Three extradited paramilitary bosses announce their withdrawal from Law 975 of 2005
Con el apoyo de: UNIÓN EUROPEABulletin No 40: Series on the rights of the victims and the application of Law 975 Three extradited paramilitary bosses announce their withdrawal from Law 975 of 2005At the end of September 2009, three of the 18 paramilitary leaders postulated to obtain benefitsunder Law 975 of 2005 and extradited to the United States announced they are suspending theirparticipation in the process under the so-called law of “justice and peace.” The reasons they allegeare basically the same: the absence of adequate conditions to allow them to participate in theframework of the law in an appropriate manner, due to the non-existence of treaties between theColombian and the United States governments and to the failure of the negotiation process betweenthe paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Group of Colombia and the Colombian government.The first one to express his wish not to continue participating in the trials under Law 975 was theparamilitary boss Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” who made the announcement bymeans of a letter addressed the Supreme Court of Justice on September 17, 2009. In the letter heargues that his extradition, as well as that of the other paramilitary leaders, is nothing but a strategyby the Colombian government to silence the truth that the paramilitaries know about theresponsibility of politicians, businessmen and the military in the emergence and consolidation ofparamilitary groups, as well in the perpetration of hundreds of crimes. 1.Likewise, he expressed having felt betrayed by the national government which, according to him,breached the terms of the agreements it had reached with the AUC, among which were theconcentration of the paramilitaries in “agricultural colonies” and not in prisons; the implementationof productive projects which, according to this paramilitary “would allow demobilized combatants,victims, and displaced persons, to build appropriate spaces for the reconstruction of the socialfabric”- projects which were never executed; and the possibility for the supposedly demobilizedmembers of the paramilitary to carry out political activities, a possibility that has now beendiscarded, among other alleged examples of noncompliance. 2This letter was followed by one from Miguel Ángel Mejía Múnera, alias “el Mellizo”, who calledupon the victims of the Conquerors of Arauca Block (Bloque Vencedores de Arauca) to “organizeand demand the three pillars upon which is based the government’s commitment to the victims” and“not allow it to continue to play politics with their pain.” The ultimate purpose of the letter, as wellas that from alias “Don Berna,” was to highlight the national government‟s lack of compliance withLaw 975 of 2005.” 3Finally, after these two declarations were made known, the paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancusoalso read a letter in the course of legal proceedings in the United States, in which he refused tocontinue rendering free-version confessions under Law 975. According to him, conditions are notgiven for him to continue reconstructing the truth because of his isolation in his United States The present publication has been prepared with the support of the European Union and its content is the soleresponsibility of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. In no way should it be thought to reflect the point of view of theEuropean Union.1 Ibíd.2 Ibíd.3 Verdad Abierta, “Cartas de „Don Berna‟ y „el Mellizo‟ desde Estados Unidos” (Open letters from „Don Berna‟ and „elMellizo‟ from the United States) , September 24, 2009, www.verdadabierta.com. 1
prison. Subsequently he expressed, like the other two paramilitaries, that Law 975 is a failure andthat “as long as there are actors in the conflict that have been left out of the peace process, as longas there are dark interests in Colombia that do not want the truth to be known, there will never befull knowledge of the truth and there will never be the reparation that the victims are due, and evenless justice, and therefore there will never be peace in Colombia.” 4The three letters have at least two things in common: On the one hand, the fact that those who wrotethem seek to appear before the victims and society as demobilized paramilitaries committed to theprocess under Law 975 and to the victims, and that they were deceived by the national government,which has systematically breached its commitments. On the other, the three letters state thatextradition was a mechanism to silence certain truths that can turn out to be inconvenient for thegovernment and that, therefore, there are no mechanisms now and there were never anymechanisms to guarantee the continuity of the extradited paramilitaries in the proceedings underLaw 975.The first of these two commonalities must be assessed with caution; although it is true that theseparamilitaries know the truth about the responsibility of other sectors of society in the crimescommitted by the paramilitary movement, and that they could eventually be willing to reveal themif the proper conditions are given, the truth is that things have not always been this way. In fact,since they began taking part in the process under Law 975, many of those who are now extraditedhave spent their time justifying their crimes and justifying the very existence of the AUC. Althoughsome of them have revealed some important things, other truths have been left concealed, not onlybecause of the extradition but because the paramilitaries were never demobilized and were notcommitted to the truth.Additionally, the infringements on the part of the government that alias “Don Berna” alleges arereally not “infringements” that can be attributed to the executive, which promoted vehemently theagreements referred to by this paramilitary. It was the justice system which, after severalpronouncements, prevented Law 975 from going into effect as it had been agreed upon jointly bythe government and the paramilitaries and adapted it to constitutional principles, since the way itwas conceived turned it into an instrument for impunity that, under the guise of justice, favored onlythe paramilitaries.The dangerous aspect of these three letters, therefore, is that the paramilitary bosses seek to appearthe victims of a process in which they supposedly were cheated. But the truth is that neither thegovernment nor the paramilitaries have ever really wanted the rights of the victims to be effective.On the contrary, in various settings and through different strategies, both the government and theparamilitaries have done everything in their power to perpetuate impunity in crimes committed bythe paramilitary movement and to justify the existence of such groups, wielding arguments such asthe fight against the guerrilla and the neglect of the State.However, the latter of the common aspects of the three letters does seem important for the victimsbecause it confirms what they and their representatives, as well as various social organizations, havebeen expressing since the government decided to extradite members of the paramilitary that werepostulated in the framework of Law 975: that the extradition of 18 paramilitary leaders violated therights of the victims, since the judicial cooperation agreements that the government announced thatwould supposedly prevent such a violation simply do not exist; this has made it almost impossiblefor these paramilitary bosses to be present regularly at the different hearings to which they are4 Verdad Abierta, “Mancuso no se confesará más” (Mancuso will not confess anymore), September 30, 2009,www.verdadabierta.com.
