Transitional Justice in Colombia

Entre Coacción / Colaboración – a new book co-authored by Professor Sabine Michalowski of the University of Essex Law School – looks at the recent peace agreement reached in Colombia, in the framework of transitional justice.

The Final Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP created a complex transitional justice system which includes the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) as its justice component. Under the SJP, only those who have the highest responsibility for the gravest crimes will face criminal sanctions, and these sanctions will be reduced, provided they accept full responsibility and contribute to truth, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence. Those whose participation in conflict-related crimes does not reach this high level of responsibility will benefit from amnesties or waivers of prosecution if they engage in truth, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence measures.

One innovative characteristic of the SJP is that its competence is not limited to state actors and members of armed groups, but also includes third party actors – terceros civiles: those persons who participated in the armed conflict without being members of the armed groups. Nevertheless, as a consequence of a decision of the Colombian Constitutional Court, the SJP only has competence over third-party actors if they voluntarily submit to its jurisdiction. In the absence of a voluntary adherence to the SJP, the ordinary Colombian criminal justice system will retain jurisdiction over them. The book focuses on one particular subset of third-party actors, economic actors – that is actors whose participation in conflict-related crimes was linked to their economic or commercial activities. To address the potential criminal responsibility of these actors for their role in the conflict requires determining the patterns of their collaboration with the armed actors and translating that into concepts of criminal liability.

Countless judicial documentation of the role of economic actors in the Colombian armed conflict already exists. The decisions of the Justice and Peace framework, the Colombian transitional justice process that exclusively deals with the criminal responsibility of demobilised members of armed groups, in their vast majority paramilitaries, contain many mentions of economic actor involvement with paramilitary groups. Decisions against politicians in the ordinary criminal jurisdiction in the context of the so-called parapolitics phenomenon, the close collaboration between politicians and paramilitary groups, also provide some information one economic actors. Lastly, the implementation of the Victims and Land Restitution Law sheds light on the involvement of these actors regarding irregular appropriation of land from victims of forced displacement and dispossession.

The first part of the book examines the available information on economic actors in order to reveal patterns of macro-criminality and networks of support that have fuelled the development and entrenchment of armed groups and have contributed to the perpetuation of the armed conflict in Colombia. This empirical analysis highlights, inter alia, the regions and municipalities in which economic actor involvement was concentrated, which economic sectors most prominently collaborated with armed groups, and the most emblematic cases of collaboration: providing financial and logistical support to paramilitary groups and involvement in land displacement and dispossession. Another important finding is that in many cases, economic actors were coerced into collaborating with armed groups.

The discussion then moves on to an analysis of the particular problems caused by the fact that the transitional justice tribunals only had competence over the demobilised members of armed groups and had to refer the cases of economic actors, whose collaboration with them came to light, to the ordinary jurisdiction, where very few cases against economic actors were followed up and large-scale impunity instead prevails.

Clarifying the legal criteria according to which the criminal responsibility of economic actors can be determined is of immense importance not only for bringing an end to high levels of impunity, but also for determining which cases deserve criminal prosecution under the SJP, and which might instead result in waivers of prosecution. In the second part, the book therefore analyses how to hold economic actors to account for their participation in conflict-related crimes committed by the members of armed groups, in particular, in relation to the emblematic cases of financing armed groups and of land displacement.

These actors will regularly not have committed grave international crimes through their own hands, but rather have contributed through their commission by collaborating with the armed groups. The book therefore suggests that complicity, a legal concept that has rarely been used in the Colombian context but plays a predominant role in international criminal law, will in many cases provide the most appropriate way to conceptualise the role of economic actors in the Colombian conflict. Through providing an overview of international criminal law standards, key decisions from various other countries, and how they apply to the particular features of economic actor involvement, the book aims to answer difficult questions such as “What type of collaboration with an armed group gives rise to criminal responsibility?” and “Under what circumstances can they be absolved from criminal responsibility based on coercion?”

 

Con la firma del Acuerdo Final de Paz entre el Gobierno de Colombia y las FARC-EP, se ha puesto en marcha un complejo sistema de justicia transicional para procesar a los perpetradores de los crímenes cometido en el contexto del conflicto armado, contribuir a la verdad y el reconocimiento de lo ocurrido, y satisfacer los derechos de las víctimas. Este sistema integral incluye la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP) como su componente de justicia, diseñado para investigar, juzgar y sancionar las graves violaciones de los derechos humanos y los crímenes internacionales. Bajo la JEP, los actores que participen por medio de aceptar la plena responsabilidad y contribuir al registro de verdad beneficiarán de sentencias reducidas (ya sea multas de reparaciones, privación de libertad reducida, o la renuncia de penalidad).

Una característica novedosa de la JEP es su competencia sobre terceros civiles: aquellas personas que, sin hacer parte de ninguno de los bandos en confrontación, participaron en el conflicto armado interno. La Corte Constitucional ha fallado que la JEP tiene la competencia sobre estos terceros civiles solo si abordan voluntariamente su jurisdicción. En ausencia de someterse voluntariamente ante la JEP, la jurisdicción ordinaria retendría la jurisdicción sobre estos actores. Un subconjunto particular de terceros civiles, actores económicos, ha recibido poca atención con respecto a su implementación en el sistema transicional, así se deja una plétora de cuestiones sin resolver. En particular, los temas de fragmentación del tratamiento de los actores económicos (ya sea aborden voluntariamente ante la JEP o se juzguen bajo la jurisdicción ordinaria) se discuten robustamente.

En la primera parte del libro se presente un análisis transversal de la participación de los actores económicos en el conflicto armado, como se discute dentro de las sentencias del marco de Justicia y Paz, el escándalo parapolítica, y la implementación de la Ley de Víctimas y Restitución de las Tierras. A través de analizar los datos extraídos de las sentencias jurídicas, los autores de este libro exploran las metodologías que se utilizaron los jueces, fiscales y investigadores bajo cada de los marcos. En particular, el libro discutirá los efectos negativos de esta fragmentación y descentralización del proceso judicial y su efecto en la responsibilidad penal de los actores económicos, una problemática que deriva predomanente del los diseños estructurales institucionales de cada de los tres procesos.

La segunda parte discute los existentes estándares nacionales e internacionales del tratamiento de los actores económicos. Un asunto problemático que se elabora es la dificultad de determinar las varias formas de participación de los actores económicos. En particular, la complicidad como forma de responsabilidad penal, es un concepto jurídico cuya aplicación apenas se ha invocado en Colombia. Resaltando la jurisprudencia importante de derecho internacional así como decisiones clave desde otros países, los autores pretenden de contestar preguntas difíciles como ¿Qué tipo de colaboración con un grupo armado es necesaria para que un actor económico pueda ser considerado como responsable penalmente? y ¿Qué nivel y tipo de coacción puede servir para eximir el actor económico de responsabilidad penal?

Clarificando cuales criterios se usan y en cual manera para determinar responsabilidad penal de actores económicos es de suma importancia no solo para poner fin a los niveles altos de impunidad sino también para poder construir un registro comprehensivo de los patrones de macrocriminalidad y las redes del apoyo que han persistido en el conflicto colombiano. Por ende, la contribución crítica de este libro a la aclaración de los papeles que desempeñan los actores económicos se erige como un indicador para la JEP de nuevo funcionamiento, así como los académicos, las organizaciones y gobiernos tanto a nivel nacional como globalmente. `

Photo credit: International Law Blog

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