Colombia’s prosecutor general announced Tuesday that armed criminal gangs and groups descended from paramilitaries will be treated as common criminals in their dealings with the government and cannot trade submission for amnesty.
Prosecutor General Vivianne Morales announced that the criminal code would not be softened for members of these groups and that she would not apply the “principle of opportunity,” a judicial policy that allows armed political groups to receive amnesty by submitting to the government and promising to demobilize.
According to the Colombian government, members of these groups will now only be able to negotiate reduced sentences by cooperating with the government. Additionally, despite the massive volume of criminal cases to be tried, the prosecutor general also announced that negotiations with members of these groups will be conducted on a case by case basis, as opposed to the blanket deals negotiated by the government in the past.
The policy will apply to members of Colombia’s criminal gangs, but has special significance for former members of Colombia’s paramilitaries. Prior to today’s announcement, neo-paramiltary groups have been requesting full amnesty for cooperation with the government and expected to be treated as a political group. Morales’ announcement marks a watershed in the prosecution of these individuals, as they will now be treated as ordinary criminals.
As the prosecutor general made her announcement, President Santos called on the Catholic Church to serve as a facilitator in dealing with former paramilitaries.
After the formal surrender of the AUC, Colombia’s primary paramilitary organization, many members continued to work the drug trade and engage in violence and other human rights abuses. In 2010 neo-paramilitaries and armed gangs displaced more Colombians than the government’s conflict with the FARC, and dramatically increased the number of Colombian murders that year.
Since 2007 more than 12,000 members of these groups have been captured and 1,132 have been killed in clashes with the government.