Last week’s peace and justice agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) has prompted a wide range of reactions. So what is civil society saying?
The Havana agreement envisages a special jurisdiction to prosecute conflict-related grave crimes committed by all sides, explicitly excluding amnesty for war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, reduced and/or alternative sentences would be handed down to those who confess to crimes and contribute to establishing truth.
While some see the agreement’s provisions as a welcome step in the fight against impunity, others think it does not go far enough and leaves serious human rights violations insufficiently accounted for.
The Colombian Commission of Jurists expressed approval of the accord, stating:
“The agreement on the establishment of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace is a balanced tool aimed at ending impunity and transitioning towards the end of the conflict. The announcement [made on 23 September] is a sign of an effective willingness for peace by the Colombian Government and FARC. […] The fact that the agreement has been construed under the premise that the rights of victims must be ensured is a positive step. Accordingly, we welcome the goal of the agreement of putting an end to the cycle of impunity that has characterized human rights violations and breaches to international humanitarian law carried out during the armed conflict, namely due to a lack of genuine and thorough investigations, or to the non-execution of sentences. We must therefore welcome the commitment by which such violations will not be subject to amnesties or pardons, but rather referred to trial within the Justice Chambers and the Tribunal for Peace (within the framework of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace).”
Parliamentarians for Global Action welcomed the agreement, describing it as a
“Paramount development, which will contribute to fulfill victims rights for justice and redress but also to ensure the non-repetition of crimes committed is vital for reconciliation as well as a stable and lasting peace.”
Human Rights Watch expressed support for Colombia’s efforts to obtain a peace agreement that would end years of bloodshed, but said the agreement would:
“Deny justice to thousands of victims of grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law by allowing their abusers to escape meaningful punishment. While the “Special Jurisdiction for Peace” would create important incentives for violators to confess their crimes, it would also allow those responsible for mass atrocities to avoid spending any time in prison.”
Corporacion Humanas, Red Nacional de Mujeres, Sisma Mujer and the campaign “No es Hora de Callar,” a coalition of Colombian NGOs working on justice and gender, welcomed what they characterized as a historic agreement, and reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process. In addition, they welcome the acknowledgment made by the negotiating parties that sexual and gender based crimes (Sgbc) comprise one the gravest crimes committed in the context of the armed conflict. By welcoming the establishment of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the organizations call on the government to recognize the special and unique treatment of Sgbc, and reiterate that the obstacles to judicial remedies that victims of Sgbc have historically faced, must be removed in order for them to be able to seek redress. Furthermore, the organizations state that judicial proceedings on Sgbc should include all those responsible for such crimes: from the direct perpetrators to those whose acquiescence, omission or collaboration allowed for these crimes to be carried out. Lastly, the organizations called on authorities to ensure that during the application of sanctions and penalties, measures must be taken to address the root causes that have allowed the commission of SGBC.
Amnesty International meanwhile said the agreement brings a ray of hope to the millions of victims of human rights violations and abuses committed during Colombia’s 50-year-long long armed conflict, but:
“Vague definitions and potential amnesties raise fears that not all human rights abusers will face justice. The only way for Colombia to move forward from its troubled history is to ensure all those who were responsible for the torture, killings, enforced disappearances, crimes of sexual violence or forced displacement of millions of people across the country are finally held to account for their crimes. […] The focus on the “most responsible” could ensure that many human rights abusers avoid justice since the term has not been clearly defined. There are also fears it could be difficult to obtain convictions for certain crimes, including extrajudicial executions and sexual violence.”
International Crisis Group noted that some issues have yet to be resolved, but believes the deal is:
“A balanced and wise approach is being taken to the difficult dilemmas posed by a conflict that has inflicted suffering on more than six million victims […] This agreement on transitional justice is a sound, efficient and intelligent step forward. If correctly implemented and completed, it significantly improves the chances that one of the oldest conflicts in the world may be brought to an end. This is good news for Colombia and the region.”
Coalition for the ICC Americas Coordinator Michelle Reyes-Milk said the deal was cause for cautious optimism.
Colombia has been under ICC preliminary examination since 2004 with the Office of the Prosecutor currently assessing whether there are genuine national investigations and prosecutions of grave international crimes committed in the country since 2002.
Have your say – is this agreement a good compromise between peace and justice?
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