International crimes in Colombia: how can impunity be stopped?

12 May 2016

Bogota, 12 May 2016 – Lawyers without Borders Canada (LWBC) presented a report on the impunity mechanisms present in the Colombian justice system. The report is the outcome of two years of observation, monitoring and analysis of 15 cases of international crimes which took place in Colombia. It contains practical recommendations to strengthen compliance with international standards and victims’ rights in the conduct of investigations and criminal trials in Colombia.

The report aims to promote the Rome Statute, notably in the light of the current policies of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Prosecutor’s Office. Established assessment criteria are analysed with regard to the principle of complementarity in order to determine whether the national authorities have taken action against the individuals responsible for serious crimes. LWBC’s cooperation with Colombian lawyers and human rights’ advocates working in areas affected by armed conflict has ensured follow-up of victims in emblematic cases of application of the Rome Statute in Colombia.

The team of LWBC monitored investigations in which the facts could constitute crimes coming under the ICC’s jurisdiction: massacres, executions, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and torture, between 2005 and 2013. The facts implicate members of national security bodies and members of paramilitary groups. The 15 case studies detailed in the report offer insight into Colombia’s reactions in the course of the investigations.

The study states that, in many cases, circumstances (unjustified procedural delays, insufficient searches by authorities, stalemate in hearings or lack of transparency of certain players) served to shield individuals from their criminal responsibility. Furthermore, proceedings are constantly slowed down by conflicts of jurisdiction, with the military criminal justice system frequently interposing itself in proceedings conducted by ordinary judicial authorities. Victims consequently do not have access to independent and impartial judicial mechanisms. Improvements have nevertheless been observed thanks to the role of certain justice officials and the persistence of victims and their legal representatives.

ASFC presented the report last April in Bogota to local authorities, the diplomatic corps, civil society, and most notably to the families of victims of serious human rights’ violations

In today’s context of pacification of the country, the goal of the LWBC report is therefore to provide elements for reflection for the victims and their representatives as well as for justice officials, with the aim of guaranteeing victims’ rights and combating impunity in Colombia. LWBC recommends that Colombia’s authorities facilitate victims’ active participation and take due account of their specific requests. Prosecution authorities are also encouraged to adopt decisions that emphasise the accountability of the highest authorities.

Identifying barriers to the implementation of Colombia’s international obligations constitutes an essential tool for strengthening the state’s criminal proceedings and justice system.

The report, “Case study in the light of the principle of complementarity: Impunity mechanisms in Colombia’s justice system” (Spanish version only), was presented as part of the “Crossroads” project launched in 2013 by LWBC, in partnership with Avocats Sans Frontières, and financed by the European Union.

To learn more about international justice and international crimes in Colombia, visit the Crossroads’ project website.

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