Colombia has arrested army General Henry Torres for his role a decade ago in the killing of civilians presented as guerrillas killed in combat. General Torres turned himself in on Monday as soon as the arrest order on charges of homicide against him was issued.
He is the highest-ranking military officer to ever be detained for such crimes.
Between 2002 and 2008, army brigades across Colombia systematically executed more than 4,000 civilians to make it appear they were killing more rebel fighters in combat. To date, more than 800 members of the security forces have been convicted and hundreds more are under investigation.
Torres was the head of a military unit in eastern Casanare state that in 2007 killed a father and son and later presented the two as guerrillas killed in combat.
Torres’ arrest comes as Human Rights Watch said in a report on Monday that many of those accused of implementing or carrying out the extermination policy would probably have their cases heard in a special peace tribunal set up to implement a peace accord being negotiated in Cuba. Under the proposed terms of the accord, rebels and state agents who confess their crimes will be spared jail time and sentenced to a maximum eight years of labour in projects to rebuild communities torn apart by the conflict.
“The agreement is a checkmate against justice,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. He added that “the web of loopholes and ambiguities in the agreement could guarantee that many of those responsible for false-positive killings, ranging from low-ranking soldiers to generals, will escape justice.”
by Héctor Olasolo*
On 23 September 2015, the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Popular Army (FARC-EP), issued a joint communique, in which they made public the core aspects of their agreement on justice matters (the New Agreement), including, in particular, the establishment of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The next day, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ms. Fatou Bensouda, made a preliminary statement thereon, in which she highlighted that any genuine and practical initiative to end the decades-long armed conflict in Colombia, while paying homage to justice as a critical pillar of sustainable peace, is welcome by her Office. She also stressed her hope for the New Agreement to comply with this goal, and her cautious optimism as the agreement excludes the granting of amnesties for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is designed, among other things, to end impunity for the most serious crimes.
But, what are the reasons for the ICC Prosecutors cautious optimism, if ever since the adoption of Legislative Act 01 of 2012 on the so-called Legal Framework for Peace she has expressed, in all her annual reports on Colombia, her concern by the ample powers granted by it to the Colombian Congress?
In my view, this can only be due to the significant difference between the role in an eventual transitional process in Colombia that the New Agreement seems to give to the investigation, prosecution and punishment of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (ICC crimes), and the limited scope of application of criminal justice provided for in the Legal Framework for Peace. In other words, if the Legal Framework for Peace reduced the role of criminal justice to a mere appendage of the transitional process, the New Agreement appears to restore it to its International Law status as an autonomous and necessary pillar of such process. Continue reading
The International Criminal Court
Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. James Stewart, spoke at a conference on “Transitional Justice in Colombia and the Role of the International Criminal Court” held in Colombia last week. He noted that the role of the Court had not been without some public controversy and that it was time to put that role into its proper perspective.
The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia in 2004, which is on-going, but to date it has not proceeded with an investigation.
Mr. Stewart highlighted that a situation of transitional justice, as exists in Colombia, only engages the mandate of the ICC Prosecutor, if the authorities of the State concerned are not themselves conducting genuine proceedings for such crimes, i.e. if they are unable or unwilling to act.
Up to and including June 2013, the OTP has received 141 communications under Article 15 in relation to the situation in Colombia. 94 of these are currently analysed in the context of preliminary examination.
In November 2012, the OTP published an interim report summarising the findings of the preliminary examination into Colombia. According to this report, there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity were committed by various parties to the conflict. It was also suggested that various groups may have been responsible for committing war crimes. Continue reading