The International Criminal Court (ICC) has praised the transitional justice mechanism contained in Colombia’s peace agreement as a model for the world. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) was created in the 2016 agreement to investigate major human rights violations committed during Colombia’s armed conflict. While it continues to investigate multiple cases, it has faced concerted opposition from right-wing political sectors and attempts to change its mandate or even abolish it.
The latest such attempt came from former president Álvaro Uribe, an outspoken critic of the peace process since the initiation of formal negotiations in 2012. Uribe presented proposals to reduce the JEP’s jurisdiction and functioning, such as through the creation of a separate justice mechanism for state agents. The governing Democratic Centre party, which was founded by Uribe, has made various calls to alter the JEP, including a series of objections presented by President Iván Duque in March 2019 which were rejected in the Congress.
In contrast to Uribe’s hostility towards the transitional justice model, ICC prosecutor James Stewart said the JEP was a pioneering model for other countries to emulate. ‘Colombia will not only manage to perfect a model that aims to investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes committed in the context of the conflict, but it will also become a benchmark for the world,’ he said. Stewart also said that, were the JEP to cease functioning, the ICC would assume jurisdiction over investigations into human rights violations committed in Colombia’s conflict.
The JEP is currently conducting investigations into multiple cases. These include the forced displacement of civilians, the systematic murder of thousands of supporters and members of the Patriotic Union political party in the 1980s and 1990s, and human rights violations committed against populations in the regions of Nariño and Urabá. The FARC recently testified to the JEP over the recruitment of minors into its ranks.
Another investigation is over the ‘False Positives’ scandal in which thousands of mainly-young civilians were abducted and murdered by the military, before they were subsequently presented as guerrillas killed in combat. While a little over 2,000 alleged cases of murdered civilians are under investigation, investigators and retired officials have said the figure could be as high as 10,000. The majority of killings took place between 2002 and 2010, during Uribe’s two terms as president. Human rights groups have warned that any obstacles to JEP investigations could prevent the truth from coming to light and allow perpetrators to evade justice.