Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | November 30, 2010

I am skeptical of Colombia’s Truth Commission

Former paramilitary members, who voluntarily demobilized during Alvaro Uribe’s government, have shown discontent with their frail judicial circumstances. Close to 800 of them are facing jail sentences, and they ask for solutions—or else, will they rearm?

The Santos administration hopes to set up a Truth Commission in which paramilitaries vouch to confess their past crimes and never to repeat them, and in return, their legal troubles will take second stage.

The idea of a Truth Commission is to attain truth, justice and reparation for victims; to establish what has been happening in Colombia; and to contribute to a “historical memory.”

In  turn, the perpetrator is forced to pay reparation damages to victims or to contribute community work in the victim’s community. If the perpetrator returns to delinquency, he will again face judicial proceedings.

When negotiating the demobilization of the paramilitaries, the government offered the exclusion of prosecution in exchange for disarmament, restitution of victims and full cooperation with the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The number of these demobilized paramilitaries is fuzzy: some reports say there are 17,000, others put the count at 51,000. According to the Santos government, there are 31.671 demobilized paramilitaries, and 15.087 demoblized FARC.

The Truth Commission will apply to the paramilitaries since FARC can be processed under another demobilization law that covers “rebellion.”

I am a skeptic: Truth Commissions generally happen in countries where the conflict is over, not in a situation where there is a possibility the perpetrator will rearm. Confessions that come from a Truth Commission generally are not used in a judicial proceeding. However, this Truth Commission will reportedly sign “truth accords” with the each of the former paramilitaries and after studying their cases advise the Prosecutor General’s Office about whether to prosecute or to drop the pending charges.

It seems this initiative is wanting to be rushed through Congress at great speed without big thought on its legacy and its implications.

Further reading:

International Center for Transitional Justice

Justice and Peace Law

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