Members of Colombia’s military accused of war crimes will be eligible for transitional justice in the event that ongoing peace talks with rebel group FARC result in a peace deal, President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday.
“In this process we are in to seek peace the concept of transitional justice to reach this peace was introduced to our constitution. Rest absolutely assured that through this transitional justice the members of our forces will also be benefited by whichever decision the state takes when the step towards peace is approved,” Santos said at a military ceremony.
“Our forces will not be left behind, the opposite, our forces will also be able to enter this transitional justice,” the President clarified.
Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.
The Colombian armed forces are implicated in massive numbers of cases of human rights violations. Thousands of members are implicated in the “false positives” scandal, which involved the extrajudicial execution of more than 4,000 civilians in order to cook the books on the apparent effectiveness of the armed forces.
The military will be allowed judicial benefits “as the result of a debt Colombian society has with our men and women in the armed forces,” Santos said.
The government has tried to avoid the prosecution of members of the military by civilian courts by pushing a bill through Congress allowing the military to prosecute and judge its own members. The controversial reform however was sank by the Constitutional Court.
In response, the government pushed another bill through Congress that earmarked funds to finance soldiers’ legal defense.
Neither the Colombian government nor the FARC have made statements on what transitional justice could entail after the possible successful end of the peace talks. Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo said earlier this year that the judicial leniency towards the FARC “will also depend on what the FARC –and eventually the ELN– are willing to do for their victims. If the perpetrators do not play an active role in the comprehensive strategy, there is no possibility of a solution.”
MORE: Transition in Colombia
In Colombia’s last massive demobilization, the one that followed a peace deal with the AUC paramilitary organization in 2005, members of the illegal armed group not suspected of human rights violations were offered amnesty, while those who did go to court were guaranteed a prison sentence no longer than eight years.
In return, the paramilitaries were obligated to give up their accumulated wealth to make reparations to victims and had to confess all crimes in order to give closure to victims and their families.
Colombia has been involved in an armed conflict with rebel groups like the FARC and ELN since 1964, making it the longest-running armed conflict in the world. A recent study revealed that in the nearly 50 years of war, 220,000 people were killed.