BOGOTA, Colombia—Victims kidnapped by Colombia’s now-demobilized guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have started to formally present their testimonies to the extrajudicial court system set up to look into the atrocities perpetrated during the half-a-century long Colombian conflict.
The 38 dedicated judges who make up the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which was founded out of the peace agreement to offer restorative justice for victims, must attempt to establish the truth surrounding the war crimes committed and hold those responsible to account.
On Oct. 22, ex-politicians—some of whom were held by the FARC for several years—formally presented their accounts in over three hours of oral testimony.
Several victims described the maltreatment and hatred they received at the hands of the leftist rebels.
“They chained us up, emanated all their resentment against us, mocking when one couldn’t march anymore,” said former Congressman Luis Eladio Pérez.
Kidnapping victims often were held in remote jungle camps and had to follow the strict military routine of the FARC: grueling marches with heavy backpacks and the constant fear that their camp could be hit by one of the army’s devastating aerial bombardments.
More painful than any treatment on the part of the FARC, said the victims, was being held for years on end in remote corners of the country, not knowing whether they would ever see their families again.
“We were more prepared to die than to live,” said Pérez.
Another former congressman, Oscar Tulio Lizcano, recalled that “the loneliness” and “harsh reality” of hearing the messages of his wife, relatives, and students over the radio was the hardest part of the experience.
The FARC have laid down their guns as part of the peace agreement championed by former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and now operate as a political party, but they were once principal actors in half a decade of war against the Colombian state. During their violent campaigns, kidnapping for ransom was employed as a business model to fund their activities.
The highest profile testimony was given by Ingrid Betancourt on Oct. 24 via video-link. Betancourt was kidnapped while campaigning for the presidency in southern Colombia in 2002—at the height of the FARC’s power.
Betancourt was finally rescued six years later, but her kidnapping was immortalized in her memoir, “Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle.”
During her testimony, the French-Colombian ex-politician blamed the government for not assigning her adequate protection on the campaign trail and described her experience as a “descent into hell.” She alleged that “offensive, vulgar, and disrespectful” guerrillas spat at her and “took pleasure” in her suffering.
As many as 90 percent of the 27,000 people who were abducted between 1970 and 2010 in Colombia were taken by the FARC, according to the general prosecutor.
At its strongest, the FARC had around 80 different fronts in operation across the country; this structure led to variations in the group’s operations and thus varying accounts from victims of their time in captivity.
The former-insurgency apologized for the “great pain” caused by kidnapping during peace negotiations in 2016.
Despite a form of rebranding, the FARC’s political efforts have been limited by its legacy in the conflict, securing less than 1 percent of votes in March’s presidential elections.
During Colombia’s conflicts, more than 220,000 people were killed and some 7 million were displaced by forces including the army, paramilitaries, and guerrilla groups.