Relatives and representatives of victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions who were falsely presented as “kills in action” by members of the Colombian Armed Forces filed a criminal complaint before Argentine courts, pursuant to the principle of Universal Jurisdiction. The petitioners request an investigation into the criminal responsibility of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010), and all other individuals who have not been duly investigated by the Colombian justice system, in relation to this egregious criminal pattern, known popularly in Colombia as “false positives” (“falsos positivos”). The case, filed on November 7, 2023, has been assigned to Federal Court No. 2 headed by Investigating Judge Sebastian Ramos.
This complaint constitutes a historic step for victims and organizations in the fight against impunity in Colombia. An investigation into Álvaro Uribe by the Argentine justice system would represent the first time that a Colombian president is investigated for his alleged responsibility for international crimes. This would place him alongside other former presidents globally, such as Augusto Pinochet, Efraín Ríos Montt, and Hissène Habré, who have been made accountable through the application of the principle of Universal Jurisdiction.
The courageous complainants are eleven victims and three Colombian non-governmental organizations who have accompanied these cases for years: the Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (CSPP), the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR) and the Corporación Jurídica Libertad (CJL), which are members of the “Espacio de Litigio Estratégico”. They are represented by Máximo Castex, an Argentine lawyer, and advised by international lawyer Bénédict De Moerloose, both experts in Universal Jurisdiction.
They are also supported by international non-governmental organizations and Argentine human rights organizations and survivors of the dictatorship. The complainants are seeking justice for the 6,402 victims of these heinous events, most of which occurred during the former president’s term in office.
The complaint has been filed under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, which grants States the power to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of international crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, and enforced disappearances) wherever they have been committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims. Universal Jurisdiction aims to deliver justice to victims in their struggle against impunity and to deter the commission of future crimes.
Universal Jurisdiction cases are playing an increasingly important role in the pursuit of justice for international crimes. The best-known example in the region is that of Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, who was arrested in London, 25 years ago, by order of the Spanish National Court after a decades-long quest for justice by the victims of his crimes.
In the case of Álvaro Uribe, the complainants have turned to the Argentine justice system because it has offers a path to combat the impunity of State crimes, including crimes covered by the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, such as those being considered in relation to Nicaragua, Myanmar, Venezuela, and Spain.
Obstacles to the prosecution of presidents in Colombia
Even though substantial indications are pointing towards potential criminal responsibility of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez in these events, the existing judicial mechanisms in Colombia (in this case the Accusations Commission of the House of Representatives, which has the competence to investigate presidents and former presidents) have not carried out a serious, impartial and effective investigation that would guarantee the rights of the victims to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition.
Despite its efforts and progress in the investigation of this criminal pattern, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (known for its Spanish acronym, JEP) does not have the power to prosecute former or current presidents, even though in the context of its investigation into the “false positives”, testimonies by a significant number of military officers indicate the existence of a policy that led to the production of these fraudulent operational results, and the alleged involvement of the former President.
Arguments of the complainants
In their complaint, the petitioners substantiate that the former president had knowledge of the criminal practice, that he did not act to prevent it, and that he dismissed and disqualified numerous complaints that were filed. Despite knowing that his troops were killing civilians, he continued to pressure them to report Kills-In-Action (KIAs), which served as the main indicator of success in his so-called “Democratic Security policy”.
The complaint also describes how the victims were killed because of their supposed links to the insurgency or how they were abducted or deceived and taken to remote locations where they would be assassinated and presented as combatants killed in action.
These crimes were committed in 31 of Colombia’s 32 departments, by all Army divisions, with the same modus operandi. According to the organizations filing the complaint:
“This evidence shows that these were not isolated acts and that the President of the Republic, commander in chief of the Armed Forces, could be criminally responsible for these wrongful acts that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
With this complaint and criminal proceedings, the victims hope that the Argentine justice system – with its track record in judging international criminals and advancing anti-impunity and accountability worldwide – will investigate with full guarantees the alleged highest individual responsible during the 2002-2008 period for the “false positives”. In the words of the victims:
“We are not fighting just for us, but for the 6,402 victims of “false positives”, as well as for future generations. Never again should a Colombian be subjected to what we and our loved ones have been through. It is our wish that these egregious events that occurred in Colombia will never be repeated.”
The complaint is supported by
Complainants victims (some have changed their identity for security reasons)
María Camila Mendoza, sister of Pablo Mendoza*
Laura Vanessa Piña, daughter of Álvaro Adolfo Piña
Wilmer Andrey Pérez Betancourt, son of Beyer Eduardo Pérez
Bertina Badillo Erazo, aunt of Didier Eduardo Durant Badillo
Complainant Colombian organizations
Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos – CSPP
Corporación Jurídica Libertad – CJL
Colectivo de Abogados y Abogadas José Alvear Restrepo – CAJAR
These organizations are members of the Espacio de Litigio Estratégico
Argentine adherent organizations
CELS – Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
Comisión Provincial por la Memoria de la provincia de Buenos Aires
Asociación Permanente por los Derechos Humanos (APDH) Argentina
MECoPa (Colectivo migrantes y exiliadxs colombianxs por la paz en Argentina)
International non governmental organizations
The Guernica Centre for International Justice
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
The World Organization against Torture (OMCT)
Máximo Castex, Representatives of the plaintiffs
Bénédict De Moerloose, Internacional Counsel, Peter & Moreau
For more information you can write:
Comunicaciones CJL 314 6647280