Colombian investigative website Verdad Abierta reports on Tuesday that despite government praise for the Justice and Peace paramilitary demobilization program, the scheme has many serious problems.
Five years after its inception, which laid the grounds for the demobilization of 32,000 illegal armed group members, the first sentence will be handed down later this week to two paramilitaries. At this rate, the report states, the majority of the demobilized fighters will be released from prison in three years, after serving eight years, having never been convicted of a crime.
According to the report, of the 32,000 demobilized fighters, only 4,600 have been incorporated into the Justice and Peace program, of whom around 1,500 have made confessions, admitting to 8,000 crimes.
Colombian prosecutors are investigating only 4,000 of these crimes, of which 55 are currently being heard by judges in courts.
The end results have been dismal, the report continues. Of all of the cases, there have been only three cases where victims received reparations, and only one sentence has been handed down. In the meantime, La Verdad Abierta claims, more than 80,000 “certified victims” of violence by illegal armed groups still await justice.
In the program’s defense, the report says, there are several reasons for the slow nature of the process.
One of the main reasons is that no one expected, when enacting the law, such a large amount of fighters would confess so many crimes. As a result, the government has needed to call in extra legal help to process all the cases. At the moment, the report states that there are 59 prosecutors and 190 public defenders involved in the program.
Another key point hampering the program’s efficiency is that Justice and Peace is a ground-breaking initiative that has no precedent, either in Colombia or internationally.
This has forced the government to employ a “trial and error” strategy. It was only last year, the report notes, that the country’s Supreme Court clarified the framework on how courts and prosecutors should analyze the crimes, stating that they must be viewed in the context of how and when they were committed.
The process is further slowed by the fact that demobilized fighters are allowed to give “free versions” of their side of the story, which, as the report notes, could last a very long time.
In one case of a demobilized paramilitary fighter from the Atlantic coast, his testimony lasted for three months. Given the amount of crimes being attested to, the report concludes, eight years simply is not enough time to listen to all of the stories, negotiate reparations, and deliver sentences, given the amount of resources invested into the program and its current structure.
On Monday, the Colombian government praised its demobilization program, noting that the peace process led to the discovery of some 40,000 crimes.