Colombia: prosecutor’s transfer sparks outcry

A lawyer with Colombian prosecutor's office, the Fiscalía, who specialized in the paramilitary demobilization process, was transferred Jan. 20 after working in the same department in Medellín for more than six years—raising fears that years of insight into the area's paramilitary activities could be lost. According to conflict-monitoring website Verdad Abierta, local magistrates expressed concern over the transfer of Patricia Hernández Zambrano, who was responsible for prosecuting the "Mineros Bloc" of the United Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC) in the northeastern department of Antioquia. As Prosecutor 15 for Justice and Peace, Hernández handled all court hearings related to top AUC leaders like "Don Berna" and "Gordo Lindo"—both now in US prisons for drug trafficking.

A group of concerned Medellin lawyers issued a statement warning of "the paralysis and the disturbance caused by the decisions to [reassign] judges when they are not justified." The statement said the move represents a "serious reason for preoccupation for the affects [it will have] on the ongoing cases against commanders and members of the [Mineros] Bloc. The legal control against various [members] was [nearly] finished under the direction of [Hernandez] and now we will have to wait until a new judge is designated [and still he or she] will be unaware…and need to familiarize [himself or herself]."

Said Verdad Abierta in their own letter to the prosecutor general: "The transfer of Dr. Patricia Hernández Zambrano gravely affects the victims of the conflict affected by the Mineros Bloc. [It delays] the advances achieved up until [this] moment, [and it] breaks in a striking manner the [collaboration] between victims and the Prosecutor."

Victims of the Mineros Bloc also protested the decision to remove Hernández.

Up until her removal, Hernández had succeeded in documenting close to 6,700 cases attributed to the Mineros Bloc. For example, the former paramilitary known as "Cuco" Vanoy confessed to and accepted responsibility for 1,300 crimes. Before 2012 ended, Hernández had accused Cuco of another 380 crimes, including the recruitment of 350 minors, the 1996 Aro massacre, and hundreds of cases of forced displacement, assassinations and disappearances.

In September, Hernández launched the first ever investigation into gender crimes by Colombia's armed actors. The investigation focused on more than 150 cases of sexual violence, murders and disappearances against women in the northern part of Antioquia.

Colombia's prosecutor general, Eduardo Montealegre, transferred Hernández to the Superior Tribunal of Florencia in the southern department of Caquetá. According to Verdad Abierta, sources within the Prosecutor General justified the transfer because the court in Florencia needed an expert on gender issues. According to the frustrated Medellin magistrates, however, "gender violence is not an exclusive phenomena of that district nor of [Caquetá] department."

Spokespersons for the Prosecutor General assured that Hernández's transfer would not lead to delays in ongoing Justice and Peace processes. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 25; Verdad Abierta, Jan. 21)