Paramilitaries – “Justice & Peace”

March 6, 2009

I recently saw the movie Twilight, which features an awful plot device. The vampire lead wants a mortal woman as a girlfriend. But, as he explains to her, he’s afraid he won’t be able to stop himself from sucking her blood. At one point, as they’re kissing, he yells at her to stop, or else he won’t be able to control his urge to kill her. In case this isn’t obvious to anyone, this is also how the rape of women by men is often treated in mainstream culture. Helpless men are “provoked” into raping by scantily-clad, disobedient, etc women.

“Stop-me-before-I-kill-again” seems to be the logic the Uribe administration has brought to the “demobilization” of paramilitaries, who have been conclusively linked to a majority of elected leaders in his governing coalition in the para-politica scandal. As the documents linked to and excerpted below show, the Uribe government has mostly absolved paramilitary leaders of responsibility for massacres and assassinations, probably to prevent them from telling all about the activities of their friends in government, and have treated them with kid gloves. This contrasts to the treatment of current and former guerrilla combatants; a clear double standard, as Narco News notes.

The government claims paramilitaries no longer exist, although I’ve met at least two dozen people who have been threatened by paramilitary or, as Corp Arco Iris calls them, “emerging armed groups,” just in the last year. Many activists received death threats by groups like the Aguilas Negras following the March 6, 2008 demonstrations against state and paramilitary violence. It will be useful to watch the response to today’s anniversary protests.

To understand the current state of impunity for paramilitaries, responsible for most threats, assassinations and, many say, the bulk of drug trafficking over the last two decades, it’s critical to know the impact of the Justice and Peace Law passed in 2005, three years after Uribe was elected and promptly signed a ceasefire with the AUC.

Here’s an excerpt from the CIP translation of a report by the director of INDEPAZ, “A Balance in the Red.”

Some of the figures are noteworthy: in three years no one has yet been sentenced; out of 3,431 people being processed for atrocities, only 9 have finished the confessions process. As of yet there is not one single victim who has been able to process his/her demands in a reparation proceeding, and not one peso from the perpetrators has been taken away through judicial sentencing… Out of a total of 3.5 million paramilitary victims, only 147,000 were brave enough to enlist for some kind of compensation. Barely 10,500 of them were able to attend a hearing, without any result, and less than 2,000 have legal representation… The 20 paramilitary heads who have given confessions turned in a paltry US$2 million and 99 farms (75% of the total money belonged to the “Mellizo” [narcotrafficker and sometime paramilitary leader Miguel Ángel Mejía Múnera, captured in May]). This contrasts with the US$5 billion accumulated by the narco-paramilitaries via narcotrafficking operations, the expropriation of more than 1.5 million hectares of land, and the appropriation of public funds in alliance with their “para-politician” partners.


  • Declassified documents show the CIA knew about links between politicians and paramilitaries since at least 1994. 15 years later, Obama’s budget shows $419 million earmarked for Colombia’s military and police.
  • The US wants to extradite a top para leader currently cooperating with victims’ lawyers. Last week several Colombian NGOs sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to reconsider: Letter on extradition PDF

Here are a few other links on the “Justice and Peace” / demobilization process.

Cherry-picked excerpts from this comprehensive LAWG report after the jump.

Truth. The lack of an independent truth commission severely restricts opportunities for truth. The National Commission for Reparations and Reconciliation (CNRR) is charged with producing a report on “the reasons why the armed groups started up and evolved,” but while this could result in an insightful report, it is a limited project by a handful of scholars. The CNRR’s presidentially-appointed members lack the independence and credibility brought by a UN-sponsored truth commission.

