The United Nations called on Colombia to “urgently remove the obstacles” impeding a war crimes tribunal or risk being called out on failures to comply with an ongoing peace process.
The so-called Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) became the center of controversy again last week after conservative President-elect Ivan Duque called on changes to the procedural rules of the court.
The war crimes tribunal came to force in March to seek justice for war crimes committed by the armed forces and the FARC, the group that demobilized 14,000 people last year.
Duque’s hard-right Democratic Center (CD) party has opposed peace with FARC since talks began in 2012 and on Tuesday demanded that the court froze investigations against members of the military.
How to impose justice after decades of impunity
Civilian and non-armed state actors who are suspected of war crimes have already been shielded from compulsory appearance before the court.
Congress last year even introduced a controversial ban on magistrates with experience in war crime cases involving state actors.
The United Nations, which oversees the peace process, seems to have lost its patience and “called on the competent State institutions and the political forces to remove the obstacles that continue to impede that Colombia’s peace process complies with its commitment to justice and victims rights.”
The Special Jurisdiction has been constitutionally established, with the support of the Constitutional Court and, among others, the Supreme Court of Justice, and opened its doors on March 15 this year. However, three months later, the JEP still lacks the standard procedures required to provide greater legal certainty for its judges’ decisions. More than a year after the approval of Legislative Act 01, which created the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, the victims are still waiting for the first hearings and appearances of those who were involved in serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
United Nations Verification Mission
Those responsible for war crimes are the ones in power
The delays in justice are largely due because of the huge number of human rights violations committed by the state, often involving officials that continue to wield a lot of power.
Duque’s party is led by Senator Alvaro Uribe, who was commander in chief of Colombia’s armed forces between 2002 and 2010 when the military executed between 4,500 and 10,000 civilians and falsely presented them as guerrillas killed in combat.
Once a friend of the Ochoa crime family that founded the Medellin Cartel, Uribe’s legal troubles have become so bad he is now investigated for three massacres and a homicide.
Duque’s vice-president-elect, Marta Lucia Ramirez, was defense minister between 2002 and 2004 when the mass killings began to escalate.
An end to impunity about these widespread and systematic killings could have devastating effects for Uribe, Ramirez and their party.
Nevertheless, 8.5 million Colombians are waiting for justice or want to return to the farms from where they were displaced. They, not political interests, are priority for the international community that oversees the process.
Colombia’s armed conflict with the FARC began in 1964 and involved multiple armed actors. Since then, at least 265,000 people were murdered. The families of 80,000 people who are still missing have been waiting on the transitional justice system in the hope for closure.