Colombia seeks to end justice system investigating paramilitary crimes: report

Colombia’s prosecution reportedly wants to end the justice system that has revealed the involvement of politicians, military commanders and businessmen in paramilitary war crimes.

According to newspaper El Espectador, multiple sources from the office of the prosecution confirmed that Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa is looking into ways to end the so-called “Justice and Peace” transitional justice system.

Barbosa told press that “Justice and Peace has to be closed down” before taking office in February and, according to El Espectador, has instructed prosecution officials to see to this.

“We are working to determine the closing date for transitional justice based on technical variables” one anonymous prosecution source told the newspaper, causing concern Barbosa is seeking impunity for war crimes.

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The “businessmen” who got away

Convicted former ranchers federation chief Jorge Visbal.

Justice and Peace came into force in 2005 as part of the demobilization process of paramilitary organization AUC to provide justice to the millions of victims of the most violent of illegal armed groups in Colombia’s armed conflict.

The prosecutors and judges, however, also discovered extensive ties between the AUC, politicians, the military and the private sector, which led to the Supreme Court to sentence more than 70 former congressmen and governors to prison.

The war crimes tribunal that took force as part of the peace process with the demobilized FARC guerrilla group is now trying military commanders who allegedly teamed up with the AUC.

Businessmen accused of being involved in or even ordering paramilitary war crimes for profit, a practice called “para-economics,” have however enjoyed almost absolute impunity.

Many of these alleged war criminals have been aligned with the far-right Democratic Center party of President Ivan Duque, Barbosa’s long-time friend.

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Prosecution historically an obstacle

Former chief prosecutor and alleged AUC collaborator Luis Camilo Osorio

While the Supreme Court has been relatively effective in trying the congressmen and governors falling under their jurisdiction, the prosecution has done virtually nothing to seek justice for paramilitary victims.

Justice and Peace magistrates on multiple occasions have scolded prosecutors for not adhering to court orders to investigate the military collaborators and private sector masterminds behind the paramilitary terror, according to court documents.

Barbosa’s reported attempt to put an end to the paramilitary justice system “sounds like there may also be an interest in not going deeper into issues that can again generate uncomfortable information ” according to Angelika Rettberg, a political science professor at the Los Andes University in Bogota and the director of peace organization Conpaz.

Rettberg told El Espectador that “there is still a lot to clarify” and that the prosecution owes it to conflict victims to investigate the “politicians, agents of the security forces and businessmen who have been identified by Justice and Peace as being part of paramilitary structures.”

Among these suspects is Barbosa’s predecessor, former Prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio, and countless other (former) prosecution officials.

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Ending transitional justice system not that easy

Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa (Image: Prosecutor General’s Office)

The prosecution’s reported intention to put an end to the Justice and Peace system may be more difficult that Barbosa may have thought.

Fifteen years after taking force, 2,700 former members of the AUC are still waiting for their first day in court, according to El Espectador.

Last week alone, the prosecution indicted 246 members of the Central Bolivar Bloc for more than 4,000 crimes, the newspaper reported.

Provisionally granting these former paramilitaries amnesty would be impossible without the approval of Congress.

Furthermore, the International Criminal Court has begun inquiring about the prosecution’s failure to try the “businessmen” who financed the AUC not to defend themselves against leftist guerrillas, but embark on a land heist that ended in the dispossession of land the size of Belgium.

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