Colombia’s congress continues to delay voting on a bill to create the country’s new transitional justice tribunals, even as the judges for the tribunal were named Tuesday.
The proposed bill, currently called Senate Law 08 of 2017, will provide the crucial statutes necessary for Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace to begin investigating and trying those accused of committing mass war crimes during the armed conflict with the FARC.
If Congress does not pass the law before the end of the special “Fast Track” window on November 1, the bill will have to be passed through a regular legislative process–meaning it could take at least two years before it sees the light of day.
Since Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera presented the draft bill to Congress on August 1, he claims it has faced nothing but “inexplicable delays” in the House and Senate.
According to Rivera, the president of the House of Representatives, Rodrigo Lara, “took weeks to send the draft bill to its appropriate [House] committee. It is because of his dilatory attitude that we’re facing timeline difficulties with the law.”
Lara, for his part, has claimed repeatedly that the bill requires a great amount of scrutiny and clarification before it can be put to a joint debate in the House and Senate.
A complex bill with few supporters
The goal of the bill is to outline the timeline and operation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.
The Special Jurisdiction, or “JEP,” is Colombia’s forthcoming tribunal that will investigate and prosecute members of the FARC, military, and police, as well as civilians, who are suspected of committing major crimes like kidnapping, mass murder, sexual violence, torture, and forced disappearance during Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict.
According to a draft text of the bill, the JEP will operate for ten years, with a possible extension period of five additional years.
In addition to outlining the JEP’s timeline, the bill also has to define exactly who will be allowed to participate in the transitional justice system, how they will do so, and how the courts will dole out sentences.
That’s where the controversy begins.
Since a draft of the bill was released in August, the Prosecutor General’s office, the military, victims groups, and various politicians have repeatedly criticized crucial components of the proposed Special Jurisdiction for Peace.
On the one hand, the bill proposes “different but equitable” treatment for members of the Armed Forces or police who submit themselves to the transitional justice process. That means unless state agents are found to have committed mass crimes against humanity, they may get off easier than some members of the FARC who committed similar crimes.
Some have claimed that proposal goes too far, allowing members of the state to slide into impunity, while others claim the law doesn’t go far enough.
At the same time, the Prosecutor General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, has been pushing members of congress to clarify how his office will balance its pursuit of criminal justice with the JEP’s “restorative justice” arm.
Martinez’s office has been delaying members of congress from voting on the bill, insisting that they make certain changes.
For one, he wants the bill to explicitly grant his agents the ability to prosecute members of the FARC who abandoned the peace process to return to criminality.
The Prosecutor General also wants to be able to prosecute third-party actors who supported illegal armed groups during the armed conflict, which could include politicians and large businesses. That proposal has made various members of congress uncomfortable.
According to Representative Hernan Penagos (U Party), that may be “one of the areas in which there will not be an agreement.” Penagos has claimed repeatedly that if any entity, including a civilian or business, committed a serious crime directly related to the conflict, they will have to appear before the JEP.
Meanwhile, organizations of victims are pressuring congress to ensure the bill has explicit language determining who will have control over FARC assets and how they will be transferred into a fund for victims reparations.
Will it pass?
Even with its magistrates named, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will be no more than an idea unless the bill is passed.
If Congress wants to pass the bill in the remaining “Fast Track” period, which allows for limited debate and review before passing laws related to the peace process, they only have thirty-six more days to do it.
Committees in the House and Senate will need to hold a special joint debate, followed by two simultaneous debates in the House and Senate before the bill is put to a vote. Officials in the House and Senate confirmed Monday that none of the debates have been scheduled yet.
If they do pass the law before November 1, the bill will go directly to the Constitutional Court, which will review in in early 2018.
Without the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, there will be no peace.
Liberal Party Senator Horacio Serpa
As part of the peace agreement with the FARC, Congress also needs to pass major laws related to political reform, which will impact election regulations, as well as the “Special Circumscriptions for Peace,” which provide increased representation in the House to regions affected by the conflict.
With many senators up for reelection this coming March, and with the political complexity surrounding the remaining laws for the peace process, many senators have hesitated to express a “pro-peace process” agenda.
Nonetheless, if the laws are not passed by November 1, it may be over two years before Congress can put them to a vote.
Despite all of the legislative delays, Penagos, who is championing the bill creating the JEP in the House, is confident the bill will pass.
“Give it two months and this will be the law of our republic,” he said on Monday.