Colombia’s war victims began interrogating “Otoniel” before the former warlord’s impending extradition to the United States could deprive them of justice.
War crimes tribunal JEP gave the victims Tuesday and Wednesday to ask the former chief of paramilitary group AGC about his role in the executing of civilians with the military.
Colombia’s security forces have gone to great lengths to obstruct Otoniel’s testimonies and President Ivan Duque wants the former AGC chief extradited as soon as possible, and for a good reason.
Almost immediately after his arrest in October, the former AGC commander accused multiple top army officials of crimes against humanity.
Otoniel even accused the former commander of Colombia’s armed forces, retired General Leonardo Barrero, of being a key ally in the paramilitaries’ drug trafficking activities.
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Nobody believes the US Government
The American Embassy in Bogota stressed in February that Colombian investigations into crimes against humanity can continue after Otoniel’s extradition to the US.
But Colombia’s conflict victims have heard this every time a war criminal was extradited over some drug offense in order to end war crimes investigations.
In fact, an investigation by human rights organizations revealed that hundreds of thousands of victims of crimes against humanity were deprived of justice because their victimizers were extradited.
For this reason, victim organizations have desperately tried to block the extradition of Otoniel whose criminal career spanned more than 35 years.
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Protecting victims’ rights
The JEP didn’t have the authority to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision to extradite the former AGC chief.
The only thing the war crimes tribunal could do was to make sure that Otoniel can “be seen and heard as many times as necessary to ensure that the rights of the victims are respected.”
The victim organizations will use the extra hearings to extract as much information as possible from the former warlord.
Because the hearings are specifically about extrajudicial killings by the military, the victim representatives will mainly be seeking information that could lead to the locations of missing persons and mass graves.
Between 2002 and 2010, the National Army executed more than 6,400 people and presented them as guerrillas killed in combat to inflate results.
Many of these victims were registered as John Does and dumped in mass graves.