As Colombia’s FARC leaders testify, abuse survivors see little hope for justice

Rodrigo Londono, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, former commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) speaks during a news conference at Special Jurisdiction for Peace tribunal in Bogota, Colombi

Yudy Tovar would like to believe that hope is the last thing ever lost. But Tovar, who says she was forcibly recruited and sexually abused as a teenager by Colombia’s now-disbanded FARC rebels, thinks the chances for justice in hers and thousands of similar cases are close to nil.

She is among thousands of survivors keeping an eye on a special justice tribunal, where 15 former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leaders are voluntarily testifying. The tribunal, which began hearings in 2018, was created to try war crimes under a 2016 peace deal.

Former FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko and now the head of the group’s legal political party, testified in court on Tuesday about the presence of minors in the group. His testimony was not broadcast publicly, but some survivors were present, a court spokesman said.

Londono has long denied the FARC had a policy of forced recruitment or allowed sexual abuse, but acknowledged some fighters may have committed misconduct.

“I ask forgiveness for the conduct which may have been committed by members of our former guerrilla (group),” Londono said on his Twitter account before his testimony. “It never should have happened.”

“My greatest respect and solidarity with the victims. I share their pain. The horror of the war should never have happened,” Londono added.

Tovar, speaking to us last week, said she had scant hopes of justice from the tribunal.

“This is so they can tick boxes, so they can say they did speak, but nothing will happen,” Tovar, now spokeswoman for the White Rose group of female ex-rebels, told us. “It’s our truth against theirs and obviously theirs has more weight. They’ll get away with it.”

Tovar, who has spoken in Congress and at official national events on behalf of victims, says she was forcibly recruited to the FARC in 2005 as she left school in central Tolima province.

Within days the then-16-year-old was raped by a commander. In the 18 months before she escaped the rebels, 12 other fighters also raped her, she said.

Angela, who says she was forcibly recruited at 22 and who asked her real name not be used, was also skeptical. “How will justice be done this way, if they won’t even accept the errors they committed?,” she said.

Angela, who served five years in prison for belonging to the armed group, says she is not recognized as a victim by the government because she cannot prove her recruitment was forced.

The government victims unit and the attorney general’s office estimate some 8,090 children and adolescents were forcibly recruited by various armed groups before the FARC peace deal was signed. About 40% have received reparations totaling about $15 million.

But advocates say that figure is several orders of magnitude too low.

Activist Herbin Hoyos, himself a former FARC hostage and the founder of popular one-time radio program “Voices of Kidnapping,” says rebels who deserted the group provided him with documents and photographs showing uniformed children as young as eight.

“We calculate approximately 39,700 minors,” Hoyos said. “I don’t see a possibility for justice… here it’s the victims, the children, who have to prove to the commanders they were recruited.”

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