Convictions of former paramilitary members under Colombia’s Peace and Justice Law for thousands of crimes including massacres, targeted killings and other acts of violence are immensely bogged down due to legal complexities, the newspaper El Espectador reported Thursday.
Special prosecutors have so far charged over 9,000 crimes under the Peace and Justice law, however the complications that have arisen regarding the conditions for sentencing a defendant have increased to the point of making a conviction either very time consuming or highly unlikely.
Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law is a treaty between right-wing paramilitary groups such as the AUC and the government formed four years ago.
The militias, organized in the AUC federation, arose in the mid-1980s to protect landowners and businesses from Marxist rebels, but degenerated into a fractious coalition of death squads whose chiefs grew rich from drug trafficking, land grabs and extortion. They are suspected to be involved in thousands of forced disappearances and deaths since 1987.
Under the agreement many of the former gunmen have yet to face any legal accountability for the atrocities carried out by the militias. Many involved in the process say there are not enough legal personnel in Colombia to deal with investigations and that logistical issues clog up progress. There are some 150 lawyers assigned solely to Justice and Peace cases but some 1,700 more are required, Colombian media in the past have reported.
Problems arise in establishing all of the acts committed by those accused, and that before there can be a sentence, “the indictment (…) must contain, therefore, all behaviors that are attributed to the accused, either through confession or because of what the research showed.”
In some cases, Colombia’s Supreme Court overturned objections made by prosecutors against the accused, and in others it is the sheer multitude of crimes committed that is complicating prosecution.
For example, in the case of former paramilitary leaders Salvatore Mancuso and Jorge Ivan Laverde, aka The Iguana, the groups they commanded committed such a multiplicity of crimes, “that investigation and prosecution of individuals would require years and even, according to the logistical capacity of our righteousness, could lead to impunity,” the newspaper reported.
Amid the legal complexity and confusion however, is a desire to “repair the incidents” and to hold those responsible accountable for the crimes, and whether there will be enough time to “ascertain the truth of what happened and get a decision soon.”
In cases like the former paramilitary commander in the Middle Magdalena, Ramon Isaza, the Office has documented nearly 200 events, which for now remain in limbo because of difficulties in meeting all the regulations required.
Next week in Spain, Colombia’s Prosecutor General Guillermo Mendoza will explain how the implementation of the Justice and Peace Law has so far been applied, without forgetting that it is increasingly difficult to obtain a conviction.