Eli Mejía Mendoza

09.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
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facts

Eli Mejia Mendoza was born in 1953. He was a member and Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for over 35 years. He is called “Martín Sombra”, or “el carcelero de las FARC”, the jailer of the FARC.

He is held responsible for the following crimes:

– 1 November 1998: the FARC attacked the Mitu police station, city localized in the Vaupès department. Reportedly, 43 persons died in this attack, including civilians, 47 were injured and 61 state officers were captured and sequestrated in the FARC ‘s jails.

– In 1999, Mejia Mendoza was reported to have taken part in the seizure of the Girasol military base located in the municipality of Mesetas in the Colombian department of Meta, during which two Colombian Army soldiers were killed and 17 were taken prisoner.

– He also held responsibility for holding the FARC’s most important hostages, Ingrid Betancourt, former presidential candidate and her campaign director, Clara Rojas. Three other hostages were captured by the FARC on 13 February 2003: three American security contractors (Keith Donald Stansell, Marc Goncalves and Thomas R. Howes), kidnapped when their plane crashed while flying over the Caquetá jungle on an anti-narcotics mission. After crash-landing, pilot Tommy Janis and Colombian army sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz were murdered.

These hostages were finally liberated by the Colombian Army on 2 July 2008 during a military operation entitled “Jaque” which was aimed at freeing certain of the FARC hostages. The military operation was conducted in breach of the international law of armed conflict, as the Colombian army misused the Red Cross emblem to simulate a fake humanitarian mission, in order to obtain the liberation of the hostages.

Mejia Mendoza is reportedly involved in the abduction of the child of Clara Rojas, born during the time she was held as hostage by the FARC.

Mejia Mendoza was arrested on the 26 February 2008 by the police in Saboya in the Boyaca department to the north of Bogota.

legal procedure

Mejia Mendoza was arrested on the 26 February 2008 by the police in Saboya in the Boyaca department to the north of Bogota.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS IN THE UNITED STATES

The United States requested on 2 and on 28 of October 2008 the provisional detention of Mejia Mendoza for the purpose of his extradition, in order to have him tried for his alleged responsibility in the abduction and detention of the three American security contractors, and for charges of terrorism.

The Colombian Inspector General lodged a request with the Colombian Supreme Court not to proceed with the extradition request for Mejia Mendoza. According to him, the crimes said to have been committed by Mejia Mendoza took place on Colombian territory which would infer that Mejia Mendoza should be put on trial in Colombia.

At the beginning of 2009, Mejia Mendoza reportedly promised to collaborate with the Colombian judiciary if the request for his extradition was not accorded.

On 17 June 2009, the criminal Chamber of the Colombian Supreme Court rejected the American extradition request. The Court concluded that this request did not meet the necessary condition of “extraterritoriality” in that the overall events relative to this crime were considered to have been committed on Colombian territory.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS IN COLOMBIA

The Colombian authorities initiated legal proceedings against Mejia Mendoza in September 2009.

– He has been charged with victimising 1,500 people directly and indirectly between 1998 and 1999. These prosecutions are part of the plan of the National Prosecution Unit for Justice and Peace to give priority to those mainly responsible for war crimes. On 28 December 2010, a court in Villavicencio, Meta sentenced Mejia Mendoza to 24 years in prison for the kidnapping of 61 police officers in Mitu, Vaupes, in 1998. He was found responsible of aggravated extortive kidnapping. The Court halved his sentence regarding the testimony he gave to the National Prosecution Unit for Justice and Peace.

– On 19 February 2010, a Colombian judge sentenced Mejia Mendoza to 9 years and 9 months imprisonment for the abduction of the child of Clara Rojas, born during the time she was held as hostage by the FARC. He also admitted responsibility for the kidnapping aggravated by a ransom demand for the 3 American Army contractors, Keith Donald Stansell, Marc Goncalves and Thomas R Howes captured by the FARC on 13 February 2003. He was sentenced on 15 June 2010 by a Judge from Florencia (Caqueta) to 19 years and three months imprisonment on this charge.

In September 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor of the Justice and Peace unit charged Martin Sombra with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder of protected persons, enforced disappearance, recruitment of minors, forced displacement and taking of hostages, for his participation in the taking of various cities by the guerrilla (Mitú (Vaupés), Miraflores (Guaviare), Puerto Rico y la Uribe (Meta) y El Billar (Caquetá)) between 1998 and 1999. His trial started on 3 December 2013 before the courtroom of the Justice and Peace court, Bogota. Between 7 October and 18 December 2014, hearings were held regarding the charges against the accused. These hearings were held within the prioritization process of the Office of the Prosecutor, specialized in the transitional justice.

spotlight

Le procès de Mejía Mendoza qui s’est tenu à partir du 3 décembre 2013 fût le premier à concerner un commandant FARC de « haut-rang » jugé sur le fondement de la loi colombienne « Justice et Paix » qui offre l’opportunité de n’être condamné qu’à huit ans de prison en échange d’une démobilisation et collaboration avec les autorités colombiennes.

context

From 1948 to 1953, Colombia experienced a civil war of rare intensity. Known as “La Violencia”, the conflict opposed the Catholic conservative party with the liberal party, radicalised following the assassination of their leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitan. This conflict is at the origin of the creation of liberals and communist guerrilla movements and of the emergence of self-defense militias of farmers, created in response to abuses committed by the military and the conservative armed groups. They thus gave rise among others, to the creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which emerged as a military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, and the National Liberation Army (ELN) a Castroist group. In the beginning these groups received strong support from the rural population especially during the period of the National Front (1958-1978) the Conservatives and Liberals agreed to alternately hold power, leaving no possible alternative political representation. This negation of democracy by a ruling elite created great frustration resulting in violent confrontations between the guerrilla movements and the government.

