Colombia’s neo-paramilitary drug trafficking groups could become “political actors” if Congress passes a bill that allows the criminals to be fought under international humanitarian law (IHL), the police warned on Monday.
The warning is contained within a report sent to Congress, in which the police qualify as “unviable” a bill that seeks to allow the armed forces to implement IHL in confronting the neo-paramilitaries. Filed by former Senator Juan Lozano, the bill is awaiting third reading in Commision II of the House of Representatives.
Under the current law, the police are responsible for combating criminal gangs, and other than specific cases related with territorial control in rural areas, the army does not intervene in these operations.
However, according to the legislative initiative, in certain zones the neo-paramilitaries have such a degree of military power that the presence of Colombia’s army is necessary to fight them. In some cases, the proposal states, a bombing of the groups’ camps is necessary.
The preamble of the bill states that the law “seeks to enable the armed forces to (…) use all of their actions in confronting one of the main generators of violence plaguing the nation,” and that the groups “represent a major threat that requires insurmountable use of military force.”
However, the police have an opposing view. In their report they assure that their actions against the groups have so far been effective, and that currently that are only four of them; “Los Urabeños” (2,970 members); “Los Rastrojos” (310); Bloque Meta (310) and “Liberators of Vichada” (160).
The document, signed by the director of the National Police, General Rodolfo Palomino, warns that the application of IHL to fight these criminal groups “would place illegal armed groups as political actors” which “would also mean that the government itself, through public policy, would prolong the armed conflict, even after an eventual peace agreement with the FARC and the ELN.”
Leftist House Representative Alirio Uribe (Democratic Pole) stated further negativity in response to the proposal.
“The worry is that this will prolong the conflict. In addition, many of the groups operate in cities and it is not good to displace the police so that the army can enter to carry out urban operations,” said Uribe.
When the bill process began in 2013, the Ministry of Defense supported it. It is because of this that its proponents, such as Efrain Torres (U Party representative) maintain that it is necessary to facilitate the army to be able to face the neo-paramilitaries with all their force. “We don’t want to turn cities into war zones,” said Torres.
But even the UN is categorically opposed to the application of IHL in the fight against these groups.
“Such recognition brings a perverse incentive for criminal gangs: the bigger the increase of their military ability and legitimacy (discourse) in political terms, the bigger their ability for political negotiation with the national government in a future collective demobilization and obtaining of judicial benefits in exchange for their weapons,” stated the UN in a document also sent to Congress.
Other legislative action is in place in the government’s attempt to conquer the illegal groups.
The government and the prosecution settled a bill to reform, amongst other rules, some aspects of the Criminal Procedure Code. One section even seeks to authorize the Prosecutor General so that he can suspend capture orders and negotiate a collective demobilization with neo-paramilitaries, but without the distinct judicial benefits that are already in the law.