Colombia is developing a legal framework to facilitate the surrender and collective prosecution of criminal groups, seeking to avoid repeating the mistakes made when the ERPAC drug gang surrendered three years ago.
In an interview with El Espectador, Colombia’s Deputy Attorney General Jorge Fernando Perdomo discussed a proposal to create legal tools that allow the state to deal with criminal groups, including new-generation paramilitary groups such as ERPAC, which are collectively known as the BACRIM.
Under the proposed reform, if the Attorney General’s Office accepted a criminal group’s request to turn themselves in, the office would appoint a delegation to negotiate the terms of the deal. Once the organization surrendered, its members could be tried as a group, rather than on an individual basis.
Perdomo stated that the proposal was also designed to handle the possibility that members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may form criminal groups if the guerrilla army demobilizes in a future peace deal with the government — the two sides are currently holding peace talks in Cuba. The official said the government estimates that 10 to 20 percent of FARC guerrillas may continue to engage in criminal activity after a peace agreement.
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According to Perdomo, the new proposal is a response to the problems that occurred when members of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) surrendered to the government in 2011. Although 270 ERPAC fighters attempted to turn themselves in, few remain in prison because the Attorney General’s Office did not have the necessary tools to collectively prosecute them, he explained. Most ERPAC members were freed immediately because there was no arrest warrant or case against them, and under current law a confession is not enough to justify prosecution.
Perdomo said that in the case of large BACRIM groups like the Urabeños, the Attorney General’s Office is interested in as few as five key operatives turning themselves in, rather than 2,000 members of the organization.
This may be ignoring the lessons of Colombia’s history — in the case of the AUC paramilitaries, who demobilized in the mid-2000s, several top commanders turned themselves in, along with thousands of supposed rank-and-file fighters, but it was the mid-ranking commanders who failed to lay down arms and went on to form the BACRIM.
The government is prudent to prepare for the likelihood that some FARC fighters will form criminal organizations if a peace agreement is reached. As InSight Crime has argued, it is highly likely that elements of the FARC will continue to participate in the drug trade and other illegal activity, as was the case with paramilitary fighters who formed BACRIM after demobilization.