Paramilitary Demobilization in Colombia: On the road to the International Criminal Court

Press release
en es

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published its report on the application of the Justice and Peace Act in Colombia. The report is the result of more than two years of work in conjunction with FIDH leagues in Colombia: the "José Alvear Restrepo" lawyers’ collective, ILSA, and the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. It is also based on observation of the Justice and Peace hearings held from May to July 2007 at the Justice and Peace Tribunals in Bogotá, Medellín, and Barranquilla.

The Justice and Peace Act is in line with a broader legal framework that, according to the authorities, seeks to demobilize the paramilitary forces responsible for crimes against humanity, other serious violations of human rights, and war crimes.

Since they first appeared, the paramilitary structures have committed an average of 60,000 crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations. This figure does not include the more than one million persons displaced as a direct result of the strategy of terror, threats, and paramilitary action. Colombia ranks second in the world in terms of the number of forced displacements. In 2006, more than 219,000 people were displaced, and the number of registered families tops 380,000 [1]. From January to June 2007 alone, more than 770 civilians were murdered in Colombia or fell victim to forced disappearance. More than 80 mass graves have been discovered; in late 2006 the Office of the Prosecutor estimated that there were still more than 3,000 persons remaining to be found. It is believed, however, that this figure falls far short of reflecting the more than 30,000 forced disappearances that have been reported.

FIDH has submitted several communications to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requesting that those guilty of serious crimes within its jurisdiction be investigated and tried. >From the outset, FIDH has warned that the Uribe Vélez administration should withdraw its declaration under Article 124 of the Rome Statute that it does not accept ICC jurisdiction over war crimes committed by all armed groups in Colombia.

To date, 92% of the 30,000 demobilized paramilitaries have benefited from a de facto amnesty declared by decree. Only 8% come under the Justice and Peace Act, which has been implemented by decrees that do not respect the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the act should be amended to avoid violating the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations. The paramilitaries who do fall under the Justice and Peace Act are tried at so-called "free version" hearings and may be sentenced to no more than eight years of imprisonment, which they may serve in "work farms." They may even impose their own conditions for "imprisonment," which flies in the face of the most basic principles of justice in view of the seriousness of the crimes committed.

This report reveals the lack of true willingness on the part of the government to bring to trial and dismantle the paramilitary groups. It concludes that the International Criminal Court should also act to investigate and try those guilty of crimes against humanity committed in Colombia since November 1, 2002.

The "free version" hearings have, indeed, become a forum for justifying crimes and paramilitarism. The paramilitaries are not forced to confess to their crimes, disclose the truth about who supported their structures, or even show repentance for their crimes. They have not been forced to turn in all of their weapons or hand over their assets to compensate the victims, while the latter and their representatives have very limited access to hearings and are hindered from participating in them.

What is more, those victims who have attended the "free version" hearings have not received adequate protection. Already, sixteen of them have been murdered with absolute impunity.

FIDH also calls on the U.S. and European authorities to make their trade agreements conditional on respect for human rights in Colombia, and on the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC to open an investigation without further delay. Doing so could have a significant preventive effect.

FIDH concludes that this process has been set up for the purpose of removing the high paramilitary commands from the jurisdiction of the ICC. FIDH urges the Colombian administration to repeal the legal framework of the Justice and Peace Act or issue a legal framework that complies with international standards.

The report is available in spanish :

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