In the 1980s, the conflict took another dimension with the rise of drug trafficking and the emergence of the first paramilitary groups funded by drug traffickers’ production of cocaine to protect themselves from the guerrillas attacks. In 1984, a ceasefire was declared between the guerrillas and the government but only the FARC made any attempt to comply. They thus formed a political party in 1985, the Patriotic Union (“La Unión Patriótica). However, this party was eventually decimated by paramilitaries and security forces. The FARC resumed the armed struggle in 1987. After an unsuccessful attempt to coordinate some guerrilla movements and peace agreements with the government, the only active guerillas that remained were the FARC, ELN and to a lesser extent the EPL, which had emerged out of a Maoist branch of the Communist Party of Colombia.

In December 1991, the weakening of the Communist Party and the taking by the army of the FARC secretariat headquarter in La Uribe, a town in the center of the country in the Meta Department forced FARC leaders to change their operating mode. They adopted a military strategy, particularly between 1993 and 1998 with the taking of several villages and military bases during operations involving several hundreds of freedom fighters. The conflict then moved to a phase of warfare in which the government armed forces no longer seemed to be able to control the guerrillas who started to conduct roadblocks, kidnappings, sabotage etc.

Faced with the ineffectiveness of the army, paramilitary militias were constituted with the creation in 1997 of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) under the leadership of Carlos Castaño. Various vigilante groups were also created, and one of their operating modes was to kill civilians in villages who were believed to be favorable to guerrilla movements, as happened during the Mapiripan massacre.

In 1998, President Andrés Pastrana arrived to power and opted for a new strategy. He created a demilitarized zone in order to promote peace talks and to exchange prisoners. Unfortunately, while it has led to some beneficial developments, it has also been used as a way for the FARC to demand ransoms or to recruit new soldiers. The area was finally declared again under government control in February 2002.

President Alvaro Uribe was elected in 2002. Under his mandate in July 2005 the Justice and Peace Law (Ley de Justicia y Paz), which purported to provide a legal framework for the demobilisation of the guerrilla fighters, was adopted. Under the already existing legislation, that of law 418, all fighters participating in the demobilisation were granted amnesty from criminal investigation and prosecution. Only those who had committed the most serious crimes, including acts of barbarism, terrorism, kidnapping, genocide, and killing civilians, were excluded from the amnesty. The Justice and Peace Law was adopted to deal specifically with those fighters who fell outside the scope of the existing amnesty law. According to the new framework, they could still benefit from judicial benefits if they contribute to the justice and reparation process. Therefore, in exchange for truth telling and a promise not to return to lawlessness, the demobilised fighters could obtain sentence reductions. Soon after its adoption, this law was highly criticised as the narrowness of its scope largely hampered its objectives of peace and justice. Indeed, of the more than 30’000 fighters who demobilised between 2003 and 2006, fewer than 10% fell within the purview of the Justice and Peace Law, the rest qualifying for the amnesty under law 418 which did not require any truth telling.

From 2002 to 2010, during his two terms in office, President Uribe adopted a policy of “democratic security”, and implemented “Plan Colombia”. Uribe decided to increase drastically the military response to the guerrillas with the objective of restoring the presence of the state throughout Colombian territory. The army’s budget was raised and this new operational capacity combined with a strong offensive against the FARC by the AUC before their demobilization in 2006, lead to a significant reduction in the number of FARC forces. Here again, while  “the democratic security” strategy adopted by Uribe had some success, it also had limitations. The guerrilla movements intensified; they were fewer but were more mobile than ever before. They continued to inflict severe losses to Colombian government’s forces. In addition, cocaine production still provided large funding to guerrilla movements.

In 2010, the mandate of Juan Manuel Santos began with an upsurge in attacks by the FARC. The government replied with violent counter offensives including that of 23 September 20110, Operation Sodom, which dealt a major blow to the FARC. The FARC military chief Jorge Briceño Suarez was killed in the operation, as well as a significant number of members. After many arrests, the government considered in early 2011 that the FARC were decreasing in size and operations and set the priority to the fight against the heirs of paramilitaries and criminal gangs.

On 27 August 2012, President Santos confirmed that he would meet with the FARC in order to begin peace talks and try to end the conflict. Although controversial, dialogues were conducted during ceasefires, also thanks to the mediation of Hugo Chavez requested by Santos. The peace talks have so far helped to reach an agreement on land reform as well as on political participation and representation of the opposition in the Colombian parliament. The next priority in these dialogues concerns drug trafficking as well as the possible allocation of funds previously associated with the defense budget for the victims in a post conflict Colombia.

Although officially still ongoing, major advances have been made in the Colombian conflict during recent years. So far, the conflict has generated a large number of victims: approximately 180,000 civilians killed, 40,000 combatants killed, 25,000 missing persons and more than 4.7 million displaced. This context of generalized violence has mainly affected the civilian population. Massacres, killings, enforced disappearances, kidnappings have been the everyday life of tens for thousands of people during the conflict.