Speaking at a promotion ceremony for officers of the National Police, Santos said that those officers who “for some reason have had problems with justice” could be dealt with under the Legal Framework for Peace. This law was established to support the peace talks with the FARC in Havana, and grants Congress the power to declare certain offenses (excluding genocide and crimes against humanity) as political crimes.
Santos said that he would not permit that “if the enemy is given some legal benefit, that these are not transferred to the Public Force”.
The issue of impunity for guerrilla crimes has proved politically explosive, with cross-party condemnation greeting the president’s comments that “flexibility” be applied to FARC crimes, and that narco-trafficking and benefiting from narco-trafficking be treated as political crimes.
The government is also under pressure to advance the Havana peace talks by creating opportunities for FARC guerrillas to participate in politics in the future, requiring the establishment of some form of amnesty or diminished or suspended sentences.
The president has previously said that members of the armed forces who committed “errors” during the armed conflict could be given shorter sentences or have their crimes absolved if it would contribute to a lasting peace.
Former soldiers have argued for security service veterans and personnel to receive the same leniency as that applied to the guerrillas.
Jamie Ruiz, president of Arcore (Association of Retired Officials of the Security Forces) last year said: “It’s a question of symmetry: If soldiers and policemen, through fighting in the same conflict, have fallen foul of the criminal law, it would not be fair… for the terrorists to ask for zero days in prison, and the soldiers to face 50 or 60 years in prison.”
Santos now claims that “the legal framework for peace is the most ideal and most effective way” to address offences by the security services, as it has been approved as being in line with the Constitution and can allow as yet unknown benefits “without incurring impunity”.
Many disagree; Gustavo Gallon of the NGO Colombian Commission of Jurists said “Instead of achieving maximum justice in adverse conditions, it allows you to reduce the duty to administer justice under the pretext of peace”.
The president has argued that it would be impossible to provide legal redress to every offence committed during 50 years of conflict, and wants the military to share the leniency granted through a “flexible” approach. “We have to find a sensible formula to give closure so that there is no doubt as to the future legal certainty of our forces”, he added.
The president then took the opportunity to praise the way in which he claimed the Colombian military had operated according to “a constitutional mandate, in defense of a legal and constitutional order and under orders from civil authorities”. This was in contrast to many countries in the region, and Santos emphasized the “legitimacy with which our armed forces operated, and that can never be forgotten”.