The chairman of Colombia’s senate peace commission wants former paramilitary commanders to testify before the country’s war crimes tribunal to clarify their ties to politicians and businessmen.
Senator Roy Barreras (U Party) sponsored a bill on Friday to grant former paramilitary leaders the possibility to testify as witnesses.
The bill proposes to allow to testify “those paramilitaries who provide a new and enlightening truth exclusively as witnesses… in favor of the victims, for example the relatives of more than 100,000 missing in Colombia and who have the right to know what happened to their loved ones.”
But Barreras’ bill goes further. The current war crimes tribunal’s powers automatically triggers investigations into so-called “third party-actors” who are incriminated in court. By allowing the paramilitary chiefs to testify, many could end up in court after years of successfully evading and even allegedly bribing justice.
Top AUC chief want to take part
Multiple key paramilitary commanders have asked to take part in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace JEP), claiming that their associates in business and politics were never called to justice.
The JEP currently only allows members of the FARC and the armed forces to submit to the transitional justice system that grants them judicial benefits if they tell the truth.
But according to top AUC leaders, the majority of the businessmen and politicians that sponsored and benefited from their paramilitary reign of terror are walking away free.
The alleged war criminals in Colombia’s jet set
Among the paramilitaries’ alleged associates in what has become known as “para-economics” are some of the country’s largest companies like state-run oil company Ecopetrol, beverage company Postobon, airliner Avianca and cement giant Cementos Argos.
These companies are allegedly complicit in the assassination of labor unionists and the mass dispossession of land of the country’s 8 million victims of displacement.
Covering up a mafia state?
Former Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre in 2016 left his successor 16,772 case files of businessmen involved in “different economic activities, particularly from the cattle, agriculture and hydrocarbon sectors,” who allegedly collaborated with the paramilitaries for economic gain.
But last year, Martinez said he only had identified 2,311 businessmen and 1,835 (elected) state officials as suspects. No criminal charges against any of these alleged terrorism supporters were since reported.
Only 609 admitted paramilitary associates in politics and business requested submission to the JEP ahead of the closing of the deadline on Friday.
The paramilitaries and their associates are held responsible for 100,000 homicides or 87% of all civilians killed during the conflict.
Rescuing the rights of victims
According to Barreras, the only way to prevent mass violation of the right of victims whose family members are still missing or are unable to return to their lands is by allowing the paramilitaries to testify before the JEP and extend the period for the third-party actors to submit to the transitional justice system.
Additionally, businessmen who were extorted by the AUC would be allowed to clear their name by the extension of the grace period for third-party actors.
This covers the non-armed third-party civilian, businessmen who have been paramilitary financiers and, above all, the vast majority of civilian third parties who had to pay the paramilitaries, because they were subject to extortion… Those businessmen have the right to close their legal situation before the JEP.
Senator Roy Barreras
Barreras’ bill is likely to count on opposition from the ruling Democratic Center Party, which has been closely associated with the agricultural and mining businesses allegedly involved in land theft.
But crime has no political color; politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have been accused of land dispossession, meaning that the bill could receive opposition from all sides of the political spectrum.