, 22 September 2021