In a case that could have far-reaching legal implications, an infamous former paramilitary commander of Colombia’s once-feared right-wing self-defense forces has formally been charged with sexually abusing minors.
Colombia's Attorney General's Office announced the charges on September 8 after several months of investigating Hernán Giraldo Serna, alias "El Taladro” (The Drill), a former commander with the so-called Tayrona Resistance Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC).
SEE ALSO: The Paramilitaries and Sexual Violence in the Caribbean Coast of Colombia
"The evidence collected by the Colombian Attorney General's Office indicates that at least four minors were exploited and tricked into [going to] detention centers located in [the departments of] Antioquia and Atlántico, where Giraldo was detained between February 2006 and May 2008," prosecutors stated.
Importantly, the Attorney General’s Office said these were crimes against humanity, a distinction that could open the door to prosecutions of other war criminals for similar offenses. Giraldo was also charged with violent sexual assault, human trafficking, and forced abortion.
InSight Crime Analysis
The designation of Giraldo's acts of sexual violence as crimes against humanity is significant because by designating this as a war crime, it is saying there is no statute of limitations on such offenses.
The cases of sexual violence Giraldo has been charged with were not the only abuses he is believed to have committed. Giraldo, also known as Colombia's "biggest predator," allegedly committed more than 200 rapes of young girls during his paramilitary command.
From the 1980s until his demobilization in 2006, Giraldo and his men dominated the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta on Colombia's Caribbean coast, in large part through the alleged systematic abuse of girls and women.
Indeed, sexual violence was the weapon of war used by Giraldo and his group to control territory and perpetuate their criminal empire, as InSight Crime documented in an in-depth investigation.
Still, it's not clear if these additional criminal cases will be litigated since Giraldo was already sentenced for these and other crimes in 2018 through Colombia’s Justice and Peace courts, which handle crimes committed by demobilized paramilitaries.
Nonetheless, the decision sets a precedent that would ensure these types of crimes -- committed on a large scale during the conflict -- can be litigated for other alleged war criminals. Other investigations carried out by organizations like the Truth Commission, the body in charge of investigating and exposing abuses committed during the conflict, chronicled the use of sexual violence by armed actors.
“We [the commission] observed that paramilitaries in particular, and especially those fronts located in the Caribbean, [and the departments of] Meta and Putumayo, used sexual violence to threaten people and deprive them of their land. There was an intentionality behind sexual violence [that was] linked to territorial control for the benefit of economic and political interests," Truth Commissioner Alejandra Miller told InSight Crime.
What's more, if convicted, Giraldo would lose the benefits of the Justice and Peace Law, which granted him lighter sentences of up to eight years in prison, and would instead be tried by the ordinary justice system.