By Valentina Parada Lugo, EL ESPECTADOR, November 24, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The midlevel officers of the former guerrillas have begun to provide the JEP with their testimony in its investigation in the case of recruitment of children. Five attorneys, representing 97 victims of this crime, say that they expect more admissions, and that the complete truth will be provided.
Fourteen former guerrilla commanders have already furnished their testimony to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) in the case of the recruitment and use of boys and girls in the armed conflict. Generally, they all admitted that children had been present in their ranks, although they stoutly denied that their recruitment had been forced.
Because of that, the organizations that represent the victims in this case, like the Coalition Against the Involvement of Children and Young People in the Armed Conflict in Colombia (Coalíco), and Women’s Link Worldwide, say that there is still a debt owed the victims who are hoping that the former guerrillas will admit their responsibility completely.
Helena*, for example, a victim of forced recruitment when she was 14, and who was forced to use contraceptives and to have an abortion when she was part of the FARC, explains that after the first hearings for the former commanders, she felt disappointed. “There is no commitment by all of the Colombian people, because if we are to think that they are remorseful, they have to admit all of it, and that includes what happened to us when we were women and young girls in their ranks.”
Angélica Cocomá, Attorney for Women’s Link, the organization that represents Helena•, comments that “they don’t realize that they could lose their benefits if they don’t come out and tell the whole truth. This is a vote of confidence, but it’s not a blank check,” she insists. What the former Commanders left out in the testimony they have already given, according to the organization, is that they didn’t recognize the depth of the sexual and reproductive violence. The first refers to the sexual harassment and abuse carried out by the guerrillas, and the second is the violation of their reproductive rights and the damage to the sexual health of the female combatants.
In the report “Violations of reproductive rights of the women and girls in the ranks of the FARC-EP: a debt of justice”, furnished by Women’s Link in 2019, cases of women and girls that were forced to use contraceptives when they entered the ranks are documented, but, according to the Attorney, “they have never admitted this, in spite of the fact that we have revealed that that was a policy that came from the highest-ranking commanders of the FARC.” Mayra Alejandra Castellanos, of Coalíco, agrees with that. She tells how one of the contradictions that she has observed in their testimony is that “there were some of them that said that contraceptives were obligatory, but others said that it was the women themselves who decided that, and they asked for the contraceptives.”
Furthermore, both entities agreed that in the majority of the testimonies of the former commanders, they tried to justify the recruitment. For Juan Manuel Martínez, who represents several victims in the case, many of them acted as if they were “heroes” who rescued women and girls, and that’s why the women and girls entered their ranks.
As this newspaper has already mentioned, the only two commanders that admitted having had underage children under their command were Martín Cruz Vega, known as Rubín Morro, and Milton de Jesús Toncel Redondo, or Joaquín Gómez. Even they both claimed that the children under their command were orphans.
Attorney Cocomá, for example, states that one of the petitions filed by the mid-level commanders, who began giving testimony yesterday, is that yes, they admit that there were cases where they seized boys and girls against their will. In fact, the representatives of Coalíco said that if indeed not all of the cases were by force, they did find several cases that appeared to show a systematic policy.
“The majority indicated that recruitment was by persuasion, that the guerrillas would come and would convince the boy or girl, but they have not admitted their practices of forced recruitment by violence and by deception,” insists Attorney Martínez. However Hilda Molano of Coalíco clarifies the term “force”. “The fact that force was not used in all of the cases doesn’t make it less punishable; the crime is illegal recruitment, because recruitment of minors is illegal.” They also say, contrary to what the former FARC have said, that indeed there was a systematic policy and modus operandi in the ranks on recruitment of minors. They say that some of the victims that they represent claim that there were schedules for entrance and exit of children; the former commanders say the opposite, that the cases were isolated.
Erika Gómez, a Coalíco attorney who has been present at most of the hearings, comments that the reactions of the victims who have listened to the testimony of the former commanders have been diverse. Nevertheless, she says, in general the testimonies have been disheartening because, among other things, there has not been admission that children were used in the war. “They have said that there were children in the ranks of the guerrillas, but have not told how they were used.”
Besides that, they said that in the majority of cases, the boys and girls in the ranks were more than 15 years old. Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, was emphatic about that. He insisted that their policy was to admit those from 15 to 30 years old. The attorney for Women’s Link explains that the presence of children between 15 and 17 years old, in the light of International Humanitarian Law, is not a crime, but under Colombian law it is a crime. “I believe that could be a strategy of theirs, because the JEP is going to prioritize international crimes, and if they say they never violated the rule against using children younger than 15, they will only have committed crimes against Colombian law. That could be the reason why they won’t admit that they used 14-year olds.”
On that point, Erika Gómez cites the example of Martín Cruz Vega (Rubín Morro) a former commander who joined the guerrillas when he was only 14, which proves a violation of the international legislation.
One of the commitments required of those who submit to the JEP is that they must sign a certificate of commitment in which they take responsibility for telling the truth about things that have not been revealed in the ordinary legal system. However, for Gómez, as a representative of the victims, this has not taken place yet. “There hasn’t been any confession that has surprised us or that we didn’t know about or had not yet documented in our own reports, or in reports from the Attorney General’s Office.”
According to the attorney, the only admission, and that was also previously known, but it was surprising that he mentioned it, was from Rubín Morro, when he admitted that some minors might have been executed by guerrilla firing squads, because they wanted to desert.
The mid-level commanders that are giving their testimony in this case include John Jairo Pardo Hernández, known as Picado, a former member of the Eastern Bloc and who appeared before the Court last Tuesday. On this Wednesday morning, Luis Óscar Úsuga Restrepo, of the Northwest Bloc will testify, and on December 4, Diego Ardila (Leonel Paz) from the Western Bloc.