BOGOTA – Colombia’s Special Criminal Tribunal (JEP) accused former FARC guerrillas of war crimes for the first time on Thursday and indicted the now defunct rebel group’s last eight leaders for kidnapping and other serious crimes committed during the country’s lengthy internal armed conflict.
“The JEP’s Chamber for the Recognition of Truth and Responsibility indicted eight members of the old Secretariat of the defunct FARC for crimes against humanity and war crimes within Case 01,” Magistrate Julieta Lemaitre Ripoll said on Thursday.
According to the judge, the judicial action taken against the former heads of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who are currently the leaders of the Comunes political party, “is the maximum reproach that this court can make and comes in response to the serious violations of the principle of humanity.”
The indicted ex-guerrillas are accused of depriving numerous people of their freedom and, as a result, the Recognition Chamber also accused them of other related war crimes such as murder, torture, cruel treatment, assaults on personal dignity, sexual violence and forced displacement.
The accused include Rodrigo Londoño, the last chief of the guerilla group and the current president of Comunes, which arose from the demobilization of the FARC; Senators Julian Gallo and Pablo Catatumbo, as well as former guerrilla leaders Jaime Alberto Parra, Milton de Jesus Toncel, Juan Hermildo Cabrera, Pastor Alape and Rodrigo Granda.
The JEP, a tribunal created according to the peace accord signed in November 2016 between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government, came to this decision after a two-and-a-half-year investigation during which judicial archives were examined, archives that contained documents and computers seized in military operations against the FARC and extensive reports prepared by the Attorney General’s Office and civil society.
In addition, the JEP investigation took into account individual and group information provided by 257 ex-combatants in which many acknowledged their responsibility in the war crimes, along with the testimony of 1,028 victims of such crimes.
The court concluded that the investigation leading to the indictments dealt with factual information, in contrast to what the former FARC leaders had claimed in attempting to impugn the testimony provided by the former guerrillas and the victims.
“On the contrary, they are not mistakes (that occurred) in war but rather war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said JEP president Eduardo Cifuentes.
Case 01, which was opened on July 4, 2018, deals with 2,107 victims, 394 of whom were members of the public security forces, and prioritizes the “illegal holding of people by the FARC, mainly between 1993 and 2012,” an investigation that includes more than 9,000 incidents that occurred during that period.
Despite the fact that the FARC’s own internal rules and statutes included the requirement to provide “good treatment” for kidnap victims, a fact mentioned by the members of the FARC Secretariat in their own testimony before the JEP, their victims – along with the reports provided to the JEP by civil society – insisted that they suffered mistreatment at the hands of many FARC commanders and combatants.
The court determined that the top FARC leaders bear responsibility for the treatment received by their kidnap victims and concluded that the “good treatment” order referred only to the preservation of life among the captives but not to the preservation of their human dignity.
The JEP also found a pattern of mistreatment in captivity in all blocs of the FARC, including chaining captives as punishment and a form of humiliation, forced marches, physical and psychological attacks, privacy violations, torture, isolation and forced displacement, sexual abuse, as well as other mistreatment.
If those charged do not acknowledge their participation in the conduct attributed to them or do not provide exhaustive information that will result in an end to impunity for the crimes, the JEP may impose specific punishment, including prison terms of 15-20 years.
If, however, the accused acknowledge their responsibility and provide true information to the court, special sanctions will be imposed including prison terms of only 5-8 years.
The punishment will include limitations on the rights of the accused including restrictions on freedom of residence and movement, performance of work to provide reparations to the victims and to society – such as building schools or roads – and participating in environmental protection programs, with all sanctions conforming to both national and international law.
“We hope that after 30 days, if the members of the Secretariat who have been (indicted) by this court fully acknowledge … what is being said here, that the road to individual punishment will be opened, (but) if they do not do so, they will expose themselves to the launching of a criminal trial that could lead to the imposition of prison terms of up to 20 years,” said Cifuentes.