The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) accords victim status to the Patriotic Union (UP) political party. The UP was founded during a 1980s peace process with the FARC, as a means to ease the guerrillas’ foreseen entry into civilian life. More than 3,000 of its members were killed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The JEP requires former police general Mauricio Santoyo to stand trial for his role in the 2000 disappearance of two members of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared (ASFADDES) in Medellín. Santoyo stands accused of working with the paramilitaries who disappeared Claudia Patricia Monsalve and Ángel José Quintero when he was commander of the Medellín Police anti-kidnapping unit. He later went on to be the chief of then-president Álvaro Uribe’s security detail before being extradited to the United States to face drug charges. He was returned to Colombia in 2019.
The human rights group Corporación MINGA withdraws its archive from the government’s Center for Historical Memory due to concerns about its director, Darío Acevedo. The materials MINGA took back included 66 boxes, 427 folders, and 31,265 folios of testimonies and documents. Acevedo, who took over the Center in 2019, had made past statements denying the existence of an armed conflict, and in the view of human rights defenders, has been favoring efforts to help military officers and large landowners to tell their stories of victimization.
One of the FARC’s most prominent former hostages, ex-senator Ingrid Betancourt, sends a strongly worded letter to the chief judge of the JEP’s Chamber for Recognition of Truth, Responsibility, and Determination of Acts and Conducts. She is responding to a news report about some of the FARC’s testimony to the JEP, in which the guerrillas attempt to play down the severity of Betancourt’s six years in jungle captivity. “It is not up to the FARC to issue good-behavior certificates for its victims. Nor is it up to us to agree with what they do.” Betancourt objects strongly to the FARC defendants’ insistence on using the word “retention” as a euphemism for kidnapping.
The president of the FEDEGAN cattlemen’s federation, José Félix Lafaurie, delivers two reports to the National Center for Historical Memory attesting that “approximately 11,000 cattlemen have declared themselves conflict victims.” Cattle ranchers are widely alleged to have been a key support for paramilitary groups, and Lafaurie’s predecessor, Jorge Visbal, was imprisoned for supporting the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
Gen. Mario Montoya, who headed Colombia’s army between 2006 and 2008, testifies for two days before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). At least 41 victims are in attendance, others gather outside to protest.
The JEP is holding hearings for its “macro-case” about so-called “false positive” killings, in which military personnel murdered thousands of civilians and claimed them later as combat kills. Eleven military witnesses have signaled Gen. Montoya as playing a key role in creating the incentives for these killings.
The law governing the JEP dictates that when a person has been implicated by a report or testimony, the JEP will give that person the opportunity to give his or her version of what happened. At that opportunity, the person may recognize or deny the allegations.
In 40 minutes of comments, Gen. Montoya denies any responsibility for the “false positives,” and invokes his “right to remain silent,” responding vaguely to magistrates’ questions.
Gen. Montoya’s silence causes an outcry among victims. They particularly object to Montoya’s response when magistrates ask him how to prevent “false positive” killings in the future. Montoya reportedly replied by citing most soldiers’ low social class origins. “We have to teach them how to use the bathroom, how to use silverware, so it’s not easy.”
On February 18, active-duty Col. Álvaro Amórtuegi tellsCaracol Noticias that in 2001, Montoya had ordered him to kill some people captured by paramilitaries, adding that he would send him some armbands with which to pass them off as guerrillas. When he refused, the colonel alleges that Montoya replied, “You’re a coward, you disgust me and I spit on your boots… If you’re afraid, go kill an idiot or a crazy person, or take them from the morgue.”
Some victims’ groups call on the JEP to expel Gen. Montoya for his non-cooperation, which would send his case to the regular criminal justice system.
Hopes for a prompt resolution of the status of 16 special temporary congressional seats for conflict victims are dashed, as opponents’ delaying tactics prevent the State Council (one of Colombia’s high courts) from meeting to decide the issue.
The peace accord had resolved to create the 16 temporary legislative seats, in which victims’ associations—not political parties—would be able to run for office to represent historically conflictive zones. The measure to create the seats won a majority in Colombia’ Senate in 2017, but disagreement over whether a numerical quorum existed for that vote remains unresolved.
The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a global network of historic sites, museums and memory initiatives, sends a letter notifying Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory that it has been expelled from the organization.
The Coalition’s director, Elizabeth Silkes, had sent a letter in September 2019 to the National Center’s director, Darío Acevedo, asking him to reconfirm the Center’s commitment to the conflict’s victims and to recognize the existence of the armed conflict, among other issues. Acevedo did not respond to that letter.
Acevedo, a very conservative intellectual, took office in February 2019 as a very controversial choice for a government body dedicated to preserving the memory of conflict victims. In a 2017 interview with Medellín’s El Colombiano, he had said, “Some people believe that what Colombia lived through was an armed conflict, something like a confrontation between the state and some organizations that rose up against it. Others think that it was the state defending itself against a terrorist threat and from some organizations that had degenerated in their political perspective by mixing themselves in with kidnapping, narcotrafficking, and crimes against humanity. Though the Victims’ Law says that what was lived was an armed conflict, that can’t become an official truth.”
On February 5, President Duque and Director Acevedo preside over a ceremony commemorating the laying of the first stone at the construction site where the Historical Memory Center will build a Museum of Memory, a project begun during the Santos government. Some victims’ groups, most notably the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, which wasn’t invited to attend, protest outside the event.
A February 11 letter from 63 prominent international scholars voices concern “for the ostensible loss of credibility” that the National Center for Historical Memory has suffered under Acevedo’s leadership.
Senate President Lidio García raises the possibility that the body might re-visit legislation, foreseen in the peace accord, that would create 16 temporary congressional districts for conflict victims, not political parties. Though legislation to create these districts won a majority of Senate votes in late 2017, the absence of senators from the chamber raised questions about whether a quorum existed. A quorum did exist if one excluded the seats of senators who had been suspended, for corruption or similar reasons, but the legislation was ruled as failing to pass, and the special districts were not created for the 2018 legislative elections. In light of a 2019 Constitutional Court decision on the quorum question, Senator García signals an intention to send the 2017 bill to President Duque as approved legislation. If Duque signs it, the temporary seats for victims, representing 16 conflict zones, would be created.
High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos casts doubt on the temporary congressional districts, contending that the Constitutional Court’s 2019 decision cannot be applied retroactively to a vote that took place in 2017.