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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"We did so many things wrong" an approach to the sense of responsibility in the confessions of former low-ranking members of the paramilitary in Colombia Chaparro, Ricardo


This qualitative research examines what sense of responsibility lower-ranking former perpetrators of paramilitary violence in Colombia elaborate in their confessional narratives for versiones libres, (free-statement hearings) a legal truth-seeking mechanism set in 2005 as part of a transitional justice process known as Justicia y Paz. Drawing from a critique against the confusion between ethical and judicial categories, this work assumes a relational-dialogical approach from where responsibility is understood as response-ability, or a person’s ability-to-respond. It looks into how an agent elaborates his responses in an attempt to connect not only with his criminal act (accountability) and with the transgressed norm, (imputability) but also with the individual(s) affected by their actions. The following questions guided this inquiry: 1) What responses were given by low-ranking ex-paramilitaries in judicial settings regarding their past actions? 2) What rationales for the violence perpetrated were included in those responses? And 3) What aspects may have influenced their confessions? A content analysis of a sample of versiones libres of four low-ranking former commanders of the Bloque Sur Putumayo (Putumayo Southern Bloc, BSP) was conducted, as well as qualitative interviews, and the observation of several sessions of the legal proceedings. Two themes were identified in their responses: 1) that all of them “just followed orders” from higher-ranking members of a chain of command; and 2) that they “believed too much” in local informants when planning and selecting the targets of their actions. Thus, they claim for themselves a higher-moral ground from where they question the terror perpetrated, yet their support to the paramilitary countersubversive cause is not confronted. Victims participating in these proceedings challenge such responses with their own questions and critiques. The way the judicial ritual is organized does not allow for a broader critique that may put into question the existence of the paramilitary, its countersubversive cause and the violence used. This work contributes to the field of transitional justice in furthering an understanding of the psychosocial dimensions of post-conflict processes, and by shifting focus from high-level former perpetrators to the experiences of those with lower profiles who enacted the violence on the ground.

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