Transitional Justice and Colombia’s Peace Talks

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Transitional Justice and Colombia's Peace Talks

To secure a lasting peace, talks between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels need to include a clear, credible and coherent plan for reckoning with decades of human rights abuses.

In its latest report, Transitional Justice and Colombia’s Peace Talks , the International Crisis Group proposes a model for transitional justice in the context of the promising negotiations between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end decades of civil conflict. This requires that both sides confront highly sensitive issues, but a comprehensive transitional justice agreement is key to the ultimate acceptance of a peace accord by the courts, the Congress, and the Colombian people.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • Any viable transitional justice agreement will need to be acceptable well beyond just the two parties. Finding common ground among guerrillas, the government, critics of the peace talks, victims and a public largely unsympathetic to FARC would be difficult at the best of times. It will be even harder on the cusp of the 2014 electoral cycle, in which transitional justice is likely to be an explosive issue. But with courts, Congress and voters all having important roles to play in ratifying and implementing transitional justice measures, both parties have a strong incentive to agree on a deal that goes beyond their own narrow preferences.
  • Justice for victims of all the parties to the conflict, including the victims of state agents, is an essential part of any viable transitional justice regime. The core of Colombia’s obligations under international human rights law must be respected. Responsibility for crimes should be addressed through a three-layered scheme: prosecution and punishment of those most responsible, from both sides, for the most serious crimes; an amnesty for FARC’s political crimes; and an administrative procedure for FARC members not in the first two categories. Alongside these measures, the negotiating parties need to agree on the basics for a strong, inclusive and independent truth commission, renew the commitment to comprehensive reparations and set out a plan for guarantees that the abuses of the past will not be repeated.
  • The parties should not attempt to spell out every aspect of such a comprehensive transitional justice model themselves. Details should be left to implementing legislation. But negotiators must lay out credible and clear basic provisions to ensure victims’ rights are upheld, create legal certainty for FARC members and foster the social support that can prevent a transitional justice regime – and the prospects for lasting peace – from unravelling in political and legal disputes.

“Agreeing on a comprehensive transitional justice model will have political costs for both FARC and the government”, said Christian Voelkel, Colombia/Andes Analyst. “But while an easy-to-reach solution might satisfy short-term political imperatives, it would be a serious long-term mistake”.

“More than most countries emerging from conflict, Colombia is in a position to reinforce its peace process with comprehensive measures to deal with the abuses of the past”, said Javier Ciurlizza, Program Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Transitional justice measures alone cannot guarantee lasting peace but are a necessary part of a successful transition. The government and FARC must not squander this opportunity”.

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