Witness intimidation has been a serious issue for the Colombian criminal justice system for decades. Violence and the threat of violence against witnesses and their families have unfortunately been common tools in Colombia that affect criminal cases. Likewise, intimidation against prosecutors, judges and police is a common way to detract from thorough prosecution of cases. The transition towards the new accusatory system and its introduction of public trials with live witness testimony has highlighted the concern with respect to witness intimidation and safety.
To provide assistance to the Colombian Attorney General’s office with these issues, JSRP coordinates its protection program with the United States Marshals Service. The USMS has provided protection and court security training to 1,933 law enforcement officers since 2001. The protection program involves training, technical assistance and development of programs in:
- Witness Protection
- Prosecutor/Judge Protection
- Threat investigation and Management
- Courtroom and Courthouse Security
As part of its support to the Attorney General’s Witness Protection Program, JSRP developed an intensive three-week course, similar to the course taken by the U.S. marshals that covers protection and witness relocation. This highly respected training includes firearms, ambush and evacuation exercises, foot formations and motorcade procedures, evasive and counter-surveillance driving, explosives detection, and vehicle and building searches. This training has been so successful that representatives from other Latin American protection programs have participated in this program and it has been used to assist in the training of Mexican protection personnel. In addition, the training has been completed by the U.S. Ambassador’s and DCM’s protection detail as well as DEA personnel. JSRP is also working to help improve the policies and procedures of the Attorney General’s Witness Protection Program and donate equipment, vehicles and safe houses.
In Colombia, the number of witnesses and justice sector officials receiving threats is overwhelming as is the task of providing protection for all who feel threatened. In developing an effective protection program there must not only be effective and immediate physical protection for those threatened, but also the development of preventive or deterrent capabilities, i.e., the development of effective threat analysis, investigation and prosecution, stiff criminal sanctions for those who engage in threats and intimidation, and the development of a protection policy. To assist the Attorney General’s Office in this effort, JSRP designed a course that teaches protection personnel how to confront threats via investigation, how to handle those threats and whenever possible how to open a criminal process.
The Colombian Attorney General’s Office is responsible for the protection of its own – prosecutors and investigators, two positions that have traditionally been very dangerous jobs in Colombia. The transition towards the new accusatory system and its introduction of public trials, the Justice and Peace Process as well as the increase of high profile human rights criminal investigations has enhanced the concern with respect to prosecutor and judge protection. To support the Attorney General’s office in this area, JSRP provides an intensive two-week Prosecutor/Judge Protection course taught by the United States Marshals Service.
Protection in courtrooms has also been a priority for this program. More than 200 people have been trained on how to secure courtrooms, safe transportation of witnesses and security in the courtroom. The initial focus of the program was Bogota and it has been gradually expanded to other cities like Cali, Medellin, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla and Cartagena.
JSRP has funded the following Colombian government initiatives that are related to protection:
- Modernization of the Colombian National Police Protection School
- Modernization of the Office of Protection´s regional offices in Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Medellin, Pereira and Cali
- Data Communication project for Colombian Witness Security Regional Offices
- Purchase of eight level III armored vehicles for the Colombian Witness Security office to be distributed throughout the six regional offices