Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office is reportedly investigating over 3,000 cases that involved false testimony from witnesses, a phenomenon that further damages the credibility of the justice system.
The head of judicial police training at the Attorney General’s Office said that of these 3,000 cases, 160 are related to investigations that involve elected officials, El Pais reported.
Many of these investigations into false witnesses also reportedly involve people who demobilized from armed groups — such as now-defunct paramilitary army the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — who may receive benefits like reduced prison sentences in exchange for providing testimony about other crimes.
A study released earlier this year by Colombian lawyer Gustavo Moreno Rivera — in collaboration with the government agency that supports academic research, known as Colciencias — also posited that there are at least 3,000 cases currently in the Colombian justice system involving false testimony from witnesses, El Espectador reported.
Some of the more high-profile cases involving false testimony include that of Sigifredo Lopez Tobon, a politician who was the only one to survive the mass kidnapping and murder of 11 other members of a provincial assembly. He was accused of playing a role in coordinating the kidnapping, but three people have been arrested thus far for lying under oath about Lopez’s involvement.
In another case, a man who has testified that former President Alvaro Uribe’s brother was involved in paramilitary activity has been accused of participating in a 1994 homicide. He recently said the charges against him were based on false testimony.
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The fact that Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office is aware that it has a major issue on its hands — and is taking the first steps needed to better understand the extent of the problem — is a welcome development.
But this is nonetheless a reminder that the benefits offered to those who have demobilized from armed groups also gives them an incentive to intentionally provide false testimony implicating others. Obviously, the Colombian justice system has not yet found a way to work around this.
It is also a reminder that cases that occur during war are difficult, if not impossible, to resolve. Evidence is scant or old. Witnesses are unreliable but nearly the only form of building cases. The results, as is evident, can be chaotic.
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