Colombia’s congress on Tuesday approved a transitional justice system that will try war crimes committed during Colombia’s 53-year-old armed conflict.
The bill had already been approved, but one of the House votes was nullified because not enough representatives had shown up at the vote.
The justice system, consisting of a Transitional Justice Tribunal, a Truth Commission and a Missing Persons unit, is a key part of the peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels closed in November last year.
According to the country’s prosecution, the system will prosecute at least 7,000 guerrillas, 24,400 state officials either convicted of or charged with war crimes, and some 12,500 civilians accused of financing terrorism.
Additionally, it seeks to clarify the fate of the more than 60,000 Colombians who are assumed to be forcibly disappeared and feared dead in mass graves scattered across the country.
While local media have mostly focused on the legal implications for the FARC, which fought the state for more than 52 years, the implications are more dramatic for the military and other state bodies that have incurred in war crimes.
Especially the Transitional Justice Court and the Truth Commission could mean the political death of top politicians, including President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe, under whose watch the military killed thousands of civilians.
Last time a transitional justice system was put in place more than 50 congressmen have been sentenced to prison for their involvement in paramilitary war crimes.
Consequently, the nervous Congress failed to effectively “fast-track” the legislation as agreed in the peace deal, but took weeks to finalize its four debates on the matter.
Of the Senate’s 102 members, 60 voted for the measure and two voted against it in the final voting round.
The vote was boycotted by the Democratic Center party of Uribe, who is expected to respond for thousands of war crimes committed under his watch, including the mass killing of civilians to inflate military success, a massacre, and at least two paramilitary offensives.
According to Senator Ivan Duque of the Democratic Center, the transitional justice system is “an irreparable blow” … “to constitutional order” and to the judicial branch.
Many members of Santos’ coalition had also claimed to be impeded to vote because of a conflict of interest related to the transitional justice system.
Almost one third of Congress said to either be implicated or have family members who are implicated in crimes that will be brought before the court.
Uribe and his supporters have long spurred public indignation regarding leniency granted to guerrillas, ignoring the fact they only make up a minority of suspects to appear in the court.
Suspects of war crimes will be able to evade prison and be imposed “restricted liberties” if they fully cooperate with justice and compensate their victims. Those who refuse cooperation could face 20 years in prison.
Following the arduous turtle race through Congress, the bill must now be approved by the Constitutional Court for it to take force.