ICC shelves probe of Colombian war crimes

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The International Criminal Court in The Hague said Thursday it had shelved a preliminary probe into crimes committed during Colombia’s near six-decade civil war, saying it would leave investigations to domestic institutions.

The court had opened a preliminary investigation in 2004, more than a decade before a peace deal between Bogota and the FARC guerilla group ended a conflict that authorities say resulted in nine million people being either killed, disappearing or being displaced.

It focused on crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by government forces, paramilitary forces and rebel groups, including murder, kidnapping, torture, rape and forceful displacement of civilians.

On Thursday, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said the court had concluded that Colombia was “living up to its international obligations” to investigate and prosecute the crimes itself.

Thousands are under investigation by Colombian authorities, he said.

“If genuine efforts were made to put an end to impunity, we (the ICC) do not have the right to superimpose the national system,” said Khan, flanked at a press conference in Bogota by President Ivan Duque.

Duque said the decision recognized the “solidity” of Colombia’s institutions.

“Colombia has shown that there are sentences here, that there are convictions here, that there is reparation here and above all that a great effort is made for the truth,” the president said.

Colombia established the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal to try the worst atrocities committed during the conflict.

Since 2017, it has charged former FARC commanders with the kidnapping of at least 21,000 people and the recruitment of 18,000 minors.

Senior military officials have been charged with killing some 6,400 civilians presented as guerillas.

The JEP hopes to deliver its first verdicts this year or in early 2022. It has the authority to offer alternatives to jail time to people who confess their crimes and make reparations to their victims.

Khan said that if needed, the ICC preliminary investigation could be reopened under a “cooperation agreement” with Colombia — the first the court had ever concluded with a state party.

“The closure of the preliminary examination does not detract from the reality that significant work is still required and that the institutions established must continue to be given the space to perform their constitutional responsibilities,” the ICC said in a statement.

Colombia is experiencing its most violent period since the 2016 peace deal, which ended most fighting.

Some dissident FARC rebels, as well as guerillas with the surviving ELN group, paramilitary groups and drug gangs are battling for control of lucrative smuggling routes.