Eight of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla’s most senior commanders have been formally charged by magistrates of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal for War Crimes relating to kidnapping and Crimes against Humanity that include homicide, forced disappearance, torture and sexual violence.

The eight members of the former Secretariat and members of FARC’s recently renamed political party “Commons,” must recognize individual responsibility for the crimes committed or face up to 20 years in prison.

The magistrates compiled evidence of FARC’s involvement in kidnapping and hostage-taking from the testimonies of 2,000 victims of the internal conflict. “Depriving people of their freedom, and conditioning their release, as well as their well-being, integrity and life, is a War Crime,” stated magistrate Julieta Lemaitre. Among those charged are FARC’s former top commander Rodrigo Londoño, alias “Timochenko,” who signed the 2016 Peace Agreement with the Colombian Government.

Case 001 is the first Act of the Tribunal toward ruling on practices and events involving Colombia’s half-century-long internal conflict.

The other members of ex-FARC charged with kidnapping civilians and members of the country’s security forces are Pablo Catatumbo, Pastor Alape, Milton de Jesús Toncel, Juan Ermilo Cabrera, Jaime Alberto Parra, Julián Gallo and Rodrigo Granda.

Former FARC justified “retention” as a way of levying a “war tax” to finance the insurgency, pressure the government into prisoner exchanges or control territories by “punishing” the local population, claims the 320-page indictment. The Tribunal also challenged FARC’s alleged “good treatment of prisoners” as justification to “keep the kidnapped alive, leaving considerations on human dignity to the commander or guard on duty.”

International criminal law identifies hostage-taking as one of the most serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

The ex-members of the Secretariat have 30 days to either acknowledge their role in kidnapping or reject the formal charges. Depending on additional evidence or arguments presented by former FARC, JEP will then set the date for the Acknowledgment Hearing, “considering there is recognition and contribution to the truth.” If FARC deny responsibility in these heinous crimes, Case 001 will be referred to the Investigation and Indictment Unit (UIA) of the court.

The magistrates gathered evidence from six different databases to confirm that FARC kidnapped 21,396 persons, of which 79% were men and 21% women. Almost all victims were adults (95%), however children (5%) were also deprived of their freedoms, 47% were girls. The most affected departments – per capita – were Guaviare, Vaupés, Caquetá, Meta, Vichada, Arauca and Casanare under control of the Eastern Bloc (Bloque Oriental) and largest within FARC’s extensive military structure that counted with an estimated 12,000 combatants.

Antioquia was the department with most cases of kidnapping.

FARC’s most prolific hostage-taker, Jorge Briceño, and feared battlefield commander known as “Mono Jojoy,” was killed during a military operation in La Macarena, Meta, in 2010. “Mono Jojoy” appears in an infamous video inspecting a barbed-wire compound filled with kidnapped soldiers.

Colombia’s internal conflict claimed the lives of 260,000 civilians. JEP was established as part of the 2016 Final Accord.