Thirty-six Colombian and international human rights groups and peace advocates presented a document on Monday expressing serious concerns over the disregard of victims’ rights in light of the imminent release of over 200 paramilitaries starting on August 15.
The Lawyer’s Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR) published a communique in which dozens of organizations expressed concerns over the release of paramilitaries who committed crimes against humanity.
Paramilitaries who submitted themselves to the first two demobilizations that happened under the Justice and Peace Law in August and December of 2006 are due to be released within the coming months.
The demobilization of paramilitaries under former President Alvaro Uribe’s Justice and Peace Law in 2006 allowed for a maximum sentence of eight years to those who cooperated with authorities.
Jomary Ortegon, the vice-president of the Collective, told Colombia Reports that up to 60 paramilitaries could be released in August and another 105 in December after serving the maximum sentence of eight years under the Justice and Peace Law.
Ortegon says one of the primary concerns of the lawyers and human rights group is the precarious position women victims find themselves in with the release of their victimizers.
In the coming months and years, a large part of around 2,000 paramilitaries will be released from prison without having satisfied the rights to truth, justice, and reparation of at least 50,000 victims, and most of all women victims, according to the report.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, August 15 is the day 46 commanders and middle men accused of homicide, forced disappearances, forced displacement, torture, sexual violence, and recruitment of minors will be released.
Some of the paramilitaries cleared for release from prison are:
- Ramon Isaza – AUC commander in Magdalena Medio accused of at least 600 crimes
- Oliverio Isaza – son of Ramon Isaza
- Freddy Rendon – leader of Elmer Cardenas Front who already announced his return to Medellin along with 42 other men from his front
- Arnubio Triana – paramilitary commander in Puerto Boyaca
- Gerardo Zuluaga – paramilitary commander in Puerto Boyaca
- Jesus Igancio Roldan – right hand man to Vicente Castaño, Leader of AUC
- Ivan Roberto Duque – “the politician” of the Central Bolivar AUC Block
- Rodrigo Perez Alzate – military commander of Central Bolivar AUC Block
- Jorge Ivan Laverde – confidant of Salvatore Mancuso and source of information of cooperation between paramilitaries and the government in the entire state of Northern Santander
- Uber Marquez – second hand of Salvatore Mancuso, leader of the Catatumbo AUC Block
- Oscar Jose Opsina – key commander of “Jorge 40,” leader of the Northern AUC Block, who is accused of sexual violence in El Copey and Cesar
- Edgar Fierro – commander of AUC Northern Block
- Jairo Alfonso Samper – member of AUC’s Northern Block
Paramilitaries tell the truth, Government doesn’t act
Women victims have been very active in the judicial and legal proceedings of the paramilitaries.
“Of over 14,000 requests to transfer cases from the Justice and Peace judicial process to the ordinary Colombian justice system to investigate public officials, military, and businessmen linked with paramilitaries, the Prosecutor General’s Office did not act on any. So paramilitaries told the truth about ties with the military and the political and economic sector, but those sectors remain intact. We are worried because the structures that supported paramilitarism remain intact, and on another hand, the paramilitaries are worried of possible reprisals for telling the truth,” Ortegon told Colombia Reports.
“We have asked the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, National Protections Unit, Ministry of Defense, if they have thought of this situation as a possible risk to victims, justice officials, and human rights defenders and their response is no,” she added.
The government has not devised a comprehensive plan to follow up on released paramilitaries, provide protection to victims and justice officials, and reintegrate former fighters into civilian life.
No plans to reintegrate into civil society
When asked about how the government plans to prevent these paramilitaries from returning to criminal activities, Ortegon responded that those plans simply don’t exist.
The Organization of American States’ (OAS) Support Mission for Peace in Colombia (MAPP-OEA) interviewed all 60 paramilitaries that are ready to be released from prison and asked what occupations they planned on getting involved in once they returned to their regions and most did not know.
There was a percentage of those paramilitaries that did job training in prison, but when asked in the interview by MAPP-OEA, those paramilitaries said they were not going to use those skills, according to Ortegon.
There was also a percentage of paramilitaries interviewed that stated they would return to the armed conflict.
The MAPP-OEA has identified some of the regions where paramilitaries will return, and Ortegon hopes that that information can be used to set up programs to support victims and ensure that those paramilitaries don’t return to the armed conflict.
Regions where paramilitaries may return
How do women victims feel?
