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Human Rights Watch Press release
(New York, May 13, 2008) – The extradition of Colombia’s top paramilitary leaders to the United States increases the odds they will serve substantial prison sentences for some of their crimes, yet the extradition could undermine local efforts to investigate human rights atrocities and paramilitary infiltration of the political system, Human Rights Watch said today.
Colombia on the morning of May 13 announced the extradition of 14 individuals, including several top commanders of the drug-running paramilitary death squads that are responsible for some of the most horrific atrocities in Colombian history. These include notorious crime bosses, Salvatore Mancuso, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo (a.k.a. “Jorge 40″), and Diego Fernando Murillo (a.k.a. “Don Berna”).
The extradited commanders had been participating in a “demobilization” process in which Colombia’s courts had ruled that, in exchange for dramatically reduced prison sentences, they would be required to provide full and truthful confessions about their human rights abuses and other crimes, and to disclose information about their paramilitary groups’ operations and accomplices.
“The good news is that these paramilitary bosses could now face serious jail time for some of their drug crimes,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The bad news is they may no longer have any reason to collaborate with Colombian prosecutors investigating their atrocities against civilians and their collaboration with high-ranking government officials.”
The extradition comes three weeks after Colombian prosecutors ordered the arrest of President Álvaro Uribe’s cousin and close political ally, Mario Uribe, for allegedly conspiring with paramilitaries. He is one of more than 50 congressmen from the president’s ruling coalition to come under investigation in the last two years for alleged links to paramilitaries, as part of what is known as the “parapolitics” scandal. These investigations have begun to break Colombia’s long history of impunity for paramilitaries and their accomplices in the political system.
“Just as local prosecutors were beginning to unravel the web of paramilitary ties to prominent politicians, the government has shipped the men with the most information out of the country,” said Vivanco.
More than 100,000 victims have approached Colombian authorities in recent years seeking justice for paramilitary abuses.
“The big losers with this extradition are the victims who may never have a chance to confront their tormentors in a Colombian court,” said Vivanco. “The big winners may be the local politicians whose secrets are being kept by the extradited paramilitary bosses”.