Amnesty: A Win for Colombia’s Peace Process? (The New Internationalist)

QUITO, ECUADOR – Liliany Obiando is finally free – after nine years.

For almost a decade, Colombian sociologist, human rights worker and former political prisoner Liliany Obando has been engaged in a long and complex battle with the Colombian state and judicial system. She was charged with ‘rebellion’ in 2008, but this March the state officially granted her amnesty, in what she calls a ‘major achievement’.

The amnesty came as part of the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which was passed by congress in November. An amnesty law was agreed to pardon those accused of minor crimes in the war – both guerrillas and the military.

The law has also been extended to include human rights workers, union members, student activists and others who have been imprisoned for political crimes over the years. According to human rights organizations, thousands of political prisoners are now eligible for amnesty.

When Obando was arrested in 2008, she was a human rights director and fundraiser for FENSUAGRO, Colombia’s largest agriculture workers’ union.

She was initially accused of rebellion and aiding a terrorist organization after investigators supposedly found documents connected to her on the computer of Raul Reyes, a FARC leader who was killed by the Colombian military in Ecuador under Operation Fenix. The latter charge was eventually dropped after a judge ruled that evidence taken from this computer was illegal.

Obando was sentenced to 70 months in prison, fined $368,347, and banned from holding any public position until her sentence elapsed. She spent over three and half years in Buen Pastor prison in Bogotá. Like many other maximum security prisons in Colombia, it is known for its human rights abuses, particularly extreme overcrowding, poor hygienic conditions, and absence of medical care for prisoners, according to human rights organization a href=http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/news/article/1352/report-describes-appalling-conditions-in-bogotas-prisons >Justice for Colombia.

In 2012, Obando was granted provisional freedom after the state recognized that she was a sociologist, teacher and single mother – not an enemy of the state. She spent a year under house arrest in her small apartment in Bogotá that she shared with her mother and two children. The state also continued to pursue her. Once, officials brought her into custody, where, unable to contact her lawyers, she was questioned and detained for 14 days by Colombia’s special intelligence service, DAS.

Thanks to the amnesty, she is less likely to be detained again. Her fine has been cancelled and she now has the possibility to obtain public employment. She explains what this amnesty law means for her and Colombia’s peace process.

It has been more than five years since you were released from jail. What does this amnesty mean for you now?

This process has been very complex and long. It started in 2008, and then in 2012 I was let out on provisional release, having been in prison for almost four years without being sentenced. So that was the first freedom, but the process continued its course of investigation.

Even though it was an unjust sentence… throughout the process, I went from confinement to confinement, three imprisonments. They accused me of appearing in Reyes’ computer [files], but when I was convicted they said they weren’t actually sentencing me for that [because the computer was obtained illegally]. So they attached other supposed crimes to me, which never appeared in the investigation. That’s to say, neither the lawyers nor we had a chance to debate it, and that’s a right that everyone has who is being investigated. I was sentenced illegally.

Until the amnesty law, I still had the burden of the fine to pay, even though my freedom was given in 2015. As well as being condemned illegally by the State, they ordered me to pay this fine to the victims’ unit, as if I had somehow caused a victim harm, which never happened. So I refused to pay. As a woman and a single mother, out of the workforce, I couldn’t pay. They didn’t let me return to my professional post. So what does a woman in these conditions do?

My lawyers requested an amnesty for this penalty, and to remove my inability to take public-sector jobs.

In December 2016, we applied for the amnesty, as a result of the Peace Talks between the FARC and the government.

So your amnesty has a link with the peace talks?

Yes, all the amnesties have a link with the peace agreement. In this agreement, the fifth point is the one about victims.

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