Seven Colombian paramilitary leaders extradited to the U.S. have been removed from public records in the last few months, leaving their victims virtually without hope of compensation or access to the truth, PBS and the Washington Post reported Saturday.
The seven are among more than a dozen former heads of Colombian paramilitary organization the AUC who were extradited to the U.S. to face drug charges. In total, 25 paramilitary members have disappeared off the radar.
Following a ruling by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton to block public access to these warlords, every trace of their existence has virtually disappeared.
According to the report, families of paramilitary victims are outraged by the decision, as the paramilitary leaders are no longer collaborating with Colombian justice. This means that they will not receive testimony from the paramilitary leaders on what happened to their loved ones who disappeared, nor receive financial compensation for their distress.
Because information on the paramilitaries’ cases is sealed, there is no way to know if the men negotiated lenient sentences or if they are even still in custody.
According to several former prosecutors consulted by the newspaper, the paramilitaries’ cases are probably sealed because they are cooperating with U.S. drug enforcement agencies.
The sealing of the paramilitary cases in the U.S. goes against promises made by Ambassador William Brownfield when fourteen leaders were extradited in May 2008.
“The victims, their representatives and the prosecutors of Colombia will continue to have access in the U.S. to the legal system, to the extradited individuals, and to their assets,” Brownfield said on May 13, 2008, in Colombia.
“So far, none of those promises have been kept,” said Roxanna Altholz, acting director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley, who represents Colombian victims of paramilitary violence.
“More than anger, I feel powerless,” Bela Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant, told the reporter. “We don’t know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?”
The May 2008 extradition of paramilitary leaders without the approval of Colombia’s Supreme Court has been widely criticized because the warlords are now on trial only for drug trafficking charges, while in Colombia they face charges of thousands of human rights violations including murder and rape.