Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office warned Tuesday that 1,500 demobilized paramilitaries could be released in 2013 without having been investigated for human rights violations.
As part of the 2005 widely-criticized Justice and Peace law, members of the paramilitary AUC accepted a maximum eight-year sentence if they demobilized and collaborated with prosecutors to clarify the tens of thousands of human rights violations committed by the AUC. Opponents of the bill have said the peace deal allowed for widespread impunity for human rights abusers.
“We have now finished seven years of Justice and Peace. The standard established penalty is eight years and the demobilized can say ‘good, since I did eight [years] and not even the state has called me, I demand my release after the expiration of terms,'” explained the President of Colombia’s Senate Roy Barreras.
The law should be extended to “avoid impunity [for paramilitaries and their accomplices] and ensure that the truth comes out for victims,” according to Barreras.
“In order to avoid a massive release, this project is essential,” said Vice Prosecutor General Jorge Eduardo Perdomo in reference to extending legal repercussions for the hundreds of AUC members who demobilized in 2005. “It has to move forward and is the only tool available to the State to correct the mistakes of Justice and Peace.”
A third senatorial debate on reforming the widely-criticized 2005 Justice and Peace Law was postponed until Tuesday June 12.
Former President Alvaro Uribe initiated a process in 2003 that would give a legal framework for illegal armed groups to lay down their arms and reintegrate into society. 30,000 members of the neo-paramilitary group the AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2006 after an agreement with the government was reached.
The legal benefits of the peace agreement were declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2010, after which the government of Uribe’s successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, passed a temporary law to avoid clogging the country’s justice system with paramilitary court cases.
Santos later proposed a successor to the 2005 bill, a constitutional reform entitled the “Legal Framework for Peace.” The draft, which has passed seven of the necessary eight debates required in Congress, seeks “to develop a comprehensive strategy for transitional justice, which will satisfy the rights of victims and make the transition to what we all want, which is peace,” according to the government.
The bill has also been criticized for potentially allowing impunity for members of illegal armed groups, although Santos promised those most responsible for human rights violations will not be “subject to the waiver of prosecution.”