Of over 49,000 crimes confessed to during the Colombian armed conflict, only 1% correspond to sexual violence crimes.
The Lawyers Collective, among organizations like Corporacion Humanas which provides legal and psychiatric counsel to women victims who also supported the document, state that women are very scared to have their victimizer move back to their respective regions. According to Ortegon, the women victims whom the Lawyers Collective worked with are “terrified.”
Sexual violence crimes are among the crimes that are least confessed and where justice has hardly been served. Of the 19 sentences dealt under the Justice and Peace Law, only two recognize sexual violence.
“One, there is a great fear that sexual violence crimes can repeat themselves. Two, that those women victims that took part in the judicial process can be threatened and subject to other types of aggression. And third, that a change in society has not been achieved. Sexual violence crimes have not been recognized and in many ways were legitimized by armed actors saying that, ‘we as men needed it,’ and did the complete opposite of what women victims were asking for which was the understanding that sexual violence is a crime and a serious one,” said Ortegon.
“If we can’t achieve a change in such a specific cases, then these crimes will continue to be committed.”
Does Colombia have the capacity to manage the release of paramilitaries?
Paramilitaries still exists in almost all of Colombia’s states despite the official demobilizations of the main commanders.
According to Ortegon, MAPP-OEA has already identified the regions in which paramilitaries will return, and the government should create plans of prevention and protection for victims which have yet to be designed.
The organization and structure of the State is not present to keep tabs on paramilitaries once they are released.
Ortegon told Colombia Reports that “of the 16,000 paramilitaries that were processed under Law 182, they benefited from Law 182 and nothing else is known about them.”
“Of the 3,600 paramilitaries that entered the Justice and Peace Law, 2,000 actually gave testimonies, which is to say that 1,600 that committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, the authorities don’t know where they are and haven’t done any follow-up work. And then there are those that are in prison and under the control of the state which is less than 1% of the total paramilitaries that have demobilized, there can be some sort of control and management. However, with regards to the other 98% of demobilized paramilitaries, the state has lost complete control.”
Ortegon hopes that for those few paramilitaries that are currently in prison and under control of the state, the government can devise a plan of reintegration and a sort of parole program for these men.
According to the Collective of Lawyers, Colombian institutions are not coordinating their plans and instead, the prosecutor general has a slice of the pie while the police has another, and the courts have another.
Ortegon and the 36 organizations represented in the document hope that it will initiate a dialogue with the government to discuss protection for women victims and human rights defenders, a sort of parole program for released paramilitaries, and to dismantle the political and economic actors that helped sustain Colombia’s paramilitaries.
Colombia’s women victims continue to be invisible in the eyes of the government and society. These invisible victims will continue to remain in the shadows until the crimes committed against them are recognized and properly prosecuted.
List of organizations supporting document
- Corporacion Humana – Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Genero
- Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo -CAJAR
- Coordinacion Colombia Europa Estados Unidos – CCEEU
- Fondo Lunaria Mujer
- Fondo de Accion Urgente
- Lawyers without Borders – Canada
- Movimiento por la Paz el Desarme y la Libertad – MPDL
- Corporacion Jurídica Libertad
- Comite de Solidaridad con Presos Políticos
- Asociacion Campesina del Norte de Antioquia – ASCNA
- Asociacion Colectivo de Mujeres al Derecho – COLEMAD
- Asociacion MINGA
- Casa de la Mujer
- Colectivo de Abogados Luis Carlos Pérez
- Comision de Justicia y Paz
- Corporacion FASOL
- Corporacion Region
- Corporacion REINICIAR
- DH Colombia
- Grupo Interdisciplinario por los Derechos Humanos GIDH
- Instituto Popular de Capacitacion – IPC
- Fundacion SUMAPAZ
- Movimiento Rios Vivos – Antioquia
- Organización Femenina Popular
- Programa Somos Defensores
- Red Juvenil Feminista y Antimilitarista
- Soldepaz Pachakuti
- International Commission of Jurists
- Fondo de Mujeres del Sur – Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay
- Fondo Alquimia – Chile
- Grupo ABColombia – United Kingdong
- Kolko – Menschenrechte fur Kolumbien, Germany
- Latin America Working Group
- World Organization Against Torture
- Interview with Jomary Ortegon
- Las carceles abren sus puertas para dar salida a los paramilitares (CAJAR)
- Informes Trimestrales (MAPP-OEA)