Marino Córdoba called on the Colombian government to refocus the implementation of its 2016 peace deal on the victims of the country’s 50-year civil war. Córdoba presented his call to action during a Jan. 16 event marking the one-year anniversary of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
The JEP was established in 2016 as part of a peace deal between the Colombian government and the guerrilla insurgency Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Representing a compromise between the government and FARC leaders, the JEP implements a transitional justice model.
The agreement tasked the JEP with sanctioning the most grievous crimes committed during the 50-year conflict, while facilitating a sustainable peace by initiating a reconciliation process between victims and perpetrators.
“I was invited to present as a victim in order to represent [the victim’s] perspective of the JEP’s work,” said Córdoba, the founding director of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES). The organization has been an important WOLA partner since and represents a coalition of 96 organizations in a network of 90,000 Afro-Colombians.
Córdoba is a survivor of Operation Genesis, a 1997 forced displacement of Afro-Colombian communities in the Cacarica river basin in Chocó. During the operation, Colombian soldiers collaborated with paramilitary groups to target social leaders and farmer’s unions.
“Before I die, I want to know what happened in Riosucio, and who was responsible for it all,” Córdoba said at the event, documented by W Radio Colombia.
Colombian General Rito Alejo del Río Rojas, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for ordering Operation Genesis, recently agreed to appear before the JEP in exchange for a reduced sentence.
“As victims, we want to know the truth and we want other Colombians to know the truth as well,” Córdoba said, in reference to del Río’s appearance. “The JEP has a great responsibility to document what happened, and we will do our utmost to support the institution.”
Córdoba pushed back against allegations by former president Álvaro Uribe that the JEP is a political tool of the left. “This country is very polarized,” he said. “Right now, we need one voice to ensure that the victims of the conflict are at the center of the peace process.”
The JEP’s first year in review
The JEP has begun 5 major investigations focusing on the actions of FARC ex-combatants and the Colombian military. The cases focus on kidnappings by the FARC; violence in the departments of Tumaco, Ricaurte and Barbacoas, and Nariño; extrajudicial killings by the Colombian military (infamously known as “false positives”); crimes committed in the department of Antioquia’s sub-region of Urabá; and violence in the northern region of the Cauca department.
Over 800,000 victims have registered with the JEP in the past year, while 11,675 have agreed to appear before the tribunal. The vast majority of those agreeing to testify, 9,687, are ex-combatants of the FARC. The remaining number is composed of 1,938 members of Colombia’s Armed Forces, 38 state operatives unaffiliated with the Armed Forces, and 12 who have self-identified as social protesters. Two Colombian generals and one senator are the most notable public figures involved in the process.
The JEP has navigated a highly politicized and controversial implementation of the peace agreement. About 15% of the JEP’s 51 magistrates come from Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and over half of them are women. However, the Central Democratic Party (UD) founded by ex-president Álvaro Uribe has accused the JEP of carrying out a political agenda. While independently unsubstantiated, UD’s allegations have cast doubt on the JEP’s legitimacy.
The JEP has also faced criticism from the FARC, with high-profile cases involving two of the group’s former leaders. The first, known by his alias Jesús Santrich, has sought a JEP guarantee that he will not be extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges. The second FARC ex-commander, Hernán Darío Velásquez, or “Paisa,” has not appeared before the JEP. The tribunal has yet to decide whether his failure to participate exempts him from the benefits of the transitional justice system.
The JEP’s most critical tool lies in its popular legitimacy. María Camila Moreno, director of the Colombia program for the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), emphasized the importance of transparency and legitimacy. Presenting on the JEP’s first year of operation, Moreno called for greater resources for implementing the peace agreement in post-conflict zones and a greater focus on the conflict’s victims. The JEP, she warned, must serve as an example that Colombia’s conflicts can be solved by institutions instead of violence.
Written by Julia Friedmann, Colombia Intern