A prosecutor who specialized in Colombia’s paramilitary demobilization process was transferred after working in the same department for more than six years, raising fears that years worth of insight could be lost.
According to conflict-monitoring website Verdad Abierta, magistrates of the Hall of Justice and Peace of the Medellin Superior Tribunal expressed concern over the transfer of Patricia Hernandez Zambrano, who was responsible for prosecuting the AUC’s “Mineros Bloc” in the northeastern department of Antioquia.
The AUC, or the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, was a right-wing and anti-subversive paramilitary coalition responsible for tens of thousands of deaths all across the country.
As Prosecutor 15 of Justice and Peace, Hernandez handled all court hearings related to top-AUC leaders like “Don Berna” — the commander of the AUC’s “Cacique Nutibara Bloc” and “Gordo Lindo” — the financial chief of the AUC’s southwestern “Calima Bloc”. Both men are in United States’ prisons for drug trafficking.
According to a group of concerned Medellin lawyers, reappointing judges who are involved in the Justice and Peace process could cause a halt in ongoing investigations. In a letter sent to Colombia’s prosecutor general, the magistrates complained about the “the paralysis and the disturbance caused by the decisions to [reassign] judges when they are not justified.”
The move represents a “serious reason for preoccupation for the affects [it will have] on the ongoing cases against commanders and members of the [Mineros] Bloc,” read the letter. “The legal control against various [members] was [nearly] finished under the direction of [Hernandez] and now we will have to wait until a new judge is designated [and still he or she] will be unaware…and need to familiarize [himself or herself].”
“The transfer of Dr. Patricia Hernandez Zambrano gravely affects the victims of the conflict affected by the Mineros Bloc. [It delays] the advances achieved up until [this] moment, [and it] breaks in a striking manner the [collaboration] between victims and the Prosecutor,” said Verdad Abierta in their own letter to Colombia’s prosecutor general.
Victims of the Mineros Bloc have also reportedly protested the decision to remove Hernandez from her duties.
Up until mid-January of 2013, Hernandez had succeeded in documenting close to 6,700 cases attributed to the Mineros Bloc, which was active largely in the northern part of the Antioquia department. For example, the former paramilitary known as “Cuco” Vanoy confessed and accepted responsibility for 1,300 crimes. Before 2012 ended, Hernandez had accused Cuco of another 380 specific crimes including the recruitment of 350 minors in the northern Bajo Cauca region, the 1996 Aro, Itanguo massacre, as well as hundreds of cases of forced displacement, assassinations and disappearances.
Don Berna — the former head of Medellin’s underworld — allegedly told Hernandez in February of 2012 about the notorious assassination of journalist Jamie Garzon. The crime boss also supposedly spilled details about the extermination of Medellin’s “La Terraze” gang and the role paramilitaries played in “Operation Orion.” Operation Orion, which was carried out in 2002, consisted of paramilitaries from Don Berna’s Cacique Nutibara Bloc and Colombian state forces ousting left-wing guerrillas from Medellin’s troubled Comuna 13.
In September, Hernandez launched the first ever investigation into gender crimes. The investigation focused on more than 150 cases of sexual violence, murders and disappearances against women in the northern part of Antioquia.
Colombia’s prosecutor general, Eduardo Montealegre transferred Hernandez in late January to the Superior Tribunal of Florencia in the southern department of Caqueta. According to Verdad Abierta, sources within the Prosecutor General justified the transfer because the court in Florencia, Caqueta needed an expert on gender issues. According to the frustrated Medellin magistrates, however, “gender violence is not an exclusive phenomena of that district nor of [the Caqueta] department.” Spokespersons for the Prosecutor General assured that Hernandez’s transfer would not lead to delays in ongoing Justice and Peace processes.
BACKGROUND: Justice and peace law
Colombia Reports tried to contact Montealegre as well as the Prosecutor General of Justice and Peace and the Judicial Branch, but no one would explain why Hernandez was transferred.