An interview with Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) Magistrate Camilo Suárez about how the JEP is functioning during the coronavirus lockdown.
Chapter 5, Article 1.2 of the 2016 Peace Accord created the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) as the justice component of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition (Sistema Integral de Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y No Repetición, SIVJRNR). The Special Jurisdiction’s mandate, which cannot last for more than 20 years, is to administer transitional justice and uncover the crimes committed before December 1, 2016 in the context of the armed conflict. The JEP began operating after approval by the Senate on November 15, 2017 and was further strengthened on March 9, 2018 through the Acuerdo 001 of 2018, which regulated and structured its functioning.
Since it started operating and as of January 23, 2020, 12,493 individuals have come before the JEP—77.9% of them are former FARC members and 21.2% are members of the Armed Forces. It has held 96 hearings and has heard 249 individual testimonies. Notably, the JEP has granted 183 amnesties to former FARC combatants, one guarantee against extradition, 313 transitory, conditional, and anticipated parole to members of the Armed Forces or third actors, and 171 to former FARC combatants.
The JEP’s work is concentrated on seven macro-cases:
Case 001, Illegal Detentions of Individuals by the FARC
On July 4, 2018, the JEP opened case 001 to investigate the high number of kidnappings that took place throughout the armed conflict. The JEP is basing its preliminary investigations on a report by the Prosecutor’s Office that identified 8,163 victims, in cases allegedly committed by the FARC. During the case’s first stage: “recognition of truth, responsibility and determination of facts and conduct,” the JEP’s Sala de Reconocimiento has held multiple fact-finding and truth-telling sessions with former FARC members. Through these sessions, the JEP is seeking to expand the collective testimony that it received last September from 10 delegates of FARC’s former Estado Mayor. These sessions are organized territorially, based on the areas where the FARC’s Blocs operated, and held in the former Territorial Training and Reincorporation Spaces (Espacios Territoriales de Capacitación y Reincorporación, ETCRs). On December 3, 2019, former FARC members from the Occidental Bloc testified in Popayán (Cauca). Next on the list are the testimonies in Pondores (La Guajira) by the Caribe Bloc, and in Miravalle (Caquetá) by the South Bloc and the Teófilo Forero Mobile Column. Additional to these collective territorial testimonies, the JEP has also received 33 individual testimonies and will soon begin hearing from the victims. As of December 12, 2019, the JEP had accredited 1,709 victims in this case.
Case 002, Territorial Situation of the Tumaco, Ricaurte, and Barbacoas Municipalities (Nariño)
Opened on July 10, 2018, this case centers on investigating the human rights abuses and the violations to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) perpetrated by former FARC members and members of the Armed Forces in Nariño. Initially, the JEP is only investigating cases that occurred between January 1, 1990 and December 1, 2016. By restricting its attention to the Tumaco, Ricaurte, and Barbacoas municipalities, the JEP is taking unprecedented steps to acknowledge the environment as a victim of the armed conflict, especially in Afro-Colombian and Indigenous territories. As such, the JEP is investigating the “socio-environmental and territorial” harm that Afro-Colombian Community Councils (Consejos Comunitarios) and Awá and Eperara Siapiadaara Reservations suffered in the region. Along with these, the JEP is also investigating other crimes such as internal displacements, assassinations, sexual violence, torture, and forced recruitment. On November 2019, the JEP accredited Tumaco’s Campesino Association (Asociación Campesina de Tumaco)—a group of more than 5 thousand families—as collective victims. A week later, it recognized the Katsa Suterritory and 32 Awá cabildos as victims, more specifically as collective subjects of rights.
