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Colombia courts give first paramilitary jail sentences

posted by Brett Borkan

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For the first time, the Colombian courts on Tuesday handed down jail sentences to demobilized paramilitaries participating in the Justice and Peace program, ordering Edward Cobos, alias “Diego Vecino” and Uber Banquez, alias “Juancho Dique” to serve eight years in prison and pay $385,000 reparations to their victims, AP reports.

Judge Uldi Teresa Jimenez sentenced demobilized AUC paramilitaries Diego Vecino and Juancho Dique for committing “serious violations of international humanitarian law, attacking civilians, displacing them from their land, taking the lives of non-combatants and looting their property.”

The charges stem from an incident on March 20, 2000, which left eleven civilians dead and thousands displaced in the town of Mampujan, in the Bolivar department, after an AUC unit led by the two men, attacked the village.

Under Colombia’s Justice and Peace program, which paved the way for the demobilization of 32,000 members of illegal armed groups, the majority of whom are from the AUC, participants in the program can receive a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

As a result, Diego Vecino and Juancho Dique, who have been in prison since they demobilized in 2005, will be eligible for release in three years.

Judge Jimenez also ruled on Tuesday that politicians who participated in the “war machine” led by the paramilitaries take part in paying financial compensation to victims.

Negotiations between the convicted paramilitaries and their victims began in April, in order to negotiate in what form, and for how much, the victims will be compensated.

On Tuesday, Colombian investigative website Verdad Abierta reported that despite government praise for the Justice and Peace demobilization program, the scheme has many serious problems.

At this rate at which the process is going, given that the first sentence was just handed down on Tuesday, the report noted that the majority of the demobilized fighters will be released from prison in three years, after serving eight years, having never been convicted of a crime.

According to the report, of the 32,000 demobilized fighters, only 4,600 have been incorporated into the Justice and Peace program, of whom around 1,500 have made confessions, admitting to 8,000 crimes.

Colombian prosecutors are investigating only 4,000 of these crimes, of which 55 are currently being heard by judges in courts, meaning, the report concludes, that more than 80,000 “certified victims” of violence by illegal armed groups are still awaiting justice.

According to human rights activist and recently elected congressman Ivan Cepeda, the eight-year sentences for the two convicted paramilitaries “are not proportional to the damage they have done and the crimes against humanity they committed.”

Colombian peace commissioner Frank Pearl, however, defended the program on Wednesday, explaining that they while an eight-year sentence may seem low, it was done as a trade-off, because the country is “seeking a balance between justice and peace,” adding that “today, [victims] are able to learn the truth and be financially compensated.”

“Before, the country didn’t even know who the paramilitaries were or what they had done, and today we know the truth,” Pearl noted.

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