summoned, both by the Unit for Justice and Peace of the Prosecutor‟s Office and by the SupremeCourt of Justice in the cases it is hearing against politicians for their links with paramilitary groups.Also, it confirms that extradition is a mechanism that was used by the government to silence theparamilitaries and to stifle the truth about the responsibility of the military, economic, and politicalsectors in the emergence of paramilitarism.But the recent declaration by these three paramilitary bosses is not the only evidence that this is so.There is much more forceful proof and there are pronouncements much more worthy of respect thatlead us to the same conclusion. To give just one example of the way in which extradition has haltedjustice-related processes in Colombia, it is sufficient to recall that the Supreme Court of Justice hadto order, in March 2009, that Congresswoman Karely Lara Vence, who was being investigated forher presumed links with paramilitaries in the department of Magdalena, be set free.5 The reasonwas the statute of limitations; it had been impossible for the Court to hear the declarations of theparamilitaries who had accused her, and which would have been useful in the investigation, such asthose of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias, “Jorge 40” 6 On the other hand, regarding the proceedingsspecific to Law 975, the Unit for Justice and Peace, in a response to the Colombian Commission ofJurists (CCJ) declared that the hearings were subject to approval by the Department of Justice of theUnited States.7On the other hand, in a recent and valuable statement by the Supreme Court of Justice, this tribunalrevealed its position regarding the extradition of postulants Oder Law 975 involved in serioushuman rights violations. It must be remembered that the Supreme Court of Justice had issued afavorable concept regarding the request for extradition of all the paramilitary bosses who have beenextradited to the United States up to now because it found that all legal requirements for extraditionhad been met. However, in favorable concepts regarding Carlos Mario Jiménez, alias “Macaco,”and Éver Veloza García, alias “HH,” the Court imposed a condition on the national governmentstating that, although it was true that the legal requisites for extradition had been met, it was alsotrue that these paramilitaries were being investigated in Colombia for crimes against humanity,clearly far more serious than the charges of drug trafficking for which they were being required, andthat, therefore, before granting extradition of the paramilitary postulants, the government should seeto it that the rights of the victims were guaranteed.Openly going against this condition, the government approved the extradition of 18 paramilitarybosses postulated under Law 975. More than a year after the extraditions were carried out, andwhile considering the request for the extradition of the paramilitary Luis Édgar Medina Flórez, alias“comandante Chaparro,” the Court gave its opinion concerning the national government‟sdisregard of the conditions set: “Practice, however, has shown that such warnings or conditionshave had no effect at all and, in that sense, the difficulty – if not the impossibility – that entailshearing under such circumstances those who have been extradited, as judicial practice has provedit, seriously affecting the prerogatives of truth, justice, and reparation that the victims of suchcrimes against humanity are entitled to (…).”8In this sense, the Court reversed its position since, according to what it adduced, “Recentexperience demonstrates that the extraditions granted and executed by the State have made it5 However, in August 2009, the Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice condemned Karely Lara Vence to sixyears in prison for conspiracy to commit a crime, after which a new arrest warrant was issued against her.6 El Espectador daily newspaper, “Ordenan libertad de Karely Lara” (Freedom for Karely Lara ordered), March 12, 2009,on-line version.7 Response from the Prosecutor General‟s Office to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Letter 011654, December 1,2008.8 Supreme Court of Justice, Penal Cassation Chamber, M.P. Yesid Ramírez Bastidas, Bogotá, August 19, 2009.
possible for knowledge of the truth to be suspended in the Peace and Justice trials, since theextradited postulants have not been able to continue to confess the crimes they committed. And thus,the victims are left without knowing the truth, and society without the guarantee of non-repetition.”9Heeding these arguments, the Court changed its jurisprudence and denied the extradition of thisparamilitary, thus protecting the rights of the victims that could have been violated if alias“comandante Chaparro” had been extradited.This important pronouncement should lead the justice system to request the return of theparamilitary bosses who have been extradited, in order that, before they answer before the UnitedStates courts for their crimes of drug trafficking, they answer for their crimes against humanitycommitted in Colombia. However, as the Prosecutor General reiterated to the CCJ in a response toa petition of information sent in May, the return of these persons has not even been a topic ofconversation between the Colombian prosecutor‟s Office and the United States authorities; meaningthat this step, which should be the one to be taken by the Colombian state in order to serve justice,seems unlikely, given the enormous disregard this government has shown toward judicial decisionsand toward national and international human rights norms.As things now stand, the present context is not very encouraging for the victims. The mainparamilitary bosses are in the United States, far removed from Colombian justice and reticent tocomply with the obligations they acquired because, as they argue, they were betrayed by thegovernment. Also, the government seeks to show itself respectful of the rights of the victims but itsactions always go in the opposite direction. The government claims to be the one that was betrayed,and the paramilitaries continue to commit crimes. The truth is that the government always knew itand only took measures such as extradition when the paramilitaries began to reveal importantinformation to reconstruct the truth, involving well-known members of the Colombian military,businessmen and politicians.But those who have been the most betrayed in this process have been, above all, the victims, whowere promised truth, justice, and reparation; and, four years after the so-called law of “justice andpeace” went into force, they find themselves further than ever from seeing their rights respected;they are at the mercy of the national government and the paramilitaries, both of which play with thepower they have over the truth that the victims need so much. If the justice systems in Colombiaand the United States do not take effective action to correct this situation, it will be up tointernational justice to intervene to infer the corresponding accountabilities.Bogotá, October 19, 2009For further information please contact Gustavo Gallón Giraldo, Director CCJ (Tel. 57-1 3768200, ext. 115).9 Ibíd.