No Justice for Victims of Colombia’s Paramilitaries

News from Colombia | on: Friday, 6 March 2009

Colombian human rights groups have expressed dismay at the extradition of paramilitary death squad leader Herbert Veloza to the United States on drugs trafficking charges. Mr Veloza was in the middle of court proceedings in Colombia for human rights crimes and had confessed to thousands of killings as well as massacres, forced disappearances and torture. The human rights cases will now most likely never be properly investigated and victims will not receive any justice says a coalition of human rights and victims organisations. In court hearings before his extradition Veloza had revealed the extent of links between the paramilitaries and Colombian politicians and military officers. His extradition will ensure that no further details of the collaboration are exposed.

The cases in which Mr Veloza was participating will now be left in a state of limbo and, according to human rights groups, "there is a huge risk that the victims will never get justice, that the bodies will never be found and returned to their families." Veloza became well-known in Colombia after he began revealing details of the crimes he had been involved in and publicly asked the families of his victims for forgiveness. During court hearings he also revealed a huge amount of detail including the location of several mass graves and how the paramilitaries were financed.

Other testimony that he provided included:

• That in 1996 and 1997 he commanded the 'Bloque Bananero' paramilitary unit in the region of Uraba and that during that two year period his men murdered around 1,500 people including numerous trade unionists. He had also begun to give details of how multinational corporations in the region had worked with the paramilitaries to get rid of troublesome trade unions and replace them with unions that were easier to control;

• That in 2000 and 2001 he commanded the 'Bloque Calima' paramilitary unit in the region of Valle del Cauca and that during his time there his unit became increasingly involved in drugs trafficking which local Army units turned a blind eye to. He also revealed how his men had entered to port city of Buenaventura "with blood and fire in order to sow terror" and how they had killed over 1,000 people in and around the city.

• That Senator Juan Carlos Martinez Sinisterra, also from Valle del Cauca, was close to both the paramilitaries and regional drugs traffickers and how some police in the region actually took orders from the paramilitaries.

A February 27th statement from human rights groups in Colombia said that "his extradition will end the investigations into the grave human rights violations, war crimes and crimes of lesser humanity committed by this paramilitary and his allies" and added that the links that Veloza had with military officers and politicians may now never be revealed.

In an unsuccessful effort to delay the extradition the Colombian Commission of Jurists and seven other human rights organisations made a last minute appeal to Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, asking that the extradition be postponed until the legal processes in Colombia had been completed. The request pointed out that the drugs trafficking charges for which Veloza was being sent to the United States were far less serious that the crimes for which he was being tried in Colombia.

For further information see this Los Angeles Times article: Colombia hands ex-paramilitary leader over to U.S.

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