Colombia’s prosecutor general on Tuesday invoked a political storm after stating former President Alvaro Uribe could be called to appear at the post-war tribunal over ongoing accusations he colluded with paramilitary death squads.
So far, Colombian politicians and media have carefully ignored mentioning the elephant in the room; the fact that both former President Alvaro Uribe and current President Juan Manuel Santos are implicated in some of the most gruesome war crimes in the country’s history.
After Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre said that Uribe, a staunch opponent of Colombia’s ongoing peace talks, could be tried for his alleged complicity in paramilitary war crimes carried out while he was governor, political allies of the hard-line politician warned Santos that he would also have to appear before court for the killing of thousands of innocent civilians by the military when Santos was serving as Uribe’s defense minister.
Neither leader can be tried for war crimes allegedly committed while they were in office by the transitional justice tribunal. Colombia’s constitution allows only Congress to investigate alleged presidential crimes.
“The special exemption from prosecution of presidents is a condition for institutional stability … for that reason the government does not think that the creation of the Special Peace Jurisdiction changes the constitutional norms on this matter,” the government’s chief negotiator at the peace talks, Humberto de la Calle, told Congress Tuesday evening.
This exemption protects Uribe from being investigated over “false positives,” a euphemism for the killing of civilians, dressing up their corpses as guerrilla fighters and presenting them as anonymous killed guerrillas.
The widespread practice to kill civilians in order to fraudulently inflate military successes does, however, pose a major legal challenge for Santos, who was Uribe’s defense minister between 2006 and 2009 when the army killed almost as many civilians as guerrillas.
Twenty-two army generals, among whom the commander of the armed forces under Santos, are currently being investigated for the more than 4,500 murders.
Consequently, the post-conflict tribunal in Colombia “doe not just affect Uribe, it could [also] affect the President of the Republic,” Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, a political ally of Uribe told press.
Although Uribe and Santos cannot be tried for crimes committed during their presidency they will face charges for crimes committed outside of this time because in accordance with the transitional justice deal there will be no impunity.
Convicted war criminals who agreed to cooperate with their trial, admit responsibility and pay reparations to victims will face up to eight years in “restricted conditions.” Those who do not comply and are found guilty will face up to 20 years in jail.
Peace talks have been taking place in Havana, Cuba between the government and the FARC since November 2012 in the hope of resolving the civil conflict with left 260,000 Colombians dead and over 6 million displaced.