At least 15 victims seeking justice through the Justice and Peace process were killed, while another 200 were threatened, according to the CNRR (as of September 2007). The widely publicized murder of Yolanda Izquierdo after testifying in Salvatore Mancuso’s hearing struck fear into victims’ hearts. Although the government finally produced a witness protection plan in late 2007 in response to a court order, threats and attacks continued in 2008, many bearing the name of the Aguilas Negras. Victims’ associations were broken into and their registries of victims stolen. The government failed to effectively investigate any of these crimes—and even failed to wholeheartedly denounce them. Finally, the U.S. and Colombian governments’ decision to extradite paramilitary leadership dealt a blow to the Justice and Peace process. Suddenly, the ringleaders were shipped out of the country, and their hearings were suspended. In the United States these mob bosses would face justice for drug trafficking— but not for the thousands of people they had murdered.

Justice. While Justice and Peace offers more possibilities to bring perpetrators to justice than many peace processes, rights groups argue that punishment is minimal even for crimes against humanity, and implementation is flawed. The vast majority demobilized without penalty. Only those against whom there were charges, or who believed their crimes would be discovered, sought reduced sentences—a total of 3,127 paramilitaries. Just 23 prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Justice and Peace unit, hampered by the small number of investigations of paramilitaries prior to demobilization, are responsible for handling these prosecutions. Moreover, most of the 3,127 paramilitaries who sought reduced sentences appear to have abandoned the process. As of December 2007, 941 of the 1,057 depositions that the Attorney General´s office had begun receiving were closed because the ex-combatants did not ratify their willingness to receive the law’s benefits; and not a single indictment was issued, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Colombia office.

Reparations. While the law has created some limited opportunities for truth and justice, reparations have gone nowhere. “Reparations” in this context means not only compensation for suffering, but return of stolen land. Paramilitaries must disclose illegally obtained assets, which are channelled into a National Reparations Fund. But even paramilitaries believed to have acquired vast riches through violence, extortion, and drug trafficking pled poverty. Just the following has been turned over to the Reparations Fund: 21 rural plots (5,439 hectares); 7 urban lots; clothing; 4,666 head of cattle and horses; 8 vehicles; 2 helicopters; 739 million pesos; 70 pairs of shoes, and a television in bad repair…. In February 2008, the Congress passed a bill with executive branch support making it easier to legalize land held in someone’s possession for more than five years. In a more peaceful context a proposal to legalize small farmers’ land would be progressive. But in wartime Colombia, the five years coincide with the period of paramilitary expulsion of small farmers, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people from their lands. Given ex-paramilitaries’ power advantage over poor farmers, this law could help them legalize their ill-gotten gains. Three years after the passage of the Justice and Peace law, virtually no reparations have been made, and almost no land has been returned.

The Right to “Never Again.” Colombian rights groups claim that one other fundamental right is far from satisfied by the Justice and Peace law: the right to “non-repetition,” a guarantee that the abuses will never again take place. Paramilitary power is still far from broken. OAS monitors document the emergence of some 22 illegal armed groups, as the paramilitaries “recycled” into new, smaller but still deadly units. The groups, believed to range from 3,000 to 9,000 members, are taking over drug trade routes and extortion rackets. While many of these new or recycled groups focus on criminal activities, some, like the “Black Eagles,” continue the practice of threatening union, human rights and community leaders. Some continue to receive support from Colombian soldiers and police.

From the start of the ceasefire agreement in December 2002 until June 30, 2007, the Colombian Commission of Jurists documents 3,530 killings and disappearances by paramilitaries (outside of combat). These abuses, while trending downward, indicate many have not demobilized. Guerrillas, who have not “demobilized,” were responsible for 1,805 killings and disappearances of civilians during a similar period (July 2002-June 2007). Paramilitaries during a ceasefire and demobilization killed and disappeared nearly twice the number of civilians as guerrillas still in active combat.

These efforts peaked in a nationwide demonstration against paramilitary violence on
March 6, following a February 4th march against FARC kidnapping. The “tale of two marches” exposed like a raw nerve the different ways in which victims of violence by the guerrillas and paramilitaries were treated by Colombian society, government and media. The government, having embraced the anti-FARC march, refused to endorse the anti-paramilitary march, and a top presidential advisor on national radio associated the march organizers with the FARC.


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