According to a 2015 report from Human Rights Watch, Colombian military units carried out routine extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2008, when Colombia's war against the Marxist guerrilla group FARC was still ongoing. The cases became known as "false positives" because Colombian soldiers allegedly falsified evidence against civilians, painting them as guerrilla fighters to boost body counts and collect financial rewards.
At the time, Human Rights Watch's executive director for the Americas, José Miguel Vivanco, called these killings "one of the worst episodes of mass atrocity in the Western Hemisphere in recent years." Hundreds, possibly even thousands, of civilians are believed to have been killed. Rodríguez allegedly played a key role, commanding the Colombian army's 4th Brigade from 2006 to 2008. According to evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch, at least 28 civilians were killed by the brigade under his watch.
Many low- and mid-level military figures have faced prosecution for their role in false positives, but senior officers like Rodríguez have escaped legal repercussions. A pending criminal investigation against the former general has stalled. But there is evidence that Rodríguez was still deeply concerned about the accusations against him.
Earlier this month, the Colombian magazine Semana published a story alleging that Rodríguez sought advice from his cyberintelligence expert on how to conduct electronic surveillance on Vivanco in 2017. In their report, Semana recounted testimony from an official that suggested Rodríguez was concerned about tweets from Vivanco about false positives and the International Criminal Court, and asked whether the military would be able to "counterattack" and use a surveillance device called a WiFi Pineapple to monitor the activist's Internet activity.
Rodríguez stepped down as commander of the Colombian Military Forces in 2017, just three years after he had taken the position. The move was unexpected: According to a report from McClatchy, it came shortly after the U.S. government began reviewing his visa rights.
Vivanco told McClatchy that Rodríguez's retirement might "send a strong message that [the army has] closed the dark chapter of ‘false positives.’” But then Rodríguez was sent to represent Colombia in Seoul. Vivanco said this week that Rodríguez's appointment as ambassador showed the Colombian government was sending a "disturbing message: that it’s willing to back senior officers against whom there are serious allegations of involvement in the 'false positive' coldblooded executions."
Neither the South Korean nor Colombian embassies in Washington responded to inquiries about Rodríguez from The Washington Post.
Top diplomatic positions for other countries have gone to those accused of complicity in war crimes before. Jagath Jayasuriya, a retired Sri Lankan army general accused of complicity in violence against civilians during the last part of Sri Lanka's civil war, was appointed ambassador to Brazil and five other Latin American countries in June 2014.
Kate Cronin-Furman, a researcher at Harvard's Belfer Center who has studied Sri Lankan war crimes, said it was widely suspected that Jayasuriya and other senior Sri Lankan military commanders with no diplomatic experience were nominated to ambassador posts in a bid to provide them diplomatic immunity.
This diplomatic immunity would only be valid in the host country and wouldn't affect the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which says that such immunities "shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction over such a person." However, Cronin-Furmin said there appeared to be a hope that "third-party states would defer to their ambassadorial status and refrain from commencing universal jurisdiction prosecutions."
That principle wasn't tested in Jayasuriya's case: After human rights groups filed lawsuits against him in Brazil and Colombia last year, he left his position and returned to Sri Lanka, where the government has since refused to prosecute him.
But could a standoff between the International Criminal Court, South Korea and Colombia come to pass? Right now, it's not clear. But Vivanco said Colombia should complete the criminal investigation against Rodríguez to avoid any problems.
"The Attorney General’s Office should promptly revive the stalled prosecution against him," Vivanco said. "It could otherwise risk exposing Colombia to an investigation by the International Criminal Court, which is closely monitoring proceedings in these cases and could open an investigation if national authorities are unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute top commanders allegedly involved in these heinous atrocities."