Colombia’s transitional justice mechanism will be formally initiated on Monday 15 January, when president Juan Manuel Santos passes control over the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to a team of magistrates who will oversee trials aiming to bring truth to millions of Colombians affected by fifty years of conflict.
Dubbed the ‘backbone of the peace agreement’ in Colombian media, the JEP’s purpose is to investigate, clarify and prosecute human rights violations committed during the conflict. Around 6,000 people – members of the security, forces, former guerrillas and public officials – are reported to be subject to JEP investigations, which will offer reduced sentences to many former combatants on either side but, according to the government, will severely punish those found to have committed serious offences.
However, the JEP has run into strong opposition in Colombia’s congress, as opponents of the peace agreement seek to impede its implementation. While they claim this is due to fears over the possibility of impunity for violators, many of the JEP’s opponents represent or are themselves suspected of colluding with paramilitary groups that committed the vast majority of abuses during the conflict.
This has seen major limitations placed on the JEP, with several magistrates appointed and subsequently excluded after congress members voted to prohibit judges who had previously worked on human rights cases or in prosecutions against the state. This has generated concern that state officials and members of the armed forces will evade justice for their role in human rights violations against civilians.
With presidential elections in May, the JEP faces the possibility of being dismantled altogether if opponents to the peace agreement are elected to form the next government. For all those fighting to learn the truth about Colombia’s armed conflict, it is vital that everything is done to preserve the JEP as it was created under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement.