Transitional Justice Deal Reached in the Colombian Conflict

Yesterday, the the Colombian government and FARC reached a preliminary agreement on transitional justice measures related to the conflict (here) in Havana, Cuba. This agreement comes after protracted and controversial negotiations which were frequently in danger of dissolution. Throughout all mediations and negotiations the issues of addressing past human rights violations were some of the most fraught for all parties involved. In addition to the set of measures identified in this agreement, the parties have set a six month deadline to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.

The document issued is a sophisticated if, at times, ambiguous roadmap on how to address the systematic human rights violations that have marked the conflict. Paragraph 2 of the communique notes that:

The parties also reaffirm their commitment to a justice formula that satisfies victims’ rights and contributes to the establishment of a stable and lasting peace. To this end, we are building an Integrated System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, within the framework of which we have agreed the creation of a Committee for Clarification of the Truth, [and promotion of] Coexistence and Non-Repetition. We have also achieved important agreements on the issue of reparation to victims

The document provides for a limited amnesty for conflict-related political offences and a range of accountability measures for those responsible for international crimes and gross violations of human rights. It states in paragraph 4:

The justice component provides that, when hostilities cease, in accordance with international humanitarian law, the Colombian state will extend the broadest possible amnesty for political and related crimes. An amnesty law will spell out the scope of the notion of ‘relatedness’. In any case, conduct typified in national legislation corresponding to crimes against humanity, genocide and grave war crimes will not be the object of amnesty or pardon. These include serious crimes such as the taking of hostages or other grave deprivation of liberty, torture, forced displacement, forced disappearance, extrajudicial execution and sexual violence. These crimes will be subject to investigation and judgment by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

The accountability measures include alternative sanctions for those who contribute to truth and reparations for victims to imprisonment with lengthy sentences for those who do not engage. Any amnesty is conditional on FARC disarming once the final agreement is reached. Paragraph 9 of the agreement reads:

In the case of the FARC-EP, participation in the integral system will be conditional upon the renouncing of arms, which must begin no later than 60 days after the signing of the Final Agreement.

The agreement brings the rights and needs of victims to the forefront of this peace process, but makes the strategic move of addressing these issues in advance of other final status issues, perhaps in recognition of how the long shadow of human rights and humanitarian law violations can seep into a range of peace-negotiations compromises and stand-offs.  We are a long way off from seeing the implementation of these measures, but the handshake between Rodrigo Londono, better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko and Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos demonstrate that ultimately there is no peace without justice, and that the demands of victims remain central to all meaningful (read successful) peace endeavours. 

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About the Author(s)

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. This article is written in the author's personal and academic capacity. Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy, and Society at the University of Minnesota Law School; Professor of Law at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Follow her on Twitter (@NiAolainF).