By Sebastián Forero Rueda, EL ESPECTADOR, September 23, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The former guerillas have to file a civil rights action in order to get protection from the UNP after they receive death threats and attempts on their lives. Alfonso Campo, Director of the UNP, and José Albeiro Rodríguez, in charge of protection for the former FARC, responded to the inquiries and to the order issued by the JEP.

So that the National Protection Unit (UNP) would protect him after he filed complaints about harassment and threats against him, Armando Rodríguez Ibarra, a former FARC combatant had to file a civil rights action and had to reach an appellate court where a tribunal decided in his favor. From the time he requested protection until the day that the first security measures arrived, he had been displaced from his native Vista Hermosa (Meta Province) for at least seven months, because his life was in danger.

It was also a civil rights decision that accomplished what the former guerrillas who were re-incorporating in Tallambí, Cumbal Municipality (Nariño Province) needed: that the UNP give them collective protection. It came more than a year after they made the request because of threats to their leaders and because of the fighting by armed groups in that territory. As of this date, at least 20 civil rights decisions have ordered the UNP to provide protection for former combatants.

Why do the former guerillas of the now-defunct FARC have to go to court to get protection from the UNP? That was one of the reasons that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) adopted urgent protection measures for the former guerrillas at the end of last July. The JEP ordered the UNP to carry out the protection plans that had not been implemented, as well as to schedule the unfinished risk assessments for that population, among other tasks. The UNP responded to the orders by saying it could not carry them out because of budget and personnel limits. 

In spite of the fact that the JEP, in its decision, described the situation as critical, the UNP Director has a different perspective. Alfonso Campo arrived as Director of the agency at the end of last June, appointed by Present Iván Duque. Speaking with Colombia 2020, he maintained that he was carrying out the security guarantees that the Special Jurisdiction had ordered for the former combatants. “We informed the JEP that we needed 13,500,000,000 pesos (about USD 30,000,000) to carry out the order and I can tell you today that those funds have now been allocated by the Treasury Ministry, which ought to make them available at any moment. That is assured now, to be used between now and December 31,” the Director announced.

“You have to look at the numbers: out of 2,044 UNP agents, 1,305 (64%) are dedicated to the protection of the members of the FARC Party. We are talking about a very high percentage of UNP staff that’s protecting that population,” he said. He’s referring to the 1,305 agents that make up the Specialized Protection and Security Subsection, created in the Peace Agreement specifically for the former members of the now-defunct guerrillas. “Today we have enough of these important personnel in the Specialized Subsection to comply with the mission of protecting the former combatants,” he added.

He also said that, besides the 13,500,000,000 pesos allocated by the Treasury Ministry so far this year, the UNP has spent 85,000,000,000 pesos (a little over USD 22,000,000) on the protection of the former FARC guerrillas. “We’re carrying out the order now. I tell you also that for the first time, the Assistant Director of the Specialized Section goes out into the regions with the Director. We made a tour of the two areas out in the countryside in Cesar and in La Guajira, and out there we met with the former FARC commanders Solís Almeida and Joaquin Gómez, and we had very constructive meetings,” maintained Director Campo.

On the necessity for the former combatants to file a civil rights action in order to obtain protection, the Director insisted “I don’t know if they are using legal procedures right now to get protection. But I know that, speaking of all the ones that are being protected, when there have been civil rights decisions, we automatically proceed to implement them,” he said.

Nevertheless, José Albeiro Rodríguez, who leads the Specialized Security and Protection Unit, and who is the defendant in the civil rights orders, admits that today the protection of former FARC guerillas has collapsed. “When they created the Unit within the UNP, it wasn’t clear who was supposed to be protected. They figured on the dignitaries of the new Party, the members of Congress, the President and others that were doing important work within the Party. They planned for around 80 people that needed protection, and that could be covered with 1,200 men working in protection. But that collapsed,” the official said.

With the first forecasts, they issued regulations governing the Specialized Unit, and Decree 301 in 2017 limited the number of agents working as bodyguards for the members of the now-defunct FARC to 1,200. Today that maximum is filled, but it’s not enough to respond to the applications for protection. Right now there are 265 plans, some individual and some collective, for former members of the FARC, and there are 522 applications for protection being processed. As to why the former combatants are turning to civil rights actions to obtain protection, the agent said: “That simple: because we are not furnishing the protection measures because don’t have the funds.”

The JEP, in its answer to the UNP last September 3 about replenishing the funds, warned about what could happen: “In a hypothetical scenario where all of the people that applied for protection would file civil rights actions to obtain their rights to protection, there would be more congestion in the court system, the capacity of the UNP would be overwhelmed in its ability to carry out the court orders, the disruption would increase, and that would put at risk the confidence and legitimacy of the performance of the UNP and of the whole security system.”

Even though not all of the applications for protection end up receiving a favorable response, right now there are 57 security plans that have already been approved by the technical committee of Protection and Security and, even though some of them even already have the approval of the UNP itself, which authorizes implementation of the plan, those have not yet been carried out because of lack of personnel. According to the Assistant Director, to implement the pending plans would require 254 bodyguards.

To hire those bodyguards, the UNP Director used the 13,500,000,000 pesos furnished by the Ministry of the Treasury. That, explains Assistant Director Rodríguez, could address the plans that are pending right now, “because if tomorrow this keeps on increasing, those funds that the Director said were already committed would be insufficient.” But in addition there is also pending a legal restriction that limits the number of bodyguards to 1,200. As to that, the option that UNP is analyzing is outsourcing the hiring. That’s to say, contract with companies that employ bodyguards who comply with the requirement of being in the confidence of the FARC Party. Or modify Decree 301 and “allow an open standard: hire civil servants as needed in accordance with the principles of reasonableness and expediency.”

Nevertheless, with regard to expanding the staff in charge of protecting the former guerrillas, the UNP Director expressed his reservations. “Is it fair to expand a staff for a specific population group and leave the other population groups out? Would it make sense to expand the staff just for the human rights defenders, or just for leaders, or just for the FARC Party, or just for former paramilitary combatants that we also protect? We have to start with the fact that they all need protection,” he said.

Faced with this situation, Assistant Director Rodríguez calls upon the Armed Forces to also play a role in protection, because if they would attack the source of the threats and take these organizations down, there would be fewer dangers arriving at the UNP.

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