Bogota Colombia – Eight former commanders of the now defunct Colombian rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), on Friday officially admitted charges of kidnapping as a politician in their ranks and other crimes against humanity in court transitional justice.
The ex-leaders issued a joint statement declaring that they accept the charges brought against them in their entirety by the tribunal of special jurisdiction for peace (JEP) set up as part of the transitional justice system to judge war crimes as part of the ongoing peace process.
“As we have said repeatedly, our kidnapping policies are unjustifiable,” the ex-rebels told reporters on Friday.
Ex-rebels who provide specific information to the JEP on crimes committed could receive less severe sentences.
“In more than 300 pages, we provide a detailed, clear and comprehensive response to the victims, who courageously and generously approached the PEC confident in the implementation of the final peace agreement to achieve a common goal: the end of the conflict. and building a stable and lasting peace. In this way, we seek to answer their questions and many of the disagreements expressed during this process, in which the centrality of their voices is paramount, ”the ex-combatants said.
It was the first time that one of the former commanders, Carlos Antonio Lozada, publicly admitted the kidnappings. Some of his peers had already done so. About 21,396 people were kidnapped or taken hostage by the FARC between 1990 and 2015, according to JEP figures.
Lozada said that “the acts were to order the capture and prolonged deprivation of liberty of civilians and members of the military forces captured during military operations, due to the Colombian state’s refusal to accept the humanitarian exchange of guerrillas captured by the public. and deprived of their liberty ”.
This was the very first case of the JEP, which laid the charges four months ago. The former commanders have been accused of being responsible for serious crimes such as cruel treatment, sexual abuse, disappearances and murders: all linked to the practice of kidnappings.
“The FARC were one of the most brutal guerrillas in recent Latin American history. The recognition by his former commanders of their role in the mass kidnappings clearly shows this, ”Human Rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco told Al Jazeera.
“The FARC have often committed systematic atrocities against civilians, including the recruitment of children, hostage-taking, use of landmines, forced displacement and sexual violence. Thousands of victims have waited a long day in court for a day and they deserve to know the whole truth and obtain meaningful justice for the guerrilla crimes, ”Vivanco said.
The FARC created a political party after disarmament as part of the landmark 2016 peace deal with the government. Originally keeping their famous acronym as the name of the party, they decided to change In January, after being criticized, the acronym FARC was too linked to memories of the 50-year armed conflict that left 260,000 dead and millions displaced. They are now known as “Comunes”.
But some believe today’s admission could harm the political trajectory of the FARC.
“The JEP’s decision came at a difficult time, as the FARC struggles as a political party. Having to publicly admit the kidnappings – and the cruelty involved in many of them – on the one hand, underlines that the FARC are serious about assuming their responsibilities and that the JEP is serious in providing the truth, but puts also the FARC in a difficult position, because they try to attract a skeptical electorate, ”says Angelika Rettberg, professor of political science at Los Andes University in Bogota.
For Elizabeth Dickinson, Colombian senior analyst at Crisis Group, the unconditional acceptance by the FARC of these accusations is significant because it provides an indicator of how they will interact with the transitional justice process.
The issue of sanctions has been controversial in Colombia since the peace agreement. Many right-wingers do not support the idea of lenient sentences for ex-FARC combatants, including the ruling party of President Ivan Duque who unsuccessfully advocated changing aspects of the peace deal during his first months in power related to sanctions.
“One of the challenges ahead for the entire transitional justice process will be the issue of sentencing. There hasn’t been a sentencing yet, so I think all political eyes will definitely be on what that looks like and what the alternative sentences will be, ”Dickinson said, adding that the court may come up with sentences. alternatives that do not include traditional prison sentences.
Dickinson said critics of the court will seek to ensure that the sentences are tough enough and that supporters of the transitional justice process will want a different outcome.
“So it will be an extremely politically charged issue and I think it will be a major challenge for the tribunal,” she said.