The [Constitutional C]ourt should limit a broad provision allowing FARC guerrillas to seek or hold public office even while serving sentences for grave abuses, Human Rights Watch said. Such a change should ensure that sanctions against them are carried out fully and unconditionally. The Constitutional Court should also fix the amendment’s narrow definition of “command responsibility” –the basis on which military commanders can be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates. The definition in the amendment is inconsistent with international law, Human Rights Watch said, and could allow senior officers of the Colombian Armed Forces to escape justice.
* * *
Definitions of “command responsibility” proposed during the peace process that will eventually apply both to military officers and guerrilla commanders, have drawn concerns repeatedly from Colombian rights groups and various international organizations, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor. Human Rights Watch has criticized definitions proposed as applicable to both parties to the accord, including one applicable to FARC guerrillas that has yet to become law. In January 2017 Human Rights Watch wrote to legislators criticizing the definition proposed then for senior officers of the Armed Forces—identical to the one passed in Constitutional Amendment 1 of 2017— as distorting international law in a way that could severely weaken accountability.
Between 2002 and 2008, army brigades across Colombia killed more than 3,000 civilians, in what are known as “false positive” cases. Under pressure from superiors to show “positive” results and boost body counts in the war against guerrillas, soldiers abducted victims or lured them to remote locations under false pretenses. The soldiers killed them, placed weapons on their bodies, and reported them as enemy combatants killed in action.
While more than 1000 soldiers have been convicted for these crimes, few commanders who led brigades responsible for the killings and later rose through the military ranks have been held accountable. It is still unclear whether the Special Jurisdiction for Peace –which will hear cases of crimes related to the armed conflict– will handle these cases.
“If the Special Jurisdiction for Peace handles false positive killings and applies the legislature’s distorted definition of command responsibility, senior officers responsible for these appalling murders may never face justice,” [HRW's José Miguel] Vivanco said.