MEDELLÍN, Colombia — Colombia’s House of Representatives opened a debate on Monday to censure the country’s defense minister, amid national criticism that the military had issued orders this year encouraging human rights abuses.
The hearing to discipline the minister, Guillermo Botero, came three weeks after The New York Times revealed new orders instructing top army commanders to “double the results” of their military missions against guerrilla, paramilitary and criminal groups.
The orders sent a chill down the ranks of the military, and some senior commanders said the pressure to carry out attacks would mean high civilian casualties and had already led to suspicious deaths.
As many as 5,000 illegal killings occurred in the mid-2000s under similar circumstances, known today as the “false-positive” executions.
“There are orders which have been made public that have brought us terror that we’re headed back to times that we thought were over,” said Luis Alberto Albán, a former guerrilla leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel group known as FARC, who now serves in the country’s Congress.
During the debate in Congress, Mr. Albán noted that more than 130 former FARC members have been killed since the signing of a peace deal, including some by the military.
Katherine Miranda, a lawmaker from the Green Alliance party, said the report in The Times “clearly showed that we have fallen into policies which have incentivized extrajudicial executions.”
She noted that the whistle-blowers in The Times report weren’t members of the opposition like herself, but rather “top officials in the army,” and that “it’s the military itself which is saying we are possibly facing false positives.”
The high-ranking officers who spoke to The Times provided copies of orders in which they had been told to double the number of surrenders, captures and killings by military operations, and to lower the standard under which they launched them.
They also provided a pledge form in which they said that Maj. Gen. Nicacio Martínez Espinel, the head of the army, had told commanders to set goals for the number of criminals and armed group members killed, captured and forced to surrender in battle.
Shortly after the report in The Times, the military said it would change the form, and Francisco Santos, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, later said it had been withdrawn entirely. On May 24, President Iván Duque said he was appointing an independent commission to review the orders to ensure they did not violate international or human rights law.
Mr. Botero’s future could be the subject of a vote in the next week, but it remains unclear how far the effort to oust him will go in the country’s conservative congressional majority. Last week, Mr. Duque’s allies in Congress gave a rank promotion to General Martínez, despite calls for him to resign.
The defense ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the hearings.
In testimony to the Colombian Senate last week, Mr. Botero said that the number of military operations had expanded during his tenure, up by a third, but that the attacks were “always done with respect for human rights.”