By Camilo Alzate, EL ESPECTADOR, April 10, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Director of the Legal Freedom Corporation (CJL in Spanish), an organization that has taken the lead in registering complaints about the crimes committed by the government in Ward 13 in Medellín and in the area affected by Hidroituango, offers a review of the functioning of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. She analyzes its challenges and its difficulties.
How are those of you in victims’ and human rights organizations evaluating the progress made by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP)?
It’s significant. New cases have been opened, some which will be especially interesting to certain of the press, and even to the opponents of the jurisdiction, because the new cases are the ones that involve the chieftains of the FARC, such as Case No. 001 on kidnapping. The Court has invested time and energy to document the arbitrary detentions. There have been hearings, and the majority of the FARC Secretariat have submitted to the Court, with the exception of those that remain outside the system. They have a good track record, they have documented the cases, and they have recognized the victims of the guerrillas.
But we in the victims’ organizations have some reservations there, because if the case is about arbitrary or illegal detentions, they ought not have just those that were committed by the guerrillas, but also those committed by the Armed Forces. We have asked that the JEP open a case on forced disappearances; the families and the organizations support this petition very strongly.
Do you want them to open another case or do you want to include those in 001?
At first we asked that they be included, but now we want them to open a specific case on forced disappearances, considering that it is a crime by the government within the framework of international conventions, because it involves the responsibility of the Armed Forces.
The organization Human Rights Everywhere created a Map of Forced Disappearance in Colombia and your group supported that investigation. Did you offer this input to the JEP?
Part of what has been mapped has been turned over, and there have been some hearings; we believe that there is sufficient information and context to open the case. It’s one of the most serious crimes committed in the setting of political violence in this country.
You have also urged a case on extrajudicial executions . . .
In Case No. 003, that has been promoted by the Space for Strategic Litigation along with the Legal Freedom Corporation, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, the Colombian Jurists Committee, the Minga Association, the Movement of Victims of Crimes by the State, and the Peace and Justice Commission . . . We are more than ten organizations that are investigating the cases of the brigades and battalions involved in extrajudicial executions. We have made reports on several battalions, and the strategy is to find those most responsible, so that the JEP can go ahead with trying the Army Generals who we believe were the ones that designed and implemented that policy.
There have been appearances and hearings, but there are several difficulties. Uribism managed to modify the JEP so that the so-called “third parties” (civilians, politicians, and businessmen) were not required to testify. That’s very serious because they have participated in violations of human rights.
The other problem is that the Army’s clear strategy is impunity and denial; they are instructing members of the military not to give any information, to keep silent, or to justify the crimes. We arranged the mural “Who gave the order?”, which was censored, and now they are hounding us legally in order to undermine our work: they have filed civil rights actions and demanded that we repair their good names, a clear strategy of denial.
We believe that the JEP is going slowly in guaranteeing the victims’ participation; they have done some work of documentation, they have the reports that we have given them from the organizations, and also those from the Attorney General’s Office, but it’s necessary that they get more participation by the victims and with a territorial focus, because it’s very serious that they keep being a Bogotá court. Even though there have been some hearings out in the countryside, many victims don’t clearly understand how to take part out in those areas.
It’s very important to overcome that theory of the two evils, that everybody was equally bad. They shouldn’t sit in one general judgment on the guerrillas or the paramilitaries, that may be accepted in the Jurisdiction without demonstrating the government’s responsibility, especially that of the high-ranking officers and other government officials who may have participated in those crimes.
Another key thing has been the provisional remedies, a proposal that we made along with the Movement of Victims of Crimes by the State (MOVICE in Spanish). On May 30, 2018, we requested that the Court order provisional remedies to protect 16 locations in five provinces where we believed that there were victims of forced disappearance and false positives.
Is that what finally triggered the exhumations in Dabeiba?
Exactly, but those measures didn’t cover Dabeiba at first. We found out later that there had been some ex-soldiers that were giving information about possible execution victims or false positives buried at Dabeiba. Then we requested broadening of the provisional remedies to protect the six cemeteries in the municipality, not just Las Mercedes, but also one that is administered by the Presbyterian Church, and others in districts (corregimientos) like San José de Urama, in La Balsita. With the ex-soldiers giving specific information, the exhumations went forward and 59 bodies were recovered. At least they were able to identify one of them.
The provisional remedies have been very interesting because there have been hearings about Ward 13 (in Medellín), and about the area of Hidroituango, and the cemetery in Rincón del Mar and San Onofre (Sucre Province), where the paramilitary Rodrigo “Cadena” had bases. They recovered a collection of bodies in the Osteology Laboratory of the University of Antioquia that had been transported from the cemetery in Medellín and from some indigenous cemeteries in Peque and Sabanalarga when they did the flooding for Hidroituango. They established that some of those bodies had suffered a violent death and might turn out to be victims. This is an example of how the Transitional Justice system is advancing, collaborating with the victims and with the Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons. This gives hope to the families that they may be able to identify their victims.
Are there aspects that aren’t so positive, such as, for example, the JEP summoned General Mario Montoya and his version was disappointing for the victims.
