Negotiators for the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have taken a welcome step of including victims in talks that could end the country’s decades-long conflict—a move that makes the inclusion of strong, victim-centric accountability measures more likely to be part of any eventual peace deal.
Five victims’ delegations are travelling to Havana, Cuba to participate in the negotiations. A series of regional fora for victims’ participation established at the behest of the negotiators, along with number of “peace roundtables” (Mesas Regionales de Paz) organized by the Colombian parliament, have been held throughout Colombia. Several thousand concrete proposals resulting from these consultations have been presented to negotiators.
Recognizing the importance of victims’ contributions to the peace process, negotiators have ensured that the voices of victims are heard regarding the issues most important to them. These include the recognition of the right to truth, the right to justice and reparations for the almost six million victims of the conflict.
Parties set principles for discussion on victims
Victims’ participation has been guided by a series of principles enshrined in a joint declaration adopted by the negotiating parties in June 2014. The declaration establishes that discussions on victims’ issues should result in the recognition of victims and the acknowledgment of their rights. It also provides for the recognition of the responsibility of perpetrators of crimes, the elucidation of the truth, guarantees of non-repetition, rights of participation of victims and the right to reparations, among others.
So who are the victims?
The victims participating in the peace talks include women, children, victims of sexual violence, human rights defenders, victims of enforced disappearance and forcible transfer and union leaders, to name but a few. The crimes suffered by these victims were allegedly committed by several different parties to the 50-year conflict.
However, while investigations and prosecutions of members of illegal armed groups have moved forward, several victims groups have called on the government to do more to investigate crimes allegedly committed by government forces and government-aligned paramilitary groups.
How should justice be addressed?
Among the most decisive issues to be discussed during the peace talks is justice and accountability. Different proposals and views have been offered, including alternative sanctions (non-traditional sentences) and the prioritization of the gravest cases. A final agreement is yet to be reached.
Gustavo Gallon, director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists:
“Taking into account the current peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrillas, the Colombian Commission of Jurists calls on the Colombian authorities to genuinely support the system of international justice enshrined in the Rome Statute, to take a firm stand in the fight against impunity, and to oppose any measures that stand in the way of justice.”
The agreement must ultimately satisfy the diverse expectations from victims while sowing the seeds for reconciliation. It must also ensure that there is no impunity for the most heinous crimes of the conflict. The inclusion of victims in these discussions can only help to meet those requirements.
This article originally appeared in The Monitor.