Statement on Transitional Justice Agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC
The agreement on transitional justice reached by the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and publicly announced yesterday in Havana is a major breakthrough in the four-year peace talks. In effect, it anticipates the termination of the 51-year armed conflict. In an unprecedented personal meeting, President Juan Manual Santos and FARC’s maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry (“Timochenko”), agreed that a final peace agreement would be signed within six months.
The agreement establishes a “Special Peace Jurisdiction”, formed around courts that will be set up to try those considered to have been responsible for particularly the most serious and representative crimes committed during the conflict. Those who cooperate with this judicial system and acknowledge past wrongdoings would, if convicted, serve between five and eight years under special conditions that would in any case ensure effective restriction of their personal freedom. Those who are slow to come forward and accept responsibility for wrongdoings could eventually serve the same term but in ordinary prisons, while those who do not cooperate could eventually be convicted and punished with prison sentences of up to twenty years.
The announcement is silent on the nomination and appointment process for these courts – which would be largely staffed by national judges, with a minority international presence – and the facilities where sentences would be served, as well as the question of reparation for victims. However, it indicates 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, according to official reports, and a peace process that requires legal and political certainties for the parties and for Colombian society. FARC have gone farther than ever before by accepting the requirement that those most responsible for serious crimes must face restrictions on their liberties for up to eight years. The government has accepted that the new mechanism will have jurisdiction over all who participated in the internal armed conflict – including state agents.
By providing an amnesty for political crimes and crimes associated with them, the agreement also resolves the legal uncertainties facing thousands of rank and file guerrilla members. Simultaneously, by reaffirming that certain crimes (crimes against humanity, genocide and serious war crimes) cannot be granted any legal pardon and will be prosecuted, it meets Colombia’s basic obligations under international law and ensures an easier passage for the ultimate peace agreement, albeit still with the prospect of some revision, by the legislature, the Constitutional Court and other mechanisms.
The separate commitments that the final peace document will be signed within six months and that FARC will begin the decommissioning of their weapons within 60 days thereafter mean the parties have for the first time established a clear timeline for the effective termination of the conflict. It is critical to this end that a bilateral ceasefire take shape during the coming weeks. The agreement also links the goal of justice for victims with the objective of reincorporation of the guerrillas into political life.
The coming period will not be easy for the negotiators in Havana, as many details remain to be worked out. The decommissioning of weapons and reincorporation of former combatants will be of utmost complexity. The parties will need energy, courage and political will – as well as the active engagement and support of their partners in the international community – to prepare for what will be the difficult implementation of a final accord. Setbacks will be inevitable; and cohesion on both sides cannot be guaranteed.
However, 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.