October 31, 2013
BOGOTA — As negotiations continue to try to bring a definitive end to Colombia's decades-long civil war, another thorny issue related to the country's violent past won't go away: the fate of soldiers accused of crimes.
The government's proposal for a specific military justice code to handle such cases was recently rejected by the Colombian Supreme Court. In response, the Defense Ministry has just announced a proposal for a so-called Plan B — a request to Congress to approve a "Technical and Specialized Defense Fund" for use in domestic and international trials, to provide legal protection for those accused.
The Ministry is concerned that accused troops risked being left in a “legal limbo” should they be taken to court for alleged rights violations committed in the battle against Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas or criminal gangs.
At home and abroad
Among the cases in question are investigations at the International Court at The Hague into the Army’s 1985 assault on Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice to clear out rebels, and the 2008 bombing of a FARC camp inside Ecuador. One hundred people died in the first incident and civilians "disappeared," while the second killed 22 guerrillas and provoked Ecuador's fury.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said that “in practice the aim of the Technical Defense Fund is that with the fall of the proposed amplification of the military justice code, there should be enough money to assure an effective defense.”
The fund proposal, he said, “allows the creation of a technical defence system and defence fund to be financed from the national budget, the defense budget and donations.”
He said it could not be used in cases relating to “private incidents, acts of corruption and those unrelated to operational activities of the Public Force,” responding to a question on the delicate case known as “false positives.” This case revolves around allegations that certain officers or troops had youngsters kidnapped, killed, and later “identified” as FARC fighters killed in combat.
Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri Valencia told critics in turn, “make no mistake, we shall not abandon our military and police forces. If we have to present a hundred projects to defend them, we will."
The oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador was founded in 1887. The national daily newspaper has historically taken a firm stance against drug trafficking and in defense of freedom of the press. In 1986, the director of El Espectador was assassinated by gunmen hired by Pablo Escobar. The majority share-holder of the paper is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a Colombian businessman named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2011.