Dozens of individuals in Colombia have been sentenced for crimes committed while serving under the banner of demobilized paramilitary groups, illustrating how peace agreements with armed actors are capable of meting out justice, albeit after long and complicated processes.
A Colombian court sentenced 32 former paramilitary leaders for crimes committed by the Central Bolívar Block (Bloque Central Bolívar - BCB) of the now demobilized United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC), Colombian judicial officials announced on September 16.
The Attorney General's Office described the ruling as "historic" on Twitter, adding that the body had "ordered the seizure of assets of the convicted to compensate 4,260 victims."
The cases examined more than 250 homicides, over 320 incidents of forced disappearances, 213 incidents of forced displacement, as well as incidents of illegal recruitment and gender-based violence, La Nación reported. These crimes were committed across Colombia from 1999 to 2006, according to Semana.
Those convicted included Iván Roberto Duque Gaviria, alias "Ernesto Báez"; Guillermo Pérez Alzate, aka "Pablo Sevillano"; and Rodrigo Pérez Alzate, alias "Julián Bolívar." All three were considered among the highest-ranking paramilitary leaders at the time. Julián Bolívar, for instance, has already completed an eight-year sentence under the special justice framework, and is also wanted on drug trafficking charges by the United States.
The ruling was made under the 2005 Justice and Peace Law drafted as part of the demobilization agreement between the paramilitary groups and Colombia's government. Despite the severity of the crimes, under the terms of the deal those convicted will spend a maximum of eight years in prison.
InSight Crime Anaysis
The scale of the ruling is noteworthy not only because of the number of individuals convicted and the fact that they included high-ranking leaders, but also because it shows that justice can be achieved under special frameworks created by peace agreements between the government and armed groups, even if it involves lengthy and complicated judicial proceedings.
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The decision to freeze assets until they can be seized is also notable, as the issue of illicit assets has been an important question in the ongoing peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). The measure may be an attempt to prevent assets from being laundered or sold away by the criminals. And seizing illicit assets has been central to the extremely complex process of compensating victims.
The road to actually delivering money to the victims is still long, but the latest ruling underscores the authorities' strong intention to do so. And it is a positive sign for the current peace process with the FARC, which has faced scrutiny from critics who say it will facilitate impunity for the demobilizing guerrillas.