Berlin/Bogotá – For more than 16 years, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has been looking into the situation in Colombia. The recent escalation of violence in the country, increasing attacks on human rights defenders and members of social movements, as well as the government’s persistent inability and unwillingness to genuinely address past human rights violations and other grave crimes committed during and after the Colombian armed conflict (1964-2016) show: closing the Preliminary Examination (PE) without further investigation into the situation in Colombia would be a devastating sign from the international community.
Therefore, on 30 September, we, the Colombian NGOs Corporación Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” (CCAJAR), Colombia Diversa, Corporación Humanas and Sisma Mujer, together with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) submitted a set of qualitative and quantitative benchmarks to the OTP. These indicators to evaluate Colombian proceedings under the Preliminary Examination, based on the Rome Statute, lead to one reasonable conclusion: the Preliminary Examination on Colombia must remain open.
Not only has the Colombian state made slow progress in addressing the thousands of cases of human rights violations committed by illegal armed groups and state actors. It has not been able to prevent new outbursts of violence. The current situation shows that security forces are using violence against civil society, such as in September 2020, when the police violently repressed demonstrations and killed at least 13 citizens, along with later reported incidents of sexual violence. Furthermore, systematic attacks continue against other actors like human rights defenders and environmental activists, without any prospect of accountability. This year alone, the UN has documented at least 61 deadly incidents that took the lives of 246 victims, a stark increase compared to other years following the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016. Furthermore, 215 human rights defenders and civil society leaders have been assassinated in 2020, making Colombia one of the most dangerous countries in the world for this work.
Colombia’s government is failing to implement effective transitional justice mechanisms to address this situation. It cannot be expected that Colombia’s national judicial authorities will have the capacity to adequately deal with past as well as current crimes any time soon. Cases of sexual and gender-based violence remain especially unacknowledged and unaddressed. The lack of clarity surrounding former paramilitary commanders and high-ranking members of the armed forces’ legal status is delaying addressing these grave crimes – a dangerous situation that contributes to persistent impunity in the country.
The Office of the Prosecutor needs to adequately recognize these shortcomings and include them in their PE evaluation. To ensure this, our benchmarks provide elements for the OTP to analyze the genuine character of the proceedings in Colombia, the existence of impunity in some of these proceedings, and the effectiveness of penal sanctions. We therefore suggest two sets of benchmarks: one focusing specifically on some of the crimes the OTP has been focusing on since 2012, namely, those related to paramilitary groups, ‘false positives’, and sexual and gender-based violence; the second being general indicators to assess Colombia’s different judicial systems to deal with these crimes.
We, CCAJAR, Colombia Diversa, Corporación Humanas, Sisma Mujer, FIDH and ECCHR demand that the OTP continues its Preliminary Examination on Colombia, taking into account the proposed benchmarks. In continuing the examination, we especially underline the need to incorporate gender-differentiated approaches in the investigations and prosecutions in Colombia, and call for a better and continuous dialogue between the OTP and civil society actors in Colombia.
The OTP has had a crucial role in guaranteeing that the Colombian state meets its international obligations to hold those responsible for grave crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Colombia’s armed conflict, accountable. In so doing, the OTP can help ensure that violence against civil society actors and impunity for grave crimes do not prevail in Colombia.