[How does any nation disband an illegal civilian army and reintegrate its soldiers without first prosecuting the war crimes that some of them have committed, or causing outright civil war? AfPak negotiators should pay close attention to the case of Columbia, to gain insight into how Pakistan can demobilize the Pakistan/American-backed Taliban militias and later warlord armies without causing civil war. SEE: Columbia Attempts to Demobilize 18,000 Paramilitaries Without Igniting Civil War]
Bogota – Colombia’s Constitutional Court overturned a law that called for halting criminal prosecution of some 17,000 low-level rightist paramilitaries who demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
In a 5-4 decision, the court found that the measure violated the principles of justice and reparation for militia victims and was effectively an amnesty.
Implementation of the law, which was approved last year by Congress, remained on hold pending the ruling from the Constitutional Court.
The decision implies that roughly 17,000 of the more than 31,000 members of the AUC militia federation who laid down their arms under a peace process with the 2002-2010 government of President Alvaro Uribe are subject to criminal prosecution, where applicable.
The administration of current head of state Juan Manuel Santos expressed concern Wednesday that the court’s ruling could undermine efforts to reintegrate the former gunmen.
Noting that some demobilized paramilitaries have already joined criminal outfits, Interior and Justice Minister German Vargas Lleras said that without the offer of pardon or amnesty, the government would find it difficult to persuade those men to take part in reintegration programs.
The law was meant to apply to militia members who did not have command responsibility, were not linked to drug trafficking and did not face any criminal charges aside from the offense of belonging to an illegal armed group.
But it also would have allowed prosecutors to drop or suspend cases involving erstwhile paramilitaries with drug ties who agreed to testify against more significant offenders.
The AUC was behind more than 22,000 killings over the course of 20 years, according to an ongoing investigation by Colombian prosecutors.
Uribe extradited more than a dozen of the top warlords to the United States to face drug charges, angering militia victims who wanted to see those men tried in Colombia for crimes against humanity.
SATURDAY, 27 NOVEMBER 2010 08:07 ADRIAAN ALSEMA
Former paramilitary leader Jorge Ivan Laverde, alias "El Iguano," says fellow former paramilitary leaders are suspending all collaboration with Colombian justice after the Constitutional Court ruled that 17,000 fighters can not be excluded from prosecution.
In an interview with Caracol Radio, Iguano said the peace process that led to the disarmament of the AUC in 2005 and 2006, "the way it is going, is going really bad. The concern of these 17,000 men that are demobilized is that they are one step away of being arrested and don’t know what to do."
According to Iguano, the thousands of paramilitary fighters may rearm "because the government did not provide a real reintegration."
The former paramilitary commander added that "these men of who they now took the principle of opportunity were guards of the AUC, they did not take part in crimes against humanity like we did."
Colombia’s Interior and Justice Minister German Vargas Lleras said the government is working on a series of initiatives that allow a reintegration of paramilitary fighters into society and solve the judicial limbo they now are in.
Without being specific, the minister said a group of lawmakers will be working throughout the weekend to propose solutions in Congress on Monday.
The government is forced to come up with additional legislation for the Justice and Peace law, the law that allowed the demobilization of the AUC, in that time considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union. Part of the deal was that 17,000 members of the organization who were not suspected of crimes against humanity would be reintegrated into society without being prosecuted for being part of a terrorist organization. According to the court, only the judicial branch can make such deals with suspected criminals.