Case 003, Illegitimately Perpetrated Deaths Presented as Combat Casualties by Agents of the State
The JEP opened this case on July 17, 2018 to investigate the so-called false positive cases. Case 003 focuses on specific areas of the country: Cesar, Antioquia, Catatumbo (North Santander), Casanare, Meta and Huila. The evidentiary basis for the case came from a report by the Prosecutor’s Office, which identifies 2,248 victims in cases that occurred between 1988 and 2014. According to documents from the Ministry of Defense, 1,944 members of the Armed Forces have already expressed willingness to appear before the Special Jurisdiction. By December 5, 2019, the JEP had heard 156 testimonies of individuals involved in these crimes. Notably, in December 2019, the JEP ordered General Mario Montoya Uribe, former commander of the National Army, to testify. Various reports obtained by the JEP, as well as multiple testimonies by members of the Armed Forces, implicate General Montoya in cases of false positives. Also noteworthy, several testimonies in the past year led the JEP to a mass grave in Dabeiba, Antioquia apparently filled with victims of false positives. So far, the JEP has exhumed 54 bodies. The JEP’s Sala de Reconocimiento is expected to release its preliminary conclusions and begin the process of hearing from the victims later this semester.
Case 004, Territorial Situation in the Urabá Region
On September 11, 2018, the JEP opened case 004. This case focuses on crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in the Urabá region between January 1, 1986 and December 1, 2016. Ten municipalities are at the center of the investigations: Turbo, Apartadó, Carepa, Chigorodó, Mutatá and Dabeiba (Antioquia) and El Carmen del Darién, Riosucio, Unguía and Acandí (Chocó). Reports by the Prosecutor’s Office, the National Center of Historic Memory, and social organizations such as the Reiniciar Corporation and the Popular Research and Education Center (Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular, Cinep) cite 3,523 crimes relevant to case 004. These include cases of massacres, internal displacements, illegal land takings, gender-based violence, and sexual violence. Among the individual and collective victims identified by the JEP thus far are Unión Patriótica leaders, the Embera-Katío, Embera Chamí, and Tule o Kuna Peoples, the Afro-Colombian Community Councils (Consejos Comunitarios) of Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó, and San José de Apartadó’s Peace Community. As of February 21, 2019, the JEP had accredited more than 1,700 victims, including the most recent accreditation of 37 victims, for the “La Chinita” massacre. The JEP is expecting to hear the testimonies of 100 former members of the Armed Forces and 74 former FARC members who have some degree of responsibility for the crimes in case 004.
Case 005, Territorial Situation of the Northern Cauca and Southern Cauca Valley Regions
The JEP opened this case on November 8, 2018. Case 005 investigates 2,308 “victimizing acts” that occurred in seventeen municipalities in Northern Cauca and Southern Cauca Valley between January 1, 1993 and December 1, 2016. The significantly high number of victims that these acts produced makes this case notable. Among them are 344,333 victims of internal displacement, 1,038 victims of kidnappings, 828 victims of confinement, 260 victims of anti-personnel mines, 2,105 victims of forced disappearance, 26,861 victims of threats, 213 victims of forced recruitment, and 3,885 cases of attacks against the civilian population. On January 21, 2020, the JEP made history when it accredited the largest number of victims in any case related to the armed conflict— 124,785 victims. These victims comprise of the 31 Nasa Reservations and Cabildos part of Cauca’s Indigenous Regional Council (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC) and of North Santander’s Association of Indigenous Cabildos (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACIN). Additionally, the JEP also accredited 20,205 victims who are members of 47 Afro-descendant Community Councils (Consejos Comunitarios). Some of these Councils form the Association of North Cauca’s Community Councils (Asociación de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte del Cauca). Others are part of different organizations from Southern Cauca Valley.
Case 006, Victimization of Patriotic Union (UP) Members by the Armed Forces
The JEP opened this case on February 24, 2019 to investigate between 1,620 and 6,000 instances of victimization suffered by UP members. Among the cases are the 67 assassinations of UP leaders, which were declared crimes against humanity. Throughout last year, the JEP conducted multiple sessions to hear from UP victims in exile; it gathered 16 testimonies. By October 2019, 72 members of the Armed Forces and state agents had requested to be accepted in the JEP. These members claim to have knowledge relevant to case 006. Recently, on January 13, 2020, the JEP’s Appeals Section rejected requests from General and former DAS Director Miguel Maza Márquez to have his case taken up by the Special Jurisdiction. Maza Márquez is currently serving a 30-year sentence for the assassination of Luis Carlos Galán.
