A Cartegena bishop has proposed non-extradition for armed gangs and neo-paramilitaries who voluntarily submit to the Colombian government.
Bishop Julio Cesar Vidal, who was contacted by groups composed of former paramilitaries to relay their messages to the government, suggested that members of these armed groups should be given immunity from extradition in exchange for surrendering their arms and submitting to the government, newspaper El Tiempo reported Wednesday.
Vidal said, however, that the heads of these groups — who sent him a message on June 23 after months of silence –want something extra for their voluntary submission, and “are waiting for an additional bonus.”
The government, for its part, has recently refused to alter the law for neo-paramilitaries who lay down their arms. Colombia’s prosecutor general Viviane Morales announced Wednesday that members of these groups that lay down their arms will not be given amnesty and will only be able to negotiate reduced sentences like common criminals. Santos, meanwhile, said earlier in the week that his government would “facilitate bringing them (neoparamilitaries) to justice.”
Former prosecutor Alfonso Mendez denounced the bishop’s proposal, adding “we cannot continue to negotiate the law.”
The Catholic Church has received criticism for inserting itself into negotiations with groups like the FARC and neo-paramilitaries by Colombian politicians. Speaking on efforts to reform Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law, Senator Roy Barreras criticized groups like the Church for conducting impromptu negotiations that create different peace deals with different parties. “We will not continue improvising, the peace must be fair and serious,” said Barreras.
Following the formal demobilization of Colombia’s chief paramilitary group, the AUC, in 2006, many former paramilitaries have organized into neo-paramilitary criminal groups, which have been responsible for thousands of human rights abuses, including murder, rape, extortion, and forced eviction, as well as being active participants in the drug trade.
Since 2007, more than 12,000 members of these groups have been captured and 1,132 have been killed by government forces.