Bogota, Colombia – Eight former commanders of Colombia’s now-defunct rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have formally admitted on Friday allegations of kidnapping as a policy within its ranks and other crimes against humanity.
The former leaders issued a joint statement stating that they fully accepted the charges against them from the special jurisdiction court for peace (JEP) created by the transitional justice system to try war crimes as part of the ongoing peace process.
“As we have repeatedly stated, our kidnapping policies are unjustifiable,” they told former rebels on Friday.
Former rebels who provide specific information to the JEP about crimes committed could receive lower sentences.
“In more than 300 pages, we provide a detailed, clear and comprehensive response to the victims, who have boldly and generously addressed the JEP relying on the implementation of the final peace agreement to achieve a common goal: the end of the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting peace. In this way, we try to answer their questions and many of the disagreements expressed during this process, in which the centrality of their voices is paramount, “said the ex-combatants.
It was the first time that one of the former commanders, Carlos Antonio Lozada, publicly admitted kidnappings. Some of his classmates had already done so. Some 21,396 people were abducted or taken hostage by the FARC between 1990 and 2015, according to JEP figures.
Lozada said the “acts consisted of ordering the capture and prolonged deprivation of liberty of civilians and members of the military forces who were captured in military operations, due to the Colombian state’s refusal to agree to humanitarian exchange. of guerrillas captured by the public deprived of liberty ”.
This was the first case of the JEP, which filed the charges four months ago. The former commanders were accused of being responsible for serious crimes such as cruel treatment, sexual abuse, disappearances and murder – all related to the practice of kidnapping.
“The FARC was one of the most brutal guerrillas in recent history in Latin America. The recognition of his former commanders of his role in mass kidnappings makes it clear, “Human Rights Watch Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco told Al Jazeera.
“The FARC has often committed systematic atrocities against civilians, including child recruitment, hostage-taking, landmines, forced displacement and sexual violence. Thousands of victims have long waited for a day in the tried and deserve to know the whole truth and get meaningful justice for guerrilla crimes, ”said Vivanco.
The FARC created a political party after disarming itself as part of the historic 2016 peace deal with the government. Originally, they kept their famous acronyms as the name of the party, they decided to change in January, due to criticism, the FARC acronym was too tied to memories of the 50-year-old armed conflict that left 260,000 dead and millions displaced. They are now known as “Commons”.
But some believe that today’s admission could damage the FARC’s political trajectory.
“The JEP ruling came at a difficult time, as the FARC is fighting as a political party. For having to publicly admit the kidnappings – and the cruelty of many of them – on the one hand, he stresses that the FARC is seriously concerned about taking responsibility and that the JEP is serious about providing the truth, but it also puts the FARC in a difficult position, as you try to attract a skeptical electorate, ”says Angelika Rettberg, a professor of political science at the University of the Andes in Bogota.
For Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst at Crisis Group in Colombia, the FARC’s unconditional acceptance of these allegations is significant, as it provides a way to know how they will interact with the transitional justice process.
The issue of punishments has been controversial in Colombia since the peace agreement. Many right-wing extremists do not support the idea of lenient sentences for former FARC fighters, including President Ivan Duque’s ruling party, which unsuccessfully advocated changing some aspects of the peace deal during its first months in the power related to punishments.
“One of the challenges of the future for the whole process of transitional justice will be the issue of sentencing. There has been no verdict yet, so I think all eyes will be politically focused on what it looks like and what the alternative sentences, ”said Dickinson, who added that the court may offer alternative sentences that do not include traditional prison.
Dickinson said critics with the court will try to make sure the sentences are severe enough and that supporters of the transitional justice process want a different outcome.
“So, it will be an extremely policy-laden issue and I think it will be a major challenge for the court,” he said.