Colombia’s historic war crimes tribunal took force on Thursday and is now open for victims who want to report war crimes.
More than 7,300 alleged war criminals have already reported themselves at the tribunal, which was agreed between the government and the FARC as part of a 2016 peace deal.
The number of suspects is expected to increase as victims report more crimes. Charged members of the FARC and the security forces are obligated to participate in the court.
State officials and civilians can voluntarily take part in the transitional justice system if they want to prevent being called before ordinary courts.
The purpose of the court is to satisfy the needs of Colombia’s many war victims and end the impunity enjoyed by many alleged war criminals for decades.
The transitional justice system is of a restorative rather than a punitive nature. This means that convicted war criminals who cooperate with justice can evade prison if they repair their victims.
Those who fail to fully cooperate can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
The court will remain in force for at least 10 years. If more time is needed, its mandate can be extended by another five years.
The court’s initial task is to receive victims testimonies with which its prosecutors can build criminal cases against war criminals.
The public hearings of suspects are expected later this year.
The new institution will also have to convince the public that has grown accustomed to impunity and, according to a recent poll, has little confidence that justice will be served.
The transitional justice court is the second to take force since 2005 when the country’s largest paramilitary organization, the AUC, agreed to demobilize.