Colombia

The ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary examination in 2004 to assess whether to formally investigate alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes by government, rebel, and paramilitary forces, taking into account the progress of peace talks in Colombia
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Colombia signed the Rome Statute in 1998 and ratified in 2002; however, it has not fully domesticated Statute crimes and cooperation provisions. Colombia was trapped in a decades-long cycle of conflict until 2012, both caused by and resulting in poverty, inequality, and drug-trafficking. In 2004, the ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary examination for possible crimes against humanity from 2002 onward and war crimes from 2009 onward by the government and rebel groups. The ICC prosecutor is closely monitoring the Colombian peace process to ensure that justice measures are genuine and hold accountable those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocity crimes.
Background
Conflict between government, guerrillas, and paramilitaries Conflict in Colombia from 1958 until peace talks began in 2012 resulted in at least 220,000 deaths and one of the world’s largest internationally displaced populations. Poverty, inequality, and drug-trafficking are both root causes and results of the conflict, which saw the rise and decline of various powerful drug cartels, guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries. Peace/justice deal rejected by referendum In October 2016, Colombians narrowly rejected a peace deal between the government and the main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). With a voter turnout of less than 38%, the referendum outcome came as a surprise to many. Under the peace accord, reached in 2015 after four years of negotiations, a Special Jurisdiction for Peace was to be established to prosecute conflict-related grave crimes committed by all sides - including the taking of hostages, torture, forced displacement, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and sexual violence. A 75-point justice plan included extensive provision on victims’ participation and reparations. While explicitly excluding amnesty for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the agreement envisaged reduced and/or alternative sentences, such as house arrest, for perpetrators who confess to crimes and contribute to establishing truth. The level of justice for perpetrators of atrocities during the civil war was cited as one of the reasons for the no vote, among others. The issue of sentencing in the peace/justice deal proved contentious among civil society. The Colombian Commission of Jurists welcomed the deal. Colombian human rights group HUMANAS meanwhile called on “the men and women of this country to say ‘yes’ to peace,” when the agreement was put to popular referendum. Human Rights Watch said the agreement was flawed and could lead to impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes. Amnesty International said it had serious doubts about whether the deal will effectively guarantee victims’ rights to truth, justice, and reparations in line with international law and standards.
ICC situation

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.

Cooperation

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.

National prosecutions

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.

Civil society advocacy

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.

Campaign for global justice

ICC Rome Statute

Ratified/acceded (ICC member state)
05 August 2002

Kampala Amendments to Rome Statute

Crime of agression
Not ratified
Article 8
Not ratified

Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the ICC

Ratified
15 April 2009