They have to investigate the responsibility of the high-ranking officers, not just for the extrajudicial executions, but also for the other means of attack. And when they aren’t committed to telling the truth, they need to be excluded from the Court’s jurisdiction.
In the case of General Mario Montoya, human rights organizations requested that he be excluded and tried by the ordinary justice system, among other things because these acts were not part of military service, but were attacks on defenseless civilians. This is an obvious and serious policy that violates human rights. His failure to commit to telling the truth is evident—the strategy of some of the military has been to go to the JEP to prove their innocence. The JEP is not a jurisdiction for acquittal, but for investigating the most atrocious crimes that were committed in the armed conflict. They have to be completely ready and committed to telling the truth in order to receive the Jurisdiction’s benefits; it is not a system for guaranteeing impunity.
What do you think about paramilitaries like Macaco or corrupt politicians like Samuel Moreno who have requested space in the JEP?
The Court determined in a decision last year that it would analyze those case by case. That is a good decision. What they have to decide for the paramilitaries is whether they will provide new information; not just what they have already revealed in the Peace and Justice system, and above all, that they commit to tell the truth. We believe that that will work so that the Court is not turned into a revolving door for everybody that wants to obtain the benefits, which is what happened with Peace and Justice, where many of the drug traffickers sneaked in. In the case of Samuel Moreno, who didn’t commit crimes in connection with the armed conflict, it’s very clear that he has no right to be accepted by the JEP. Nor does any corrupt politician.
The so-called “third parties” are excluded, and are not required to give testimony. What do the organizations want to see done?
We insist that they go of their own free will. This is one of the most regrettable decisions by the Jurisdiction, because it’s a total guarantee of impunity. We believe that when the investigations are made public, those third parties will feel compelled to go to the JEP because of social pressure. Those of us in the organizations, the academics, civil society, we have to put pressure so that those third parties submit and tell the truth so that their actions come to light. For example, we furnished the JEP with a report on the case of land theft in Urabá. We revealed the third parties who had to do with those activities: land theft, support for the paramilitaries, selective killings. We need to have public pressure so that the third parties understand that their best option is to come forward voluntarily and tell the truth.
The other option is for the Attorney General to continue to have the jurisdiction to investigate the involvement of third parties in the conflict and, as their involvement is made known, to file criminal charges. The JEP is transferring the information about those civilians so that the Attorney General’s Office is made aware of it, even though up to now there has been a total guarantee of impunity. Even with all of the detailed information that the paramilitaries gave in the Peace and Justice process, they never filed any charges. That’s why we need social pressure, so that what happened in Chile or in Argentina comes to pass, which was a mobilization that resulted in filing charges against the military junta.
The JEP is perceived as a threat by one sector of the establishment, one that would not be served by revealing the truth. Don’t you think that is a dispute that is more political than legal?
Of course, that is the real threat for them, because the JEP is focusing on those most responsible, and in this case, on the military commanders, who are indeed giving information, even those of lowest rank. They are afraid of this, that the soldiers will end up furnishing information about the civilians that were behind the crimes. That is the fear that Uribism has: that these generals will break loose and tell what the strategies were, who the businessmen were, which politicians; that’s what they don’t want and that’s why they keep working on reforming the JEP so it doesn’t try the military, so its jurisdiction becomes innocuous.
We aren’t asking that the JEP not try the guerrillas; in fact, they have to do that, and we are pressing for that, and watching so that they do it, but they already have all of the information about the guerrillas, the reports from the Attorney General’s Office, the documentation. Where there are weaknesses and possibilities for trials is in the cases of government officials, because of the blanket of impunity that has surrounded the crimes of the government.
I insist that the problem is political. The revelations about the cemetery in Dabeiba provoked an earthquake of public opinion; it showed that when the whole truth is known, one sector is going to be very much discredited . . .
That is the power of the truth; that’s why the trade-off of truth for penalty is so important.
What would it serve if we punished the paramilitaries if they didn’t reveal anything? We don’t need to worry about how many years they are going to spend in prison, but rather how much of the truth are they going to give us. The ideal is to have them talk. I don’t care if they don’t go to prison. Other people think that favors impunity because of their atrocious crimes and that their terrible violations of human rights should be investigated, judged, and punished with major penalties and incarceration. That is a respectable point of view, but it seems to me that if we can learn the truth there can later be a social sanction much stronger than sending them to prison. That is what has happened in other countries, like those in the Southern Cone, where social rejection has been so great that it has left them as outsiders. That is our gamble: that what has happened will become known.
That’s why the strategy of this government has been silence and denial. They put in charge of the National Center for Historical Memory a fellow who wants to eliminate it. Imagine! The Armed Forces designed a diploma course supposedly to teach the troops how the Integrated System of Truth, Justice, and Reparation was going to function, but in reality, they are teaching them not to give any details, so that they will be able to cover up their serious violations of human rights. They have this whole strategy, along with intellectuals who are saying all the time that Colombia is not prepared for the truth. They said that before in other countries, that the truth will generate more violence, but the only thing they’re looking for is for our society not to find out about the government’s crimes. That is the challenge that we have: prove what it is about the government’s crimes that they have been hiding.