Here is our translation of a brief memo the Colombian Commission of Jurists released last week. As Colombian prosecutors begin to look into the past crimes of demobilized paramilitary leaders, the memo reminds us, the testimony of their victims will be essential. However, in many parts of the country, the paramilitariesâ€™ continued power, and the lack of credible government protection, may make it too risky for victims to come forward.
It is necessary to defend the victims
If the State wants truth, justice, and reparation under the framework of Law 975 [the so-called â€œJustice and Peaceâ€ law], it has to guarantee the security and integrity of all the victims, so that, without any type of pressure, they can play a proper role in the processes against paramilitary leaders.
Unfortunately, various regions of the country are seeing the phenomenon of restructuring of paramilitary forces. These intimidate the victims who, in theory, should be part of the anticipated processes under Law 975.
Despite the governmentâ€™s promises and what this law proclaims, in practice many of the paramilitariesâ€™ victims are in situations of abandonment by the government. They cannot, and do not even want to, risk participating in these processes.
Law 975 leaves the security of the victims in the hands of the attorney generalâ€™s office (FiscalÃa), but public opinion knows the enormous limitations that this agencyâ€™s program of protecting victims and witnesses has faced throughout its history.
At present there is much worry over the security conditions that the victims face in regions like Antioquia, BolÃvar, Casanare, Catatumbo, Cauca, ChocÃ³, Magdalena Medio, NariÃ±o, Putumayo, Santander, UrabÃ¡, and Valle del Cauca.
If victims from these regions are not secure enough to participate in the special processes that the attorney-general is beginning to open against the known paramilitary leaders, where then will the truth come from? And what will happen to justice and reparations for all those affected by crimes against humanity?
Since the middle of the year, in the Magdalena Medio, the regional human rights ombudsman at the time, Jorge GÃ³mez Lizarazo, denounced deaths, threats, and displacements of campesinos at the hands of the paramilitaries that continue operating in the region.
GÃ³mez said that the paramilitary groups, supposedly demobilized, operate in the region under various denominations, have organized private security businesses, and have committed crimes, which they blame on other armed actors, to pressure the contracting of their services.
In the meantime, complaints from elsewhere in Valle del Cauca department have been received about excesses attributed to the security force, and serious violations on the part of the paramilitary forces.
Meanwhile, in the UrabÃ¡ region victimsâ€™ groups have received intimidating messages from people close to the paramilitary leaders that have taken refuge under Law 975, which reduces penalties to between 5 and 8 years for people responsible for crimes against humanity.
According to press reports, victimsâ€™ fear of participating in the Law 975 processes is such that in some regions, like San Miguel-La Dorada,
Faced with this situation, the active participation of the internal-affairs office (ProcuradurÃa) and human-rights ombudsman (DefensorÃa) is fundamental to guarantee not only the transparency of the processes, but also that the demobilized paramilitaries confess all crimes, that there be justice, that victims giving testimony have security guarantees, and that they receive integral reparations.
For all these reasons, it is urgent that the state decidedly intensify its efforts to protect, assist, and defend the victims, if there is to be truth, justice, and reparation.