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Weekly Report - 01 November 2018

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COLOMBIA: Uribistas press for reform of transitional justice court

For the past two months, Colombia’s ruling right-wing Centro Democrático (CD), led by former president (2002-2010) and incumbent senator Álvaro Uribe, has been driving attempts to create a special chamber to deal with the crimes committed by members of the military within the Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP), the transitional justice court set up following the signing of the peace deal with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) to handle cases related to the country’s internal armed conflict.

Legislators from the CD want members of the military to be given the opportunity to be tried by the JEP (which issues more lenient punishments than a normal court) like the demobilised Farc guerrillas. The CD wants military officers to be tried by different JEP judges and under different procedures to those applied to demobilised guerrillas to ensure that the military are treated fairly.

However, the CD’s efforts to push the initiative, which would require a judicial reform, through congress has been blocked by opposition legislators who fretted that the proposal could undermine the JEP and by extension the peace deal. The impasse led to a remarkable cross-party meeting of legislators held on 27 October that brought together sworn political enemies in an attempt to save the CD’s proposal and the peace accord.

Although on 26 October Uribe was seen trading insults in the senate with former leftist presidential candidate Senator Gustavo Petro, the following day the pair formed part of a marathon seven-hour meeting that also included Senator Iván Cepeda, another long-term Uribe detractor, and several legislators of the Farc’s political party Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común.

The unprecedented and highly unusual meeting did not produce an agreement. But it was nonetheless hailed as positive by opposition legislators, who said that the two sides were in agreement that the peace deal should remain intact. Senator Roy Barreras, of the Partido de la U (PU), claimed that the politicians had avoided a “dismemberment” of the JEP, while Farc Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada said that the meeting showed that Uribe and the CD recognise the peace deal and the JEP.

While debates over the future of the JEP rumble on, the transitional court has been kept busy. High on the agenda is the US extradition request for former Farc leader Seuxis Pauxias Hernández (‘Jesús Santrich’), who was arrested in April after allegedly conspiring to ship 10 tonnes of cocaine to the US. The JEP has requested evidence from the US in order to rule on the request, which could have major implications for the peace deal, which includes a provision that those tried by the body will not be eligible for extradition to the US.

The JEP’s decision hinges on whether the alleged crimes were committed before the peace deal was signed in November 2016, in which case it would have jurisdiction over the case, or after, which would mean that Santrich is eligible to be extradited and face trial in the US. Extraditing Santrich could shake the confidence of other former Farc members in the peace deal and the JEP.

The court is also dealing with the case of another former Farc leader, Hernán Darío Velásquez (‘El Paisa’), who has failed to respond to its request for him to give evidence related to the crimes in which he has been implicated. Velásquez is the only one of 31 former Farc commanders not to submit information to the JEP and it is feared that he may have joined up with dissident Farc factions. President Iván Duque said that if Velásquez commits another crime he would be punished by the full force of the law given that, through omission, he has opted not to remain in the peace process.

As the JEP continues to work, its defenders in congress appear to have headed off attempts to reform the court for now. But Uribe and the CD may still seek to push through the reform before the end of the current congressional session on 15 December.

Large new force deployed to Catatumbo

President Iván Duque has activated a rapid reaction force (Fudra Número 3) to combat illegal armed groups in the conflict-torn region of Catatumbo in the department of Norte de Santander, bordering Venezuela.

“We will work on cooperation, justice, and security to bring an end to the scourge of violence in Catatumbo so that criminals no longer feel they can intimidate the local inhabitants,” Duque said, during a ceremony held in Ocaña, the second-most populous municipality in Norte de Santander, on 28 October.

Accompanied by the defence minister, Guillermo Botero, and the military top brass, Duque said the 3,000-strong rapid reaction force would complement the work already being done by the army, police, and attorney general’s office to end the violence in Catatumbo and ensure that the constitution “is imposed”. He said it would have “an offensive and dissuasive capacity”, while respecting human rights.

Duque said that he had come to Catatumbo to “honour my word”. Tibú, one of 11 municipalities in Catatumbo and the epicentre of violence, drug trafficking, and contraband smuggling in the region, was Duque’s second port of call after his investiture in August [WR-18-32]. Duque promised that during his first 100 days in office, which concluded this week, he would “strengthen the operational capacities of the security forces” to confront criminal groups in the Catatumbo, where the ‘Camilo Torres’ front of the country’s second-largest guerrilla group, Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), and Los Pelusos, comprised of remnants of the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) guerrilla group, vie for control of drug trafficking routes into Venezuela. Catatumbo saw a 14% increase in coca cultivation in 2017.

  • ICC wades in

James Kirkpatrick Stewart, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), who is on a visit to Colombia, has also weighed in on the controversy over reform of the Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP). Stewart claimed that a special military chamber at the JEP could slow down justice, restrict investigations, and cast doubt on the trustworthiness of rulings. He also said that military court magistrates could override rulings from other parts of the JEP, and that there is a worry that the possible naming of military officials as judges would undermine impartiality. Stewart said that he would present his serious doubts about the initiative during a speech he is scheduled to give at Bogotá chamber of commerce on 1 November.

  • Iván Márquez

Colombia’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, has urged one of the Farc’s most senior leaders, Iván Márquez, whose whereabouts are unknown, to appear before the Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP) without delay. “Márquez was head of the Farc’s peace negotiating team. It would be wrong if he were not to present himself and respect the transitional justice system that was created in this process,” Ceballos said.