“We welcome the signing of the law governing the Special Jurisdiction for Peace as well as the beginning of work by the Commissions for Truth and the Disappeared…we had an inspiring meeting with representatives of those three bodies. They face a huge task, but they are hugely impressive people. But to inspire confidence among the Colombian people, these institutions must be well resourced and given public support by the Government.”UK at the UN Security Council
This article highlights grave concerns regarding a possible 30% reduction in the operating budget for Colombia’s Transitional Justice System, and highlights some of the important work they are doing.
Signing a Peace Accord with the FARC Guerrilla was a major achievement but it is only the first step, implementation is even more complex. Which is why a 30% reduction in the budget of the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (the War Crimes Tribunal) has generated considerable concern, and has led to the questioning of the commitment of Ivan Duque Marquez’s government to the victims.
The Colombian Transitional Justice System faces an extremely short time limit in which to fulfill its mandate for example, the Truth Commission has been allocated a three year period in which to complete its mandate. This kind of timetable requires an intensity of resources if it is to fulfill its task.
As of November 2018, the National Victims Registry had registered 8,794,542 victims, amounting to over 17% of the country’s entire population. Victims have suffered a wide range of violations including assassination, sexual violence, forced disappearance and displacement.
Members of the UN Security Council, following a recent visit to Colombia in July 2019, recognised the immense achievement of the Peace Accord and the high caliber of the magistrates and staff of the JEP. However, they pointed out that resources are crucial to ensuring implementation.
According to the Centro de Memoria Histórica (CMH) between 1958 and November 2017, 82,998 people were forcibly disappeared in Colombia.  Implicated in forced disappearances in Colombia were state security forces, paramilitary and guerrilla groups. More people have been forcibly disappeared in Colombia than all those registered during the dictatorship years in the Southern Cone.
No ideology can support, much less justify, such cruelty. 82,998 Colombian families suffer from the absence of their loved ones and the uncertainty caused by the lack of news or evidence to account for what happened to their relatives. Who took them? Why did they take them?… 82,998 families ask these questions every day.Centro de Memoria Historica (unofficial translation)
The Search Unit for Disappeared Persons has to go into the rural areas, as that is where the majority of the people were forcibly disappeared, and that is where the majority of mass graves are located. Luz Marina Monzón, director of the Search Unit explained:
If this budget is reduced by 30% we will be forced to reduce our territorial presence, … the search for [disappeared] persons is not done in Bogotá .Luz Marina Monzón (unofficial translation)
The Work of the JEP in Medellin
On 16 and 17 July 2019, magistrates from the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) held a hearing with the families of the victims of forced disappearance from Comuna 13 in Medellín.
Magistrates collected information to be used to enable the JEP to determine what special measures needed to be taken in order to protect the evidence and the remains of alleged victims of forced disappearance. The Comuna 13 is one of the neighbourhoods of Medellin that has been severely impacted by the conflict.
- That local state actions had prevented the consolidation of the figures of the victims of enforced disappearance and had put at risk the recovery of the bodies of the disappeared persons.
- That the remains of victims of enforced disappearance had been lost by the Office of the Public Prosecutor.
According to the magistrates report they were “astounded” by the Mayor’s office, the other local authorities and the local judicial system for their “persistent failure” to search for people had been forcibly disappeared. Many of whom were buried in mass graves in multiple locations in the west of the city.
At the hearing, victims explained to the magistrates that housing projects were being constructed and others proposed for construction, on areas where it was thought the bodies of forced disappearance were buried. If this continued it would make it impossible for the remains of their loved ones to be recovered.
“Has anyone at any point thought to seize those properties? Why are the sites where such crimes were committed still in private hands? Why has the Prosecutor General’s Office not taken action against the owners or administrators?”Magistrate Alejandro Ramelli
The hearings held in Medellin revealed, in addition to building project on the sites yet to be searched for mass graves that:
- The remains of victims of forced disappearance found by the Medellin authorities had subsequently been lost, causing great distress to the families.
- Despite the JEP (the Section: “Ausencia de Reconocimiento de Verdad y Responsabilidad”) having requested nine months ago, that all information held by local authorities on victims of forced disappearance be handed to them, they learnt that a key document entitled Preliminary investigation of forced disappearance in Comuna 13 Medellín (2010) had not been included in the information from the Mayor’s office when it responded to this request. The JEP ordered this to be delivered within three working days.
- The hearing learnt that local government authorities had planned to extend mining titles in Comuna 13, as a result it ordered the local authorities to present the mining inspection reports it had made in the areas of La Arenera and La Escombrera to the JEP, where bodies of the disappeared were thought to have been buried.
The Agreements Reached:
- Public Prosecutor’s Office presented a new proposal for the delimitation of area where allegedly bodies of the disappeared were buried. This area is in a place known as La Escombrera and the Public Prosecutor’s office now has two months to submit a plan to explore the area.
- The Mayor’s Office agreed to discuss the victim’s proposal to provide a Memorial House on this site in memory of the disappeared.
“In the JEP we understand that reparation is not something that is given at the end, but that it is a constant element, that involves considering the victims and giving them a place at all stages of the process, arranging with them everything that gives them a kind of comfort, but above all dignity as citizens”Magistrate Gustavo Salazar
 In 2018 the CMH only had information on 52% (42,471), of the 82,998 victims and of these the perpetrators were as follows:
- paramilitaries: 26,475 (62.3%),
- guerrillas: 10,360 (24.3%),
- post-demobilised paramilitary groups: 2,764 (6.5%),
- State Agents: 2,484 (5.8%),
- State agents together with paramilitary groups: 388 (0.9%)
Further information on Disappearance