On Friday, survivors of one of Colombia's most brutal right-wing paramilitary leaders will testify against him in a Washington, D.C. court during his sentencing hearing on drug trafficking charges.
Hernán Giraldo Serna — former commander of a battalion of the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC — is the last of 14 paramilitary leaders extradited to the U.S. in 2008 by then-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to face drug trafficking charges, just as they were about to go on trial in Colombia for human rights abuses.
Rather than facing justice for those abuses — including the documented murders of hundreds of Indigenous leaders and leftist organizers, as well as brutal sexual violence perpetrated against girls as young as 9-years-old — Giraldo is likely to receive as little as 10 years in a U.S. jail after having pled guilty to trafficking tons of cocaine.
However, family members of one of his most well-known victims — Campesino organizer Julio Henríquez — hope that by testifying to the political reign of terror Giraldo imposed in Colombia's northern Sierra Nevada, he may face a modicum of justice.
"We hope that the effort we have made over all these years means that things won't end with impunity," said Julio Henriquez' daughter, Bela Henriquez, in an interview with the New York Times. "We want to influence the judge's decision on how long Hernán Giraldo will stay in prison," said Henriquez' sister, Nadiezhda.
"(Giraldo) is a very dangerous figure for the people of that area. If he returns, he will resume his business and the fear we lived with for so many years will return," Zulma Henríquez, the widow of Julio, told the Times.
Many experts say is the first time "foreign" victims have testified in a U.S. drug case.
The extradition of Giraldo and the 13 other AUC leaders in 2008 was roundly condemned, with many suggesting it was a bold-faced attempt by then-President Uribe to avoid being implicated himself in the human rights abuses committed by the paramilitaries.
Indeed the extraditions came just weeks after Uribe's own cousin was arrested on charges of working with the right-wing death squads and as evidence emerged that the U.S. fruit corporation Chiquita had hired AUC squads to help displace rural Campesino farmers.
"It was like they had extradited our chances for knowing the truth and for getting justice and reparation for our victims," Miguel Samper, a former Colombian vice minister of justice, told the Times.
While Nadiezhda Henriquez doubts her testimony will force Giraldo to confess not only his crimes but their political patrons, she does hope her truth will mean his "sentence will be a long one."
"It’s very unlikely that (Giraldo) tells the truth," she told W Radio. "It's very hard to imagine that he will continue confessing to crimes. None of the (extradited AUC leaders) have been doing so."