By Laura Dulce Romero, EL ESPECTADOR, October 5, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) is continuing to evaluate routes that it might take in case it is proved that the Secretariat of the now-defunct guerrillas committed those murders in the framework of the armed conflict. Some experts venture to say that the JEP could open another exclusive macrocase; in contrast, within the Peace Tribunal they are considering treating them as emblematic cases.
The confession by the FARC Secretariat regarding the responsibility of the former guerrillas in the crimes against Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, the former guerrillas Hernando Pizarro Leongómez and José Fedor Rey, the economist Jesús Antonio Bejarano, General Fernando Landazábal Reyes, a former Minister of Defense, and the Congressional Representative Pablo Emilio Guarín did not just take Colombians by surprise, but it also surprised the Justices of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
Even though the Justices are accustomed to hearing complicated and heartbreaking truths, this secret that had been kept for 25 years opened a new discussion within the transitional justice system. As has already been explained, the JEP is a tribunal that can’t investigate every crime that was committed during the war, because of the quantity of crimes accumulated in 50 years of war.
Because of that, they established some selection and prioritization criteria for the crimes. The worst and most representative crimes will be adjudicated. The JEP baptized those as “macrocases”. They have opened seven so far: four are topical (extrajudicial executions, kidnapping, recruitment, and actions taken against the members of the Patriotic Union Political Party; and three are territorial (Urabá, Nariño, and Cauca together with the southern part of Valle Province).
In this case, if it is proved that the murders are related to the armed conflict, and were perpetrated by the now-defunct guerrillas, none of the crimes confessed by the former Secretariat will fit in those spheres of the JEP. So how to adjudicate them? The views of experts and officials of the Peace Tribunal are divided. While some consider it workable to open a macrocase to investigate the serious murders by the FARC, others think it would be better just to investigate and try them as representative cases.
Enith Bula, an Attorney for the Colombian Jurists Commission (CCJ), is one of the experts that think that right now the Recognition of Truth Branch doesn’t have enough information to open a macrocase just based on the letter sent by the now-defunct FARC. In fact, “we don’t even know for sure what kind of account of these events they will produce,” she adds. Their announcement of admission doesn’t necessarily indicate that another sphere needs to be opened immediately.
The lawyer explains that we need to keep in mind that the process to prioritize a case has some stages that have to be fulfilled. “Once the Branch receives the information that the FARC-EP provide about the cases, that has to be compared, systematized, and analyzed. That would permit effective development of the stages of assembling, concentrating, focusing, and applying the prioritization criteria.”
Bula believes that the route is dynamic and progressive, and, depending on the available information about the murders, can lead to being able in the future to include them in a macrocase, or join them with other cases that lead to the opening of another one.”
For his part, Kenneth Burbano, Director of the Observatory of Constitutional Citizen Intervention at the Free University, believes it’s possible that a macrocase could be opened in the future, keeping in mind that it’s an unprecedented event: “The case of Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, for example, could be grouped with other assassinations like Carlos Pizarro, Jaime Pardon Leal, and Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa,” checking to see if these are generalized events, but for now, it’s a blank slate.”
As to the other murders attributed to the FARC that are not assassinations, Burbano thinks “they will have to open other cases with victims that could be connected to more flexible social or topical areas. The lawyer made clear that it’s problematic to adjudicate individual crimes, because the normative concept of the JEP is different. “If they process individual cases, the Justices won’t finish the prescribed steps in fifteen years.”
That being true, he believes that the court should figure out promptly how they are going to adjudicate the cases, because there’s no doubt that this early admision by the former FARC has to be within their jurisdiction, because they were events that took place in the framework of the armed conflict.
Within the JEP there is a different view. One source at the Court says that they don’t see the opening of another macrocase as possible for these crimes, because one of the characteristics for prioritization is that the crimes were generalized and systematic, like the kidnapping. Even though these murders were representative, the JEP does not have either tools or arguments to support opening a macrocase.
“ I think that within the prosecution of those most responsible, they (the former guerrillas) have the obligation to provide the truth and submit completely; that means recounting all of the events in which they participated. The Recognition of Truth Branch must hear that, because those were crimes committed within the conflict. That’s a complete truth that has not been revealed so far in the ordinary justice system. So they can be adjudicated as “emblematic cases’.”
Another source at the JEP agrees with that and makes a clean break with the option that these murders could fit into the existing macrocases. He notes that the “emblematic cases” have already been discussed in the court with regard to the cases going forward against Colonel Jorge Eliécer Plazas Acevedo, who is alleged to be one of those responsible for the assassination of the journalist Jaime Garzón.
Nevertheless, as the Section is aware that the Garzón case in not part of a macrocase, he suggested to the Recognition of Truth Branch that it consider a route toward prioritizing this kind of very important cases that are coming from the former combatants through the ordinary justice system. “The Recognition of Truth Branch ought to look for a way to manage the contributions of complete truth from the parties, even when they can’t be ascribed a priori to a specific macrocase,” pointed out Justice Alejandro Ramelli, who decided the civil rights action in July of this year.
Even though he emphasized the importance of the topical and territorial macrocases, the Justice explained that “a party could find himself in several cases simultaneously, or even in crimes prioritized and not prioritized, especially when there are selective crimes.”
Even though that decision foresaw the complicated scenario that the JEP may confront, since it works with the macrocases, up to now the Justices of the Recognition of Truth Branch have not been confronted with a story like what was revealed last Saturday by the former guerrilla commanders. What is indispensable, as the civil rights decision reflected, is that it indicate an available path quickly, one that will not violate the rights of the victims in these emblematic cases. The victims have been waiting 25 years for the truth.