The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination in Colombia in June 2004. It has considered alleged killings, enforced disappearances, imprisonment, torture, and other grave crimes committed by both government and rebel groups from November 2002 onward. In 2012, the OTP found a reasonable basis to believe crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed by the Colombian army, guerrilla actors like FARC and the National Liberation Army, and paramilitary groups.
Developments in Colombia suggest the potential for ICC preliminary examinations to motivate reform efforts at the national level, including national investigations into crimes falling under ICC jurisdiction.
Colombia does not have specific legislative provisions for cooperation with the ICC but does have laws on international cooperation in criminal matters. Furthermore, Colombia has ratified the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the ICC to facilitate the work of ICC and ASP personnel in the field.
In 2011, Colombia became the first Latin American country to sign a voluntary cooperation agreement with the ICC on enforcement of ICC sentences.
The Justice and Peace Unit (JPU) was established in 2005 with several Justice and Peace Tribunals (JPTs) to prosecute members of illegal armed groups that demobilized between 2004 and 2006. Its investigations and confessions shed light on the configuration of paramilitary structures and the relationships between these groups, government actors, business figures, and other actors.
The JPU evolved with the passage of new laws addressing some of its shortcomings, such as an absence of coordination between judicial and administrative authorities and inadequate technical capacity, expertise, and case databases. Significantly, a 2014 law enabled the 2014 judgment by a JPT against Salvatore Mancuso and other paramilitary leaders in 175 cases of sexual violence in conflict.
The Office of the Attorney General and its directorates have also reported investigations, prosecutions, and convictions in numerous enforced displacement cases against paramilitary leaders and hundreds of convictions of members of the national armed forces for extrajudicial killings, including at least 53 high-level officers for crimes committed after 2002.
Coalition members have actively campaigned for full implementation of the Rome Statute during Colombia’s peace process. Civil society highlighted shortcomings of the country’s existing transitional justice in the mid-2000s and acted as key authors of a 2014 law incorporating more expansive definitions of sexual and gender-based crimes as crimes against humanity, including forced pregnancy, sterilization, and forced nudity.
Civil society along with the ICC-OTP have monitored the peace process in Colombia to ensure that, among other issues, the agreement’s allowance of political pardons does not undermine its prohibition of amnesty when pursuing justice in cases of grave international crimes.
Following the rejection of the peace accord in 2016, civil society called on all sides to continue negotiations to avoid a return to war.
Deferral of war crimes jurisdiction at odds with Rome Statute
Colombia ratified the Rome Statute in 2002, but was also one of only two states to invoke the Statute’s transitional provision—article 124, deleted in 2015—deferring ICC jurisdiction over war crimes in Colombia or by Colombian nationals. Various Coalition members strongly opposed the inclusion of the provision, noting that it weakened the jurisdictional regime of the ICC and was incompatible with the object and purpose of the Statute.