“THERE’S NO NEED TO PUT MORE OBSTACLES IN PLACE”: THE TOUGH MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE JEP Interview: Justice Eduardo Cifuentes analyzes 2020 and talks about what’s to come in 2021

El Tiempo, December 30, 2020


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

After three years holding the reins of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), Justice Patricia Linares ended her term as President of the Jurisdiction in November of 2020, and the office was taken over by Justice Eduardo Cifuentes, an experienced attorney from Popayán.

In spite of the harsh criticism by some political parties, which even pushed the possibility of a referendum to abolish it, the JEP closed out the past year with more than 36,000 decisions issued, 308,000 victims accredited in the seven macro-cases, and a framework for the first substantive decisions and convictions of those most responsible for crimes that took place in the armed conflict.

In an interview with EL TIEMPO, Justice Cifuentes talked about the progress that the Special Jurisdiction achieved in 2020, and what he hopes to accomplish this 2021. In addition, the Justice explains why the JEP cannot consider itself a sluggish agency, explains the shields it possesses, and sends a message to his critics: “It’s essential to stop the work of sabotaging the System of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and No Repetition.”

2020 marked the first change in the Presidency of the JEP. How did you find it when you took over?

The Jurisdiction is well-established, thanks to the Presidency of Justice Patricia Linares, notwithstanding the unfair attacks received in those first years. The JEP has opened seven macro-cases, 12,600 members of the former FARC and the Armed Forces have submitted to the Court’s jurisdiction, and the Court has already produced more than 35,000 decisions.

The principal challenge now consists in exercising the JEP’s jurisdiction to the fullest, punishing those most responsible for the crimes committed in the conflict, and channeling an active and organized participation by the victims. The JEP is a powerful instrument against impunity and also in favor of reconciliation.

The pandemic accelerated the momentum of the JEP, at least as far as holding hearings. What were the good things and the bad things left by the hazard of the Covid?

The JEP is the jurisdiction that has done the most to speed up the digitalization of proceedings and hearings. From the beginning of the confinement, and until December 30, we conducted 373 virtual proceedings; most of those consisted in testimony by parties that have submitted to the Court’s jurisdiction.

In any event, this is a great help, but we continue to have a direct and face to face relationship, not just with those who have submitted to our jurisdiction, but also with the victims, because their dignity demands that; and another thing, the most serious harms to human rights have also been committed in very remote areas of this country.

The worst thing about the pandemic is that besides the fact that the victims have always been the poor, now the Covid has crushed them even more; now they are fighting for justice and against the bitterest poverty. During the pandemic the murders of the leaders and the defenders of human rights and of the people that have demobilized have not ceased. That really does put the peace process in danger.

In spite of those results, there are those that insist that the JEP is sluggish. How do you answer those criticisms?

It’s one thing to judge purely individual cases and another thing to pass judgment on systemic crimes that involve complex patterns of macro-criminality and macro-victimization. The JEP tackles the latter.

We have progressed a lot, so that already this year we will begin to identify the individuals with the greatest responsibility and the activities that were most responsible, by means of orders determining the acts and the conduct. Those most responsible will be subject to penalties of up to 20 years in prison, unless they decide to provide exhaustive and truthful testimony and take full responsibility.

To achieve that, we will start issuing orders this year for the testimony of those alleged to be responsible, orders that must be accurately verified by the JEP, and with the victims’ participation. No other jurisdiction has achieved this result in so short a time.

We fully understand the zeal of the victims and of society to see justice done and an end to so many decades of impunity. For us, as judges, we have to respect due process and the rights of those that have submitted. We are working without pause, but not in haste. The JEP does not administer “express” justice.

In 2021 can the country hope for findings of fact and conclusions of law, a process that would open the door to penalties?

In 2021 the findings of fact regarding actions and corresponding conduct will be issued in the first seven macro-cases. After the Court receives and compares the testimonies it will begin issuing the respective findings of fact and conclusions of law. We expect that this will take place in the cases of kidnapping and of the “false positives”.

Victims’ organizations have requested that the Court open new macro-cases. What is needed for that and which situations or events would be given priority?

The first seven macro-cases have allowed the JEP to accumulate some very valuable information. It will allow the expansion and enhancement of all of the remaining lines of investigation, and that will facilitate not only the testimony of those alleged to be maximally responsible but also that of the victims.

In a reasonable time, we propose to go ahead with the phase in which the party alleged to be responsible can still provide all of the truth and assume his/her responsibility, depending on what remains in our budget; those who don’t do that are exposing themselves to penalties up to 20 years in prison.

We’ve learned about the resignation of the first Justice, Iván González. How will his departure affect the development of JEP activities? Do you know yet who his replacement will be?

Justice Iván González Amado had a brilliant performance in this Jurisdiction and will be replaced very soon, according to the internal rules in the JEP General Regulations.

What’s going on with the case of Álvaro Gómez Hurtado in 2021, and how can the full truth about the assassination be guaranteed?

The JEP has already begun taking the testimony of Julián Gallo and is waiting for that of Rodrigo Londoño. The Admissions Branch has to decide on the route to follow, once it hears those two parties who made up part of the FARC Secretariat. That crime and five others are attributed to them.

In all of the transactions and procedures before the JEP, the contributions of those who give testimony are the object of the highest scrutiny and verification. It is an entity where what counts is the evidence and its evaluation in conformity with the law.

Which are the events that you are planning to reveal to the country in your end of year accounting in 2021?

The identification of events and conduct in the framework of the seven macro-cases that are open and the issuance of the first findings of fact and conclusions of law, along with the expansion and intensification of all of the remaining lines of investigation.

You said that the JEP couldn’t be abolished, when you responded to former President Álvaro Uribe’s proposal. What is it that shields the Jurisdiction?

The JEP, as a legal institution based on the Peace Agreement, incorporated in the Constitution, and projected internationally as a valid juridical response by the Colombian government to the atrocities perpetrated in the internal conflict, is the presumption and warranty, the enforceability of which is imposed as a peremptory and indispensable obligation of law, both internally and internationally.

The fact that the JEP can’t be abolished doesn’t mean the entirety of the peace process is not fragile.

Every murder of an individual that has demobilized, or the murder of a defender of human rights affects it in the highest degree.

Fr. De Roux has begged the government to “undertake the totality of the peace”.  What is your message for 2021?

Complete compliance with the Peace Agreement is the maximum responsibility of the Head of State. The JEP addresses the legal component. We understand that very clearly. There is no need to place more obstacles in front of the final Peace Agreement. Reasonable Colombians can’t fall into the trap of going back to war. The integrated system of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and No Repetition is bearing fruit. We have to let it work and not sabotage it. As Colombians we have to defend the peace and work hard to build it.

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