Colombia appoints Supreme Court Judge Ivan Velasquez to oversee the testimony of paramilitaries in U.S. jails.
After meeting with U.S. officials, Colombian Minister of the Interior and Justice German Vargas Lleras announced that Velasquez will take the newly-created position. The judge is a part of the court’s criminal chamber and is involved with the investigation of “parapolitics;” ties between politicians and paramilitaries.
The purpose of the position is to ensure that judicial processes involving the extradited paramilitaries move along and that the Colombian justice system has full access to those in custody.
“The issue is not whether or not [the paramilitaries] want to talk,” Vargas said. “Access to them for questioning is guaranteed, we have a schedule, and the United States has provided full cooperation.”
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe extradited fourteen of the AUC paramilitary coalition’s top leaders to the U.S. in May 2009. The extradition was condemned by the Colombian Supreme Court, which hadn’t authorized it, and by victims’ rights groups, who accused the government of trying to prevent links between the AUC and state officials from coming out.
The practice of extraditing paramilitaries has been sharply criticized for meaning that the criminals, jailed in the U.S. on drug charges, do not testify about human rights abuses they committed in Colombia.
A study released February by Berkeley University found the paramilitaries were not encouraged to testify, and urged the U.S. to establish better procedures for the paramilitary leaders to reveal details of their crimes, to “break the cycle of impunity.”
Judge Velasquez will have access to the paramilitaries with the aim of expediting their participation in the Justice and Peace program, which is intended reveal the truth about paramilitary crimes and organize reparations.
At the end of June Colombia amended its extradition treaty with the U.S. so that demobilized paramilitaries participating in the Justice and Peace program cannot be extradited until they have adequately complied with the reparation process.