Case 007, Recruitment of Children in the Armed Conflict
On March 1, 2019, the JEP opened case 007 to investigate cases of child recruitment from January 1, 1971 to December 1, 2016. The Prosecutor’s Office has identified 5,252 victims of child recruitment thus far. However, this phenomenon is notable for its high degree of impunity—there are only 10 convictions out of the 4,219 investigations opened by the Prosecutor’s Office. During the first stage of the investigation, the JEP applied the April 1997 Declaration of Cape Town Principles’ definition of child recruitment. The Declaration defines a child soldier as any individual under the age of 18 who forms part of an armed group in any capacity other than being a family member. According to reports received by the JEP, during the FARC’S Seventh National Guerilla Conference in 1982, the group adopted a policy that allowed recruitment of children starting at the age of 15. Moreover, the JEP has also found that such policy was not strictly applied and almost half of FARC’s child recruits were 15 years of age. These facts, according to the JEP, may suffice to attribute responsibility for these crimes to former FARC leaders. Indeed, between December 2, 2019 to January 30, 2020, the JEP summoned 14 former FARC-EP members to provide their version of the facts. Initially, the JEP only planned to summon former members of FARC’S Estado Mayor or Secretariat from 1978 to 2007.
The Colombia section of the State Department’s annual worldwide overview of human rights. (Link at state.gov)
- Police capture Gerardo Antonio Bermúdez, also known as “Francisco Galán,” a former ELN guerrilla who served as a key link to the group during past efforts to negotiate peace. A judge in Cali seeks to try Galán for his possible role in a September 2000 mass kidnapping on the highway between Cali and Buenaventura.
- Galán is known as a peace promoter who has served a complete term in prison and has long since abandoned violence. His arrest inspires an outcry across the political spectrum, including a tweet from former President Álvaro Uribe.
- 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.
- In Bogotá, police arrest former FARC leader Ely Mejía Morales, alias “Martín Sombra.” Though he has been reportedly cooperating with the demobilization and transitional justice process, “Sombra” stands accused of playing a role in the ransom kidnapping of a rancher in Caquetá in 2017, after the peace accord went into effect. Martín Sombra is also known as the “jailer of the FARC” for his role in managing camps where the group kept kidnap victims for months or years at a time.
- Colombia’s Supreme Court announces its choice of Francisco Barbosa, a lawyer who had been President Duque’s human rights advisor, to be the country’s next prosecutor-general (Fiscal-General).
- A civilian judge sends to preventive prison, pending trial, an Army colonel who allegedly green-lighted the April 22 murder of former FARC combatant Dimar Torres in Catatumbo. “This man should be killed,” Col. Jorge Armando Pérez Amézquita reportedly said of Torres, whose murder by soldiers caused a national outcry. “We can’t stand to see him captured only to get fat in jail.” The corporal who carried out the deed was sentenced to 20 years in prison in late 2019.
- A cover story in the Colombian weekly Semana reveals that Army intelligence units have been illegally intercepting the communications of, following, and threatening high-court judges, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, and journalists—including Semana reporters investigating military human rights and corruption allegations. Those being followed and intimidated include Army officers who had been providing information to investigators about these allegations.
- The magazine speculates that revelations about the illegal intelligence operation—the product of a dramatic judicial police raid on Army intelligence facilities in mid-December—forced the late-December exit of the Army’s chief, Gen. Nicacio Martínez. Gen. Martínez denies that he retired for this reason, blaming “retaliation” from elsewhere in the army “for denouncing and preventing corrupt acts.”
- Semana hints that Army personnel were passing information from intercepted communications to a legislator in the government’s party, the Democratic Center. Much speculation centers on Senator Álvaro Uribe, who was embroiled in a wiretapping scandal during the latter years of his 2002-2010 presidency. One of those being wiretapped is a Supreme Court justice in charge of a case against the former president, who is under investigation for witness tampering.
- Supreme Court President Álvaro García calls for a special investigation.
- The Inter-American Human Rights Commission expresses “deep concern” about the revelations.