President Iván Duque of Colombia, under fire over concerns that his military may be committing human rights abuses in its pursuit of armed groups, said Friday that he was appointing an independent commission to review orders and operational instructions issued by the army.
The initiative came less than a week after The New York Times disclosed army orders from this year instructing top commanders to “double the results” of their military missions against guerrilla, paramilitary and criminal organizations in Colombia.
The orders have caused unrest among some senior army officers, who said the new pressure to carry out attacks had heightened the risk of civilian casualties and had already led to suspicious deaths by overzealous soldiers.
Mr. Duque said he would create the commission, to be composed of prominent Colombian jurists, to perform a “rigorous analysis of all orders, manuals and operational documents.” He said the goal would be to ensure that the military’s orders conform to human rights law.
In the early 2000s, Colombia’s military unlawfully killed as many as 5,000 people when soldiers were put under pressure to increase their combat body counts. In some cases, peasants were slain and dressed up as guerrillas, or weapons were planted on them, so soldiers could meet their quotas. The crimes were known as “false-positive” killings.
The high-level officers interviewed recently by The Times began their careers during the “false-positive” killings and rose in rank during periods of reform.
They expressed concern that the orders this year had set the groundwork for a new series of illicit killings. They said Mr. Duque’s government had promoted a set of commanders who were unrepentant about the previous era.
Colombia’s senior army commander, Maj. Gen. Nicacio Martínez Espinel, said in an interview that he had issued the orders intended to double the results of military operations, but that his orders had been misinterpreted by the officers.
In a letter after the publication of The Times article, Colombia’s government said the story had incorrectly implied that the military was acting “in the face of international human rights and international law.”
But on Tuesday the army walked back part of the orders to step up attacks in the country, a pledge form in which officers were required to list the number of criminals and militants they planned to kill, capture or force to surrender in battle.
An army spokeswoman said the form would be subject to some modifications because of “a possible wrong interpretation” by those outside the military. She did not specify what the changes were. Gen. Martínez was quoted by El Tiempo, a local newspaper, as saying that it would be withdrawn altogether.
Another order, issued this year and apparently still in place, instructs officers not to “demand perfection” in carrying out attacks, even if significant questions remain about the targets they are striking.
“You must launch operations with 60 to 70 percent credibility or exactitude,” the order says.
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