During a forum held in Bogotá, Colombia, on November 1, 2018, ICTJ launched the Spanish-language version of its Handbook on Complementarity: An Introduction to the Role of National Courts and the ICC in Prosecuting International Crimes. The Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), James Kirkpatrick Stewart, gave the keynote address. Judges of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the Deputy Attorney General of Colombia, representatives the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, academics, and civil society organizations also spoke at the event.
"Let the SJP judges to do their job. Support them in any way possible, as peace with justice and accountability is the most effective way to ensure that sustainable and lasting peace.” — ICC Deputy Prosecutor James Kirkpatrick Stewart.
In his introductory remarks, ICTJ’s Executive Director Fernando Travesí reminded the audience that the ICC’s functions are complementary to national jurisdictions. Colombia is, in fact, a real-world example of this principle of complementarity in action. Its newly created SJP, established in the 2016 Peace Agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), is another step forward in the fight against impunity in Colombia and it shows the complementary roles that national and international jurisdictions can play in the prosecution of international crimes. The SJP is an innovative mechanism that has generated high expectations at the national and international level.
Colombia’s Deputy Attorney General, Maria Paulina Riveros, pointed out that there could be no jurisdictional gap in cases that are being referred to the SJP from the ordinary justice system. Consequently, the Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate international crimes committed during the armed conflict in Colombia until the SJP assumes its competence over these cases. According to Riveros, through this approach, Colombia has managed to comply with its obligations enshrined in the Rome Statute.
Meanwhile, the Vice President of the SJP, Xiomara Balanta, and the President of the Appeals Chamber, Eduardo Cifuentes, highlighted the groundbreaking progress made in establishing the institutional make-up of the SJP. After nine months of operation, 13,469 individuals have come before the SJP, of which 11,495 are former FARC rebels, 1,929 are members of the armed forces, 33 are state actors, and 12 are civilians who requested their sentences related to social protest be revised.
Stewart, however, expressed concern in his presentation about recent legislation establishing the SJP rules of procedure. Specifically, these rules of procedure include an article that orders proceedings against members of the Colombian Armed Forces to begin or continue only when a special and differentiated procedure is created within a period of 18 months.
Stewart also indicated that draft constitutional reforms recently presented to the Colombian Congress, which propose that the SJP include 14 new judges to investigate crimes committed by military forces, could create greater delays in achieving justice for urgent cases and be viewed in a negative light. “Let the SJP judges to do their job,” he urged the Colombian government. “Support them in any way possible, as peace with justice and accountability is the most effective way to ensure that sustainable and lasting peace.”
The implementation of Colombia’s SJP offers an excellent opportunity to reflect on the principle of complementarity articulated in Rome Statute of the ICC. ICTJ’s Spanish-language version of the Handbook on Complementarity is a useful tool that helps explain the main aspects of law and practice related to the principle of complementarity to those who are not legal experts. It is intended for civil society organizations, representatives of victims, students, journalists, opinion leaders, and others who are interested in achieving justice in cases of serious human rights violations.
PHOTO: ICTJ’s Executive Director Fernando Travesí opens the forum on Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Bogotá. (ICTJ)