By Rodrigo Uprimny,[1] EL ESPECTADOR, January 30, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Last Thursday, the Recognition Branch of the JEP made public its decision to attribute to the former members of the Secretariat of the now-defunct FARC the responsibility for the massive kidnapping of more than 20,000 individuals, and for the inhuman treatment that these people suffered during their captivity, including murder and disappearance of many of them.

The decision by means of a rigorous comparison from diverse sources (testimony from demobilized combatants, testimony from victims, reports by the Attorney General’s Office and by organizations of civil society, etc.), reconstructs, in a way that has not been done in any judicial decision previously, the functioning of the now-defunct FARC as a fearsome war machine. In the same way, the JEP shows, as has also not been previously done in any judicial decision, that the organization carried out a systematic policy of kidnapping to finance its operations. Besides that, this order, “determining events and actions”, as is its technical title, exposes with precision, in a way that has not been done in any judicial decision previously, that the Secretariat ordered the different Blocs and Fronts to implement, without compassion, that systematic kidnapping policy, including the killing of kidnap victims when there was a rescue attempt. The document also concludes that, as the kidnap victims were simply an instrument to get money or to force decisions by the government, the Secretariat had little concern for their fate, and endorsed, without specifically ordering, the humiliating treatment that many of the victims suffered, including acts of sexual violence and torture. The JEP also describes, as the legal system has never done before, the impact of those atrocities on the kidnap victims and their families.

Because of all that, the document concludes that the people who at that time were members of the Secretariat must answer for the war crime of “taking hostages”, and for the crime against humanity of “serious deprivation of liberty”. Some have criticized the JEP for not calling the crime “kidnapping”, but that disregards the fact that the charge of war crimes or crimes against humanity is more serious, because those crimes, along with genocide, are crimes that the international community has considered to be the most serious of all atrocities.

This decision by the JEP is a great advance, because never before has a judicial decision furnished so much of the truth about the former FARC and their cruelties. The people who are principally responsible for these terrible kidnappings will be convicted and sentenced for these crimes, whether by the so-called “special penalty” of effective restriction of liberty for eight years so that they can carry our work that aids the victims, if they admit their responsibility, or by prison, if they do not.

Obviously many challenges still remain: if the former members of the Secretariat, now the leaders of the Commons Party—who up to now have committed to the peace with responsibility, have submitted to the JEP and have furnished a lot of truth—will they continue to respond to the country, especially to the victims, and accept their responsibilities? Will the JEP make progress with the responsibilities of other members of the former FARC, and then, with other terrible crimes, like the false positives? And when the time comes, will the special penalties of restriction of liberty be complied with and verified rigorously? But still with all those difficulties and uncertainties, this decision by the JEP is historic: never before, not in Colombia, not in the world, have guerrillas that were not defeated militarily and a government whose own agents had committed atrocities accepted submitting their crimes to the judgment of an impartial tribunal. We are making progress toward a peace with truth and justice that is without precedent.

[1] Rodrigo Uprimny is a researcher at Dejusticia and a Professor at the National University.

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