New transitional justice system to prosecute war crimes in Colombia

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s new transitional justice system will bring justice to the country after 52 years of armed conflict with the revolutionary armed forces, FARC.  It will establish three courts, a truth commission, and special units to search for ties between state officials and illegal armed groups.

Colombian soldiers at parade in Bogota. Image Courtesy of The Conversation.

The purpose of this system is to bring what is called “restorative justice.” This method “seeks to empower victims of the conflict by facilitating testimonies and reparations from perpetrators, rather than doling out traditional punishments such as jail time.” It is designed to provide alternative and usually shorter sentences for war criminals by allowing them to turn themselves in, plead guilty, explain in detail their crimes, and work to make reparations to their victims. The goal is to get a full account of the atrocities from the five-decade-long armed conflict and provide closure to victims.

The crux of this initiative is the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, also known as the JEP. This will establish courts whose sole purpose is to investigate and try those who committed human rights violations during the conflict. It will be up to the judges in this tribunal to decide what cases they will and will not hear.

The draw for guilty parties to come forward is the alternative and lenient sentencing of the court. A person who admits a serious crime can receive a sentence of up to eight years in prison. This is far less than what would normally be imposed in a criminal court. With full cooperation, alternative sanctions can be granted as well. These sanctions may include confinement to a community with mandated community service or reparations to the victim in whatever way is asked.

The system aims to ensure that women and minorities are fully represented as magistrates, commissioners, and victims in the tribunal. This is crucial because of the disproportionate effect the conflict had on women. The tremendous amounts of sexual violence used as a weapon affected 800,000 sexual assault victims between 2010 and 2015.

JEP plans to prosecute only those who were directly involved in the political conflict. FARC provided the government with information listing its active members to serve as a basis. Members already arrested by the government prior to December 2016 will be eligible for the court as well.

One of the most prominent atrocities JEP will address is known as the “false positives” scandal. During the war, the defense minister began a policy of “cash-for-kills.” It awarded $1,500 to Colombian Army personnel who could prove they had made a “positive combat kill.” This policy led to the slaughter of some of Colombia’s most vulnerable citizens such as the mentally ill. They would be killed, photographed, and falsely presented as enemy combatants for the reward. One study determined that “the false positives scandal led to more than 5,763 extra-judicial executions between 2000 and 2010.”

Elections for JEP’s members occurred on September 26 and signify a positive step forward for this new justice system. The Selection Committee, made up of jurists and professionals from the United Nations and other entities, chose these members.

There is no doubt that this will be an uphill battle. There will be considerable budgetary and administrative problems to overcome, but this might be the only way for Colombia to move on from its violent past.

For further information, please see:

Colombiano – Today the names of the magistrates of the JEP are known – 26 September 2017

Colombia Reports – Everything you need to know about Colombia’s transitional justice system –  25 September 2017

La Republica – More than 100 women would enter the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – 25 September 2017

Semana – The JEP begins uphill – 23 September 2017 

The Conversation – Colombia struggles to deliver justice in army ‘cash-for-kills’ scandal – 18 September 2017

Author: Emily Green

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