The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers spoke on Wednesday to the UN Human Rights Council about the scandal of politicians’ links to paramilitary groups in Colombia, reports AFP.
Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, who visited Colombia in December to investigate the condition of judicial independence in the country, told the council that “During the last few years, new illegal armed actors have appeared. In this framework, links have been established between paramilitary leaders and politicians, including members of Congress.”
The UN official explained to the committee that 93 Colombian congressmen have thus far been charged with illicit ties to paramilitary organizations, and 22 of them have been sentenced by Colombia’s Supreme Court.
She also noted that authorities have opened investigations into twelve governors, 166 mayors, 58 city councilmen, and thirteen other government officials.
Despite the relatively large amount of Colombian government officials implicated in this scandal, known as “parapolitics,” Albuquerque e Silva added that the investigations “have been impeded” by the extradition of paramilitary and criminal leaders to the United States.
According to Albuquerque e Silva, the extradition of these leaders have prevented the Colombian justice system from hearing testimony on the paramilitaries’ “relationships with Colombian politicians, primarily congressmen and officials.”
Earlier in May, it was reported that despite guarantees by the Colombian government, only six of the fourteen former top AUC paramilitary leaders who were extradited to the United States two years ago have been able to offer their testimony in Colombia’s Justice and Peace process, which offered illegal armed groups that demobilized shorter sentences for their cooperation in the justice system.
Albuquerque e Silva also reiterated previous statements, calling the Justice and Peace process “very slow,” and noted that “not issued a single [judicial] sentence” has been delivered against the thousands of paramilitaries who demobilized under the program.
Colombia’s Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Adriana Mejia Hernandez, admitted to the committee her government’s shortcomings, saying that “overcoming the impunity [from justice] constitutes the unquestionable challenge on which the State must focus its efforts… We should continue exploring ways to guarantee all citizens the ability to access and apply effective and speedy justice.”
Para Marcelo Pollack, from the human rights NGO Amnesty International, echoed the concerns of impunity, calling it the “backbone of the human rights crisis in Colombia,” and noted that the “majority of the victims [of Colombia’s armed conflict] have not been identified, and even less [of the perpetrators] have been brought to justice.”
Colombian NGO the Council of Colombian Lawyers, however, argued that the the UN Special Rapporteur was “overly critical,” describing that she came to Colombia to investigate judicial independence, not the issue of parapolitics or the justice and peace process.
“The rapporteur had wanted to show the ability of the president [Uribe] to nominate candidates [judges] in the judicial system, which would put in doubt the independence of Colombia’s judicial system… [but she] didn’t find anything like that during her visit to Colombia” the NGO’s president Gustavo Gallon stated.
Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva’s official report from her ten-day investigation on the current state of independence of Colombia’s judicial system can be found here (Spanish).