Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday the government will continue with the reintegration of 17,000 former paramilitary fighters, despite a recent court ruling that struck down their protection from trial.
The president called on former members of paramilitary organization the AUC to trust that the government will not break promises made when negotiating the disarmament of the group in 2005 and 2006.
To broker the demobilization, the government of former President Alvaro Uribe promised the 17,000 paramilitaries that they would not stand trial for being part of a terrorist organization, and would receive government subsidies help in reintegrating into society. Human rights groups have criticized the demobilization deal, claiming the paramilitaries were offered amnesty despite the tens of thousands of human rights violations committed by AUC fighters.
The Colombian government has always warned of a collapse of the country’s justice system if the former fighters have to appear before court. It also stressed the importance of keeping its word to prevent the fighters from rearming.
But according to the Constitutional Court, it is not up to the government to declare that a group of persons are excluded from prosecution, meaning that the thousands of fighters would all have to be processed by the Prosecutor General’s Office, which can then independently decide whether a person should be charged or can be excluded of prosecution under the “principle of opportunity.”
Following the court ruling, the Organization of American States expressed its concern, saying the court decision could harm the peace process.
Santos announced his government is studying judicial alternatives for those who demobilized, took part in reintegration programs and have not rearmed or committed criminal acts after their demobilization.
“As president, I tell them today today, in all clarity: those who availed themselves to the benefits of the Justice and Peace Law and all who believed in the word of the government and took the decision to disarm, we will keep our word and will continue the rehabilitation program,” Santos said on a visit to the city of Cartagena.
“We will do everything in our power – respecting the decisions of the Constitutional Court – to keep trust in the process of demobilization and to encourage more to demobilize every day,” the president added.
“You did the right thing, which is abandoning the violence, now it is up to us to honour our part of the deal, and we will do that,” said Santos.