Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday swore in 30 judges for the war crimes tribunal, reportedly ignoring Congress that ordered the exclusion of jurists with experience in war crime cases.
The historic Special Jurisdiction for Peace will try to seek restorative justice for Colombians who were victimized by demobilized guerrilla group FARC and the military.
Politicians and businessmen who are accused of war crimes can voluntarily submit to the transitional justice court. The constitutional court ruled last year their cases will remain in the normal justice system.
In total there will be 38 judges who will act across multiple chambers dealing with truth, justice and sentencing.
With the remaining eight judges reportedly still performing other functions, it is expected that they will be sworn in at a later date with some waiting for a Constitutional Court ruling as to whether they are eligible.
Santos ignored a ban on some of the judges imposed by Congress. When approving the transitional justice system, Congress controversially added a clause to ban anyone with experience in war crime cases.
Justice Minister Enrique Gil Botero, recently told newspaper El Colombiano that the government considers the decision of Congress to be unconstitutional, claiming the clause is discriminatory.
Special Jurisdiction for Peace
The highest instance of the Special Jurisdiction is the Peace tribunal, which is composed of the section of first instance in cases of recognition of responsibility, the section of first instance in cases of absence of recognition of responsibility, the appeal section, the review section and the stability and effectiveness section.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace also includes the Chamber for the Recognition of Truth, Responsibility and the Determination of Acts and Conduct, the Amnesty Chamber or pardon and the Chamber for the Definition of Legal Situations.
Ultimately, there will be 18 magistrates operating in the chambers and 20 in the court.
According to the April 2017 law that created the Special Jurisdiction, participants in the JEP will have to tell “the plain truth” of crimes they committed, “provide reparations to their victims, and guarantee they will never repeat their crimes” in order to avoid prison.
If the court finds that a participant fails to complete the requirements of truth, reparation and non-repetition, the court may dole out the maximum punishment of twenty years in prison.
Meanwhile, if the court finds that a person continued committing crimes beyond December 2016, that person’s case will likely be referred to the criminal courts for ordinary sentencing.
Only those who have participated in the armed conflict in a direct manner such as military officials and soldiers, FARC members, police, and some civilians will be able to bring their cases to the JEP.
If they fully cooperate with the system, perpetrators can expect to receive alternative sanctions, such as confinement to a community area where they will have to contribute as a volunteer for a number of years.
They will also have to repair their victims in whatever way the court, and the victims, see as fit.