Colombia’s FARC rebels were quick to secure participation in the country’s political system. Leaders of the former rebel group, however, have yet to face justice for a staggering number of human rights violations.
According to documents from Colombia’s Prosecutor General, the Inspector General and National Police, as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the high commanders of the FARC currently face criminal charges that would amount to approximately 16 centuries in prison if maximum sentences were administered.
But Colombia’s authorities will not prosecute many of the criminal charges against FARC leadership, because of agreements made between the former rebel group and Colombia’s national government while negotiating an end to their 52-year civil war.
Instead, FARC commanders are expected to participate in an alternative justice process called the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which will try crimes against humanity and other human rights violations committed by the FARC, military, police, and some civilians during the armed conflict.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace
The JEP, as the court is abbreviated in Spanish, will differ from the punitive justice system common to both Latin and North America. Rather than focusing on punishment for perpetrators, the court is supposed to emphasize the needs of victims, focusing on things like truth, reparations, and personal guarantees that crimes will not be repeated.
If perpetrators fully participate with the court system, they can expect to receive alternative sentences for their crimes, such as temporary confinement to a community area for a period of up to seven years. If not, the court may dole out the maximum punishment of twenty years in prison.
According to Juanita Goebertus, deputy director of the Institute for Integrated Transitions and former representative of Colombia’s government during peace negotiations with the FARC, the JEP isn’t going to try every crime committed by FARC leadership.
She says, “It will be up to the [court] to determine which are the most serious and representative crimes committed by the FARC that will be taken to the Special Tribunal.”
That could include “crimes against humanity (consistent of murder, displacement, imprisonment, sexual violence and enforced disappearance), as well as war crimes (including child recruitment, using weapons that cause indiscriminate effects, and destruction of civilian property).”
All in all, the special tribunal will concentrate only on “investigating, prosecuting and sanctioning those most responsible of the most serious and representative crimes,” says Goebertus. That means it will only take on crimes that are most emblematic of the long and bloody history between the government and the FARC.
Recently, some of the FARC’s rebel leaders charged with crimes against humanity and other major rights violations announced political campaigns for elected office.
The former commanders are running with the FARC’s new political party, called the Alternative Revolutionary Force of the People (FARC).
Colombia’s Congress is debating a bill to implement the JEP special court system, and some lawmakers want to impose a rule stating that FARC members cannot participate in politics until they complete the requirements and any punishments imposed by the special court.
Such a rule, although it would shift away from the language of the peace agreement, could satisfy many Colombians who dislike the idea of FARC leaders acting in politics while participating in the special court system.
The criminal charges
The FARC’s Luciano Marin, formerly known by his nom de guerre “Ivan Marquez,” has the most charges of any member of the FARC’s leadership. He is currently leading the FARC’s congressional campaigns.
Marin is named in 200 active judicial processes. He has 112 arrest orders against him with 21 criminal convictions (amounting to 760 years in prison).
Behind Marin stands Rodrigo Londoño (a.k.a. “Timochenko”), the FARC’s current candidate for president of Colombia and former commander of the rebel group.
Londoño is named in 182 active judicial processes. He has 141 arrest orders against him with 21 criminal convictions (amounting to 452 years in prison).
Both Marin and Londoño are wanted by the United States government, which is offering $5 million for information leading to the capture of either man, for crimes of drug trafficking and leading a US-declared “Foreign Terrorist Organization.”
The seven members of the rebel groups’ former leadership structure, known as the “Secretariat,” are collectively accused of responsibility for at least 387 homicides.
Many of the Secretariat’s charges also include terrorism, extortive kidnapping, forced recruitment of child soldiers, and rebellion.
Members of the Secretariat could also be considered responsible for massacres, kidnappings, extortion, and drug trafficking conducted by lower members of the FARC under the Secretariat’s command.
But according to Goebertus, “Both the jurisprudence of the Colombian Constitutional Court and the doctrine of the [International Criminal Court] have concluded that command responsibility should be based on subjective and not objective criteria. In other words, mere hierarchy is not enough.”
“Those most responsible are people who had ‘an essential role’ in the commission of the crime,” she says. That means the FARC leadership probably won’t be charged for crimes directed by lower commanders, but it doesn’t stop the lower commanders from being forced to participate in the special court system either.
During peace negotiations between the FARC and government in Havana between 2012-2016, members of the FARC claimed they would not pay a single day of punishment inside a jail cell.
One former member of the Secretariat, Juvenal Palmera (a.k.a. “Simon Trinidad”), is currently held and sentenced to 60 years behind bars in the United States for the murder of an American in Colombia and the kidnapping of three others. He has recently stated that he is willing to participate in Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace from the United States.