EL ESPECTADOR, March 12, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) ordered interim equitable relief protecting the proceedings in which the “capo” Otoniel wants to tell them what he knows about the conflict. In this way, the Court seeks to have complete confidentiality and guarantees that he will be able to speak, after the Police refused to permit the hearing they were holding within legal parameters. In addition, the JEP warned that the government is not complying with what was agreed with the prosecutors in the International Criminal Court (CPI).
The JEP has spent one more week in taking the testimony of Daíro Antonio Úsuga, better known as Otoniel, and it has been a task impossible to carry out. Last Thursday, March 10, the JEP tried to take his testimony in a case about the extrajudicial executions, but the conditions prevailing as he was in the custody of the Dijín unit of the Police made it impossible for the Justices to hold the hearing. On that same day, the JEP ordered a number of undertakings to guarantee that it could do its work, but days later, the Trial Section of the Unit on Cases of Failure to Recognize Truth and Justice signed an even more uncompromising decision.
In an opinion by Justice Raúl Eduardo Sánchez, the Section issued a series of interim orders to guarantee the security, the life, and bodily integrity of Otoniel while he was furnishing the truth to the different entities of the Special Justice System. Those include the Truth Commission, the JEP, and the Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons. These orders include special protection for all of the information he provides to these agencies, and that he be permitted to do it dignified conditions.
In the 26-page document in which the JEP condensed its decision, the Justices mentioned a situation that up to now had not been on the table for discussion. It’s the cooperation agreement that President Duque himself signed at the time of the visit of the International Criminal Court (CPI) chief prosecutor, Karim Khan. In the agreement, criticized by many, it was made clear that the Colombian government was committing itself, among other things, to guaranteeing the JEP the necessary budget, to assure the protection and security of everybody related to the Special System for Peace, and to promote the full cooperation and coordination among the different government agencies.
This agreement was signed so that Colombia could be taken off the list of countries under observation by the CPI. However, a clear warning was also contained in this document: The Prosecutors in the International Criminal Court can reconsider the decision about this country if any significant change occurs, “including any measure that might be a significant obstacle to the progress and/or the authenticity of relevant proceedings (. . .) initiatives that result in important obstructions of the mandate and/or the adequate functioning of the relevant jurisdictions.”
For the Trial Branch, what’s happening with Otoniel is an extremely serious situation. “The security and custodial personnel did not allow the witness to furnish his testimony in appropriate conditions; i.e., in a manner that was voluntary, spontaneous, confidential, and unconditional. This interferes with the receipt of information regarding the internal armed conflict that he possesses. As a result, it affects the rights to full truth of the victims who are attending the Special Jurisdiction for Peace hearings, and it affects the identification of those responsible,” reads the document. In other words, that the government, through the Police, is not permitting the JEP to do its work.
“Furthermore, neither does it permit the JEP to hear, in a timely, effective, and efficient manner, the cases or procedures that it is conducting at this time. That has a serious effect on the collection of evidence, and on the right to administer the justice system,” added the Trial Branch which, in addition, clarified in the document that this is not about disregarding security protocols to guarantee security for Otoniel, but rather about the judicial prerequisites required by law.
Besides ordering interim equitable relief, the JEP issued a clear order to the Director of the Dijín, General Fernando Murillo, that he abstain from carrying out “activities that affect the confidentiality of the judicial proceedings by the presence of uniformed personnel or personnel not connected to the proceedings in the hearing rooms, and in general, from actions that are obstacles to the taking of evidence or to other legal proceedings.” The order was issued after, just this week, at the proceeding planned for Otoniel, there were Armed Forces personnel in attendance who had not been summoned to the hearing. When the Presiding Justice asked them to leave, they refused to do so.
The Trial Section added to its decision an order directed at different agencies, such as the Police themselves, Inpec, the Public Defender, and the Inspector General, to explain within five days whether there exist, or whether they are aware of, any facts that would put the life or physical integrity of Otoniel at risk while he has been in custody, covering the period from October of last year, in the bunkers of the Dijín in Bogotá. That is the place where the JEP and the Truth Commission have tried to interview him, but their officials have complained that the Dijín provided no guarantees to make that possible.
Besides that episode, the JEP and the Commission have had to confront other situations where it has been impossible for them to get testimony from Otoniel as the law requires. On one occasion, the members of the Truth Commission were roughly pushed out of the cell where they were working, and two days later their tape machines with the capo’s testimony were stolen. The JEP has also demanded from the Commission members all of the available information about that episode, as they have done in connection with the other episodes.
 Inpec is Colombia’s National Institute for Prisons and Jails.