International Criminal Court warns Colombia on paramilitaries

The International Criminal Court (ICC) Oct. 30 warned both the Colombian government and illegal armed groups that it will not hesitate to prosecute those who commit war crimes in the country’s violent conflict. “There are many crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC, including forced displacement, disappearances, the use of child soldiers, sexual violence, torture, killings and hostage-taking,” Marcelo Pollack, head of Amnesty International Colombia, told the Bogotá daily El Espectador.

According to Pollack, “although there has been progress in some emblematic human rights cases, mainly because of international pressure, most abuses remain unpunished.” Now that the ICC will have jurisdiction it “must decide whether the Colombian authorities are doing enough to bring those responsible to justice.” Pollack added: “In the case of abuses committed by guerrillas or paramilitary violations, impunity so far has been almost total.” He said Amnesty International believes that in Colombia “there is not a sincere desire to fully uncover the perpetrators of such crimes or punish them for such acts, or of compensate their victims.”

Colombia formally begins cooperation with the Criminal Court at the start of next month. “The most important thing is that from 1 November, the ICC will become a deterrent to the guerrillas, paramilitary groups still operating in Colombia, and to the Army,” said Alirio Uribe Muñoz, a human rights specialist with the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective and a human rights specialist. According to Muñoz, since Colombia’s refusal to ratify with the ICC in 2002, 2 million Colombians have been victims of forced displacement and there have been over 14,000 political killings. Muñoz said that the ICC may demand political responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity from senior officials, including President Álvaro Uribe himself.

The ICC has no reason to investigate war crimes in Colombia as the country’s courts are already doing so, said Colombia’s ambassador to The Hague, Francisco Lloreda.

Colombia recently ratified full cooperation with the ICC, after putting it off for years under cover of the peace process with illegal armed groups. A controversy over Uribe’s initial refusal to exempt US personnel from potential extradition to the ICC was resolved in a face-saving compromise. (Colombia Reports, El Espectador, Bogotá, El País, Cali, Oct. 30)

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  1. Ex-governor imprisoned in Colombian para-politics scandal
    Supreme Court Dec. 3 sentenced the former governor of Sucre, Salvador Arana Sus, to 40 years for his ties to paramilitary groups. Arana, who is also a former Colombian ambassador to Chile, was found guilty of collaborating with the paramilitary organization AUC to consolidate his political position in the region. Arana was also convicted in arranging the murder of the mayor of Roble municipality. Arana is the first politician to be sentenced for crimes against humanity in the parapolitics scandal. Before his arrest in May 2008 he was on Colombia’s most wanted list. (Colombia Reports, LAHT, Dec. 3)

    Paramilitaries’ testimonies in the “parapolitics” scandal have so far implicated 140 members of the armed forces and more than 200 politicians, from local councillors to senators. Many congressmen are said to have made pacts with para bosses to win their seats in the 2006 elections. So far seven lawmakers have been convicted and one cleared. (The Economist, Oct. 31)