The president of Colombia’s Senate promised to introduce new amendments to a proposed constitutional reform seeking to give legal benefits to demobilized armed actors, after meeting with Human Rights Watch in Washington on Friday.
Roy Barreras called the meeting with José Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s director of the Americas program, “fruitful,” according to local media.
Vivanco has been a forceful critic of the Legal Framework for Peace, a successor draft legislation to 2005’s Justice and Peace law, which also offers legal incentives to rebels who lay down their arms.
“We have heard the comments, we have taken note of these concerns and the idea is to improve the bill, which is what we all want,” Barreras said following the three-hour-long meeting.
He said he would present new “dimensions” to the reform bill when the Senate meets Monday.
After the meeting, Barreras said the legislation should be tightened to ensure that the new law applies only to those for whom it is intended, instead of offering blanket protection from prosecution for human rights violations, as Vivanco has criticized.
“We must establish the boundaries and dimensions to prevent people sneaking in that have nothing to do with the conflict, such as parapoliticians and DAS officials responsible for false positives. That was never the intent or the spirit of the legislators,” the senator said.
The final legislation would make clear that “all the heads of all” groups accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes would be open to investigation and prosecution, he added.
Human Rights Watch has argued that the Legal Framework for Peace in its current form risks providing immunity for the worst human rights abusers by specifying that only those “most responsible” for a crime would be prosecuted.
The reform bill should also clarify that the legal benefits apply only to “individual cases,” Barreras said, and that those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity are excluded from the legislation.
Following the discussion, Vivanco said he welcomed the list of changes Barreras is set to propose to the Colombian Senate next week, but argued that the bill still proposed waiving prosecution or punishment for some crimes.
“We fully support efforts to end this brutal chapter of Colombian history,” Vivanco said in a statement released ahead of the meeting. “But any efforts to achieve peace should not abandon justice.”
“Is it possible to make peace if in return [for demobilization] armed groups are offered prison sentences or jail?” Barraras countered. “This is a discussion to be had.”
The eighth and final debate on the Legal Framework for Peace is scheduled for Monday in the First Committee of the Senate.