Colombia’s congress is debating a transitional justice system that is part of the peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels, but excruciatingly slow, possibly because last time such system was put it place, more than 50 congressmen ended up in prison.
The transitional justice system agreed between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC entered the “fast track” procedure weeks ago, but seems to have gone in turtle mode when final debate began on Tuesday.
The congressmen are nervous and for good reason.
After the legislative body approved a similar transitional justice system in 2005 as part of a deal between former President Alvaro Uribe and the paramilitary AUC, more than 45 congressmen and at least seven governors ended up in prison for their complicity in war crimes.
Additionally, the Transitional Justice Tribunal and the Truth Commission that make up the system are supposed to try 24,400 (former) state officials who, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office, are either in prison or in court for war-related crimes.
This is more than three times the number of FARC guerrillas who are currently disarming and who will also have to appear before these judicial bodies if suspected of “grave” war crimes.
While imprisoned army soldiers have expressed their support for both the peace deal and the transitional justice system, their superiors in the military are split as dozens of generals could end up in court and even prison for the series of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the military.
Twenty-eight senators — almost one third of the senate — said they were impeded to vote because transitional justice could either affect them or their family members. It took the body five hours to nullify these self-proclaimed impediments.
The minority conservative opposition, led by the hard-right Uribe, tried to delay the debate further by making multiple proposals to just dump the entire transitional justice system.
Several members of Uribe’s Democratic Center party, including the former president, should expect criminal investigations for war crimes committed under their watch.
The biggest stumbling block in the debate has been the criminal responsibility of superiors of soldiers and guerrillas convicted of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The International Criminal Court has demanded the transitional justice tribunal prosecutes those ultimately responsible for war crimes, in accordance with Article 28 of the Rome Statute, something neither the military, the government or congress is enthusiastic about, because it means politicians and top military commanders could end up in court for crimes committed by subordinates under their institutional responsibility.
The debate on possibly the most important part of the peace deal, justice for the 8 million victims of the conflict, was marred by abstention, which ultimately led to the pushing forward of the vote until Monday.
It was not just the 20 Democratic Center Senators who refused to vote. Also within the coalition there was resistance, which led to a scolding by Interior Minister who, together with more of a dozen fellow government members, had come to the Senate to push the vote.
Because of the delays, the final vote has been delayed until Monday.