state of the justice in Colombia may be reflected in a black joke
circulating at the time of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan
Milosevic’s trial: “What do you do with a man who commits murder? Put
him in prison for life. What do you do with a man who kills 20 people?
Well, you put him into a mental asylum until cured. What do you do to
a man who kills 200,000 people? You send him to a luxury hotel in
Geneva for peace negotiations.”
current deterioration of the justice system has its roots in the degree
of its politicization that has become increasingly bias towards the
power-holders and the new accusatorial trial system that is ineffective
in a country with an overwhelming number of crimes and a limited number
of overworked prosecutors that cannot keep up.
or persons with political affiliations to the establishment have become
prosecutors. For instance the current Prosecutor General, Mario
Iguarán, was vice-minister of Justice when the controversial “Justice
and Peace” legislation for the reinsertion of paramilitaries was being
promoted by the government. Four years have elapsed and the most
important paramilitaries were flown to the US
before they could confess their crimes and conduct reparation for the victims, if that was at all possible. Among the paramilitaries
in Colombia, who pose no threat to the government, only one person has
been convicted since.
politicization also occurs in the opposite direction; judges becoming
politicians. For instance, Edgardo Maya, former Prosecutor General, who
has the intention of running for the presidency. This explicates why he
abstained from giving a guilty verdict, as his documents demonstrate, on the case of the minister Diego Palacio and ambassador Sabas Pretelt, both individuals are accused of offering public office seats to two congresspeople in return for their favorable vote on the first presidential re-election.
The criminal justice has also been called into question with a recent European study that found that only three per cent of homicides result in convictions.
This travesty of the justice system is in line with the rewards to
other prolific murderers such as guerrilla commanders who become “peace facilitators”.
These statistics are compounded by the new accusatorial trial system
that permits shorter periods of pre-trial detention and in theory faster
prosecutions. However, there are not enough prosecutors for formalizing
the charges during that time and ultimately the suspects walk free.
light of these realities the joke told of Milosevic may not be black
enough for representing the idiosyncrasies of Colombia’s justice
system. Some changes are necessary: What do you do with a man who
commits murder? He is set free. What do you do with a man who kills 20
people? He becomes “peace facilitator”. What do you do to a man who may be involved in the death of 14,660 people directly and indirectly? The country may reward him with a second re-election.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong