Despite attempts by the Colombian government to impede the transitional justice component of the 2016 peace agreement, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which was created to uncover the truth about the armed conflict and attain justice for victims, has opened a number of investigations into possible crimes against humanity.
In return for testimonies, perpetrators are granted lower sentences than they would receive under the standard justice system. The JEP also aims to sanction those most responsible for serious human rights violations, while offering amnesties to lower-ranking members of the security forces and armed groups.
The JEP investigates all sides in the conflict: state, guerrilla and civilian. However, while members of the security forces and the FARC are obliged to appear before the court, civilians or third-party actors do so voluntarily, with reduced sentences as the incentive. It is hoped this will shed light on some of the conflict’s worst human rights abuses and help compensate victims.
Among the cases under investigation is the so-called ‘False Positives’ scandal of the 2000s, in which thousands of young people were systematically murdered by the army. After theywere lured with fake job offers, victims were killed, dressed in guerrilla uniforms and presented as ‘combat kills’ to imply state success in the counterinsurgency campaign and in return for financial rewards. According to one former general, as many as 10,000 people were murdered this way. The False Positives programme occurred during the government of Alvaro Uribe, the peace agreement’s most vocal opponent, who has denied any knowledge of the killings.
Also under investigation is the political genocide carried out against the left-wing Patriotic Union (UP) political party, which emerged from the 1984 peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC. Following electoral successes at regional and local levels, the UP was subjected to an extermination campaign in which thousands of members and supporters were killed by the army and paramilitaries. Among the dead were presidential candidates, mayors and councillors. The genocide wiped out the party and made clear that the political right would not tolerate left participation in politics, with the FARC returning to armed struggle as a result. The party regained its political status in 2013 and currently sits in the Colombian congress.
Other investigations provide a geographical focus into human rights violations in the 1990s against communities in the southern department of Nariño, as well as a separate case relating to the region of Urabá, where violence between the 1980s and 2000s produced as many as 700,000 victims. There is also an investigation into recruitment of minors by armed groups.
The JEP is crucial to the peace agreement’s objectives of national reconciliation and non-repetition of conflict, as well as the protecting the rights of victims. The government’s attempts to impede the JEP’s functioning have been opposed by opposition parties, the United Nations, trade unions and other civil society groups, while the constitutional court has said that the JEP’s status has already been ratified.
However, ongoing uncertainty over the JEP could impact on the peace agreement’s overall implementation. For the many Colombians who hope to learn the truth about what happened to their relatives during the armed conflict, it is vital that the JEP can proceed with its work.