Colombian court charges ex-FARC leaders with kidnapping

By Laura Gamba

BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) – Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal charged eight former commanders of the demobilized FARC guerrilla group Thursday with being responsible for war crimes relating to kidnapping and crimes against humanity, an unprecedented decision awaited for years by thousands of victims.

The former commanders have also been charged with other war crimes, including homicide, forced disappearance, torture and sexual violence.

The JEP, a tribunal created under a 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC to investigate crimes committed by the guerrilla group, which was formally known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, decided to change the name of the crime from the “illegal retention of people” to the “taking of hostages and serious deprivation of liberty” after the victims said the original name did not evoke the suffering experienced by them and their family members.

The FARC’s last military commander and current party leader, Rodrigo Londono, known as “Timochenko,” who signed the 2016 Peace Agreement with the government, was among those charged.

The JEP confirmed that FARC kidnapped 21,396 people, although it said that the number did not reveal the magnitude of the phenomenon due to the large underreporting. According to the judges, victims did not report the crimes due to fear of retaliation.

Some victims were freed after a ransom was paid, but most were held for years, and many were killed or died in captivity. Former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by this armed group for seven years. FARC commanders have called the kidnappings a "big mistake."

The eight former guerrilla members will have 30 days to decide whether to accept their responsibility in these crimes. If they accept the accusations, they will face restrictions on their freedoms for five to eight years. If they reject their responsibility, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

This is the first time since the signing of the 2016 peace deal that the JEP has attributed criminal responsibility to former leaders of the guerrilla group after victims and the government party complained that the tribunal had been complicit with the guerrillas.​​​​​​​

The 2016 peace deal brought a cease-fire after more than five decades of armed conflict between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government. Under the deal reached in Cuba, rebel leaders and government negotiators agreed on the creation of a new political party, recently renamed the Common People’s Party or the Comunes for short, and a political future for the left-wing group.