Colombian Attorney General: We have no evidence against Santrich

Colombia’s Attorney General Nestór Martínez has admitted that the Colombian authorities have no evidence against imprisoned FARC peace negotiator and congress member-elect Jesús Santrich, who was arrested in April following an extradition request from a New York court claiming he conspired to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

The FARC has reiterated its demand that Santrich be released as there is no case against him. Party senator Pablo Catatumbo called on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the specially-created court designed to establish truth and justice around Colombia’s long armed conflict, to grant his release. ‘The General Attorney lied to the country because some time ago he said there was forceful proof against him. This proves there is an illegal detention, and when there is no proof what proceeds is freedom’, he said.

In a letter to the JEP, Attorney General Martínez said that the United States alone was in possession of evidence and had not shared this with the Colombian government. On 9 April, the day of Santrich’s arrest, both Martínez and President Juan Manuel Santos said there was ‘irrefutable proof’ against Santrich. Santrich was arrested at his home in Bogota just a few hours after he and other senior FARC officials had met with the Justice for Colombia Peace Monitor delegation that was in the country to observe implementation of the peace process.

The United States and Colombian authorities initially said that the alleged offences were committed after the signing of the peace agreement and therefore were not covered by the amnesty law. As such, Santrich could be extradited through the standard justcie system to stand trial in the US. Colombia’s Supreme Court and the United Nations subsequently said that the JEP must review the case before further action could be taken. Santrich and his lawyers have continually stressed his innocence and said that he is the victim of a setup.

Since his arrest, Jesús Santrich’s health has deteriorated sharply due to the poor conditions of his detention. He was admitted to hospital after collapsing following a hunger strike, while he recently suffered an epileptic fit. Authorities have refused to allow treatment from a trusted doctor, with prison medics tending to him despite his legal team’s petitions. He has also spent the majority of his detention in isolation.

In August, a delegation from the Justice for Colombia Peace Monitor visited Santrich at La Picota prison in Bogota. In a statement, the delegates said they ‘were concerned to observe that he has been in isolation and denied basic equipment which helps him manage his lack of sight. We are concerned that he has not been able to be sworn in as a Congressman’. The statement also cited the lack of evidence presented against Santrich and the legal insecurity which had prevented senior FARC official Iván Márquez from taking his seat in the congress. This had severely impeded the FARC’s political participation, said the delegation, which ‘is a core element of the agreement and we believe it is fundamental to the process’ success’.

Despite the calls for Santrich to be freed, his status remains uncertain. The United States court continues to request his extradition while the new government of Iván Duque has made clear its opposition to core elements of the peace agreement, including around the issue of the FARC’s political participation.

The uncertainty over Santrich and the potential negative implications for the peace process have provoked alarm in the international community. At its annual conference in September, the British Trade Unions Congress passed an emergency resolution calling for Santrich’s legal and human rights to be respected and for the terms of the peace agreement to be fully implemented. The resolution, which was submitted by UNISON and supported by ASLEF and the Prison Officers Association, said:

‘Neither Santrich nor his lawyers have been given details of the alleged evidence against him nor have the US authorities provided evidence. His arrest and detention, as well as attempts to weaken the transitional justice system, pose a direct threat to the agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC. Congress calls on the TUC to write to the Colombian government urging them to comply with their obligations under the agreement.’