The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, accompanied by Spanish judge Baltasar GarzÃ³n, is visiting Colombia during an especially agitated week.
The international representatives’ observation visit is taking place in the midst of a worsening conflict between President Ãlvaro Uribe and his country’s Supreme Court, which is investigating ties between paramilitary death squads and dozens of politicians, most of them Uribe’s supporters. The brother of the interior minister, until recently the chief prosecutor in MedellÃn, is facing allegations that he is linked to one of the country’s principal fugitive narcotraffickers and sponsors of “new” paramilitary groups. The country’s main newsmagazine revealed Sunday that paramilitary representatives had meetings in Colombia’s presidential palace earlier this year to discuss ways to discredit the Supreme Court’s investigations. And President Uribe has responded to the pressure by launching pointed verbal attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.
Here are translations of two columns that capture the present moment well. Both appeared in the Colombian daily El Espectador. The first, published today, is from veteran Colombian journalist Cecilia Orozco. The second, published yesterday, comes from CÃ©sar RodrÃguez of the judicial-reform think-tank DeJuSticia.
By Cecilia Orozco TascÃ³n
El Espectador, August 27, 2008
International Criminal Court Prosector Luis Moreno Ocampo and Spanish judge Baltasar GarzÃ³n found quite a spectacle upon arriving in the country:
- The President of the Republic, live on television, shows a video reconfirming that two shady individuals tied to the narco-paramilitary “Don Berna” entered the “Casa de Nari” in their own vehicle, a privilege before reserved only for ambassadors and high-ranking personalities. ["Casa de Nari" is how the paramilitary representatives, in recorded conversations, referred to the presidential palace, the Casa de NariÃ±o.]
- The President of the Republic, speaking before some intimidated reporters at a press conference, says that there is “trafficking in false witnesses” at the Supreme Court; that [Supreme Court "para-politics" investigator] magistrate IvÃ¡n VelÃ¡squez (whose mere existence is becoming a dangerous obsession for him) “gets drunk” with other witnesses; that Senator [Gustavo] Petro, from the Democratic Pole opposition, “manipulates” still more witnesses.
- The President of the Republic states that the Prosecutor-General’s Office handed down a politicized finding in the case of “Tasmania,” probably because it found that case to have been an attempt to frame ["para-politics" investigator] VelÃ¡squez. ["Tasmania" was the nickname of a former paramilitary who, in a letter that Uribe read in a press conference last October, alleged that VelÃ¡squez had tried to induce him to testify against the president. "Tasmania" retracted this claim in June, explaining that his lawyer had put him up to it.]
- The President of the Republic also criticizes Prosecutor-General [Mario] IguarÃ¡n because his entity is infiltrated by the mafia and because “it did not react” to the corrupt acts of [Guillermo] Valencia Cossio [the interior minister's scandal-tarred brother].
- The President of the Republic accuses ex-president CÃ©sar Gaviria, head of the Liberal Party opposition, of having allied during his term with the “Los Pepes” gang. ["Pepes" = "People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar," a hit squad formed in the early 1990s by the Cali cartel, whose members included individuals who would become top paramilitary leaders later in the decade.]
- The President of the Republic orders an investigation of journalist Daniel Coronell for covering up “crimes.” [Coronell had interviewed Yidis Medina, a one-term congresswoman who had confessed to him that her tie-breaking committee vote, which allowed President Uribe to run for re-election in 2006, came in exchange for bribes and favors.]
On the other side the Court, Magistrate VelÃ¡squez, Senator Petro, the Prosecutor-General, CÃ©sar Gaviria, Coronell and, behind him, several journalists’ organizations, respond to these aggressions, making use of their legitimate right to presumed innocence. All of these taking place on the same day.
Moreno and GarzÃ³n, the representatives of international justice, must have been stupefied by the spectacle… and convinced that the black episodes that shake the country cannot be resolved internally because, under the present circumstances, there are no guarantees that anyone here can act with autonomy and liberty: neither the magistrates, nor the prosecutors, nor the politicians, nor the independent journalists. What a great paradox the President has provided, or perhaps, has crafted for his own enjoyment! Democratic security has allowed him to place the guerrillas on the verge of defeat and to demobilize – albeit partially – the paramilitaries, the reasons why he has awakened – until now – the nation’s almost unanimous admiration. But it was not enough for him to cloak Establishment Colombians, in whose name he serves as head of state, with a climate of tranquility and respect.
In his senseless decision to avoid democratic controls, he has been firing buckshot at anything that moves, and he gives the impression of reacting with the suicidal desperation of someone who has been cornered. Unfortunately his tactic of distraction in order not to contaminate himself with the double scandal covering his government – the shady messengers’ visits to the Palace, which will keep on occurring as we have been notified, and the recently named Interior and Justice Minister’s brother’s relations with the cartel of Don Mario – will not work at all, and will only manage to floor the accelerator on the country’s institutional chaos. When was it that the hero of 90% of Colombians lost his reason?
With the visit of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), I wonder what those analysts who celebrated the government’s decision to extradite the paramilitary leaders must be thinking. At that moment, many of us warned that with the “para-charter” plane’s takeoff for Florida, hopes for truth, justice and victims’ reparation vanished.
This was said to them, and they were also warned that the ICC would not remain silent. That it would not accept the “thesis” that there is no paramilitarism, displacement or conflict here. And that the case of Colombia was in the ICC’s sights because the extraditions, along with the government’s efforts to trip up the Supreme Court, would convince them that we are once again on the road to impunity.
I imagine that Moreno Ocampo’s arrival grounds everyone in this reality: Colombia could be the first country, outside Africa, to arrive in the ICC’s courtrooms. So it makes sense to get to know this institution that has taken these clueless analysts by surprise.
Where are the prosecutor and the ICC headed? It is enough to take a quick look at what they have done since 2003 to extract, for now, five basic points that will be directly relevant in Colombia.
1) The ICC operates under the priniciple of complementarity. In plan language, this means that it begins to operate once a state cannot or will not judge those responsible for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. Compared with the four cases that the ICC is considering today (Uganda, Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic), here the problem is more one of political will than of ability. Moreno Ocampo could not have warned it more clearly on his last visit to the country: “The ICC represents a new legal system in which impunity is now inviable. Either the national tribunals take charge, or we will.”
2) The Court aims for the leaders, but does not limit itself to the trigger-pullers. According to the Rome Statute, it also investigates and judges those who finance, cover up or collaborate with the perpetrators of atrocities. And everything seems to indicate that – with his insistence on investigating not just “paras,” but also para-politicians, military personnel and possible accomplices of the self-defense groups and the guerrillas – the prosecutor thinks that Colombia could be a propitious case for putting this attribution to the test.
3) The prosecutor does not wait with his arms crossed until a country has left serious crimes in a state of impunity. As he maintained upon ordering the arrest of the Congolese militiaman Lubanga, the Court has a preventative and dissuasive function. As a result Moreno’s visit should serve as an urgent warning to avoid the failure of the Justice and Peace process and to halt the attacks against the Supreme Court, before it is too late.
4) The ICC has given a protagonistic role to victims. That is why Moreno will surely be interested in knowing the progress of the bill before Colombia’s Congress to favor the victims, and to hear the government’s explanations for opposing it.
5) The Court does not accept parliamentary immunities, amnesties, prescriptions or any of the other loopholes that Colombian law offers. The ICC can wait patiently with its Sword of Damocles until it brings those responsible to The Hague.
So this thing is serious and attention must be paid. If not, the Court could end up damaging more than one official’s retirement plans. And it could expose, once more, those analysts who insist on trying to blot out the sun with a finger [ignore the obvious].