A transitional justice system formed after the signing of a historic peace agreement with Colombia’s FARC rebels to try former fighters for crimes committed during the country’s decades-long armed conflict continues to face obstacles, further threatening the possibility of achieving lasting peace in the country.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP) was set up after the Colombian government and the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) signed a peace agreement in 2016.
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The purpose of the JEP is to “administer transitional justice and make known the crimes committed in the framework of the armed conflict before December 1, 2016,” according to the institution.
Below, InSight Crime looks at three obstacles that are hindering the JEP’s ability to move the peace process with the FARC rebels in Colombia forward.
1. Former FARC Fighters Continue to Commit Crimes
Under the peace agreement, only former FARC fighters who have not committed crimes after the 2016 deal was signed can benefit from the JEP. However, since it was established, there have been reports of high-profile former guerrilla members committing crimes while being included in the special jurisdiction’s list.
The most emblematic case is that of Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” who was a lead negotiator in the peace talks and was set to take a seat in Congress in April 2018.
Colombian authorities arrested Santrich in early April 2018 after the United States charged him with drug trafficking crimes committed after the 2016 peace agreement, which could make him ineligible to face justice through the JEP. The JEP is still studying the case to reach a conclusion on his inclusion or exclusion from the peace process.
More recently, US authorities sanctioned another former FARC fighter for his alleged ties to the drug trade following the peace agreement.
On October 18, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against demobilized former FARC rebel Pedro Luis Zuleta Noscué, alias “El Inválido.” The agency alleges that Zuleta Noscué — who is participating in the peace process and is enlisted with the JEP — “continues to supply narcotics to criminal groups such as Colombia’s Oficina de Envigado.”
US authorities allege that Zuleta Noscué has long controlled a drug trafficking corridor in southwest Cauca department where he supported the FARC’s drug trafficking activities. Cauca had the fourth-highest number of hectares used for coca cultivation in 2017, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
2. ELN Guerrillas on List of Demobilized FARC Fighters
Authorities in Colombia have in the past faced difficulties separating demobilizing FARC guerrillas from drug traffickers and other criminals trying to pass themselves off as FARC fighters in an effort to take advantage of the benefits awarded to the demobilized guerrillas as part of the peace agreement.
These problems persist today. JEP President Patricia Linares recently admitted that there are members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) — the country’s last remaining guerrilla group — on the list of demobilized former FARC fighters, El Tiempo reported.
“I have information, which I myself have verified, that some of these people [ELN fighters] make up part of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace’s lists [of FARC members] that were prepared by the previous administration,” Linares said.
3. Tension with Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office
A new legislative proposal in Colombia has generated concerns from the JEP about their ability to adequately do their job. The proposal would limit the JEP’s access to confidential information, such as military, state, intelligence and counterintelligence operations, that threatens to put the country’s national security at risk, Noticias Caracol reported.
JEP President Linares said that the legislation is “openly unconstitutional because it affects the [JEP’s] assigned transitional function.”
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The Attorney General’s Office and the JEP have also clashed over cases that don’t threaten national security, but rather raise questions about which institution has authority over the case — that is to say, whether ordinary justice or transitional justice is the proper route to take. The Attorney General’s Office, for example, recently refused to hand over to the JEP information pertaining to assets seized from the FARC army that could be used as part of reparations for victims of the armed conflict if they are turned over to the JEP.
That said, relations between the two institutions appear to be improving. JEP President Linares recently met with Deputy Attorney General María Paulina Riveros. The two agreed to create a roundtable of sorts where the two entities can discuss solutions to the many issues that have stoked tensions between them, El Tiempo reported.
“The government, Congress and judicial power are now working towards the same goals,” Colombia Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez said.