Colombia’s Congress approved a bill Thursday which would provide a foundation for future peace talks with Colombia’s largest insurgency groups.
The Legal Framework for Peace, which was approved overwhelmingly by a vote of 65 to three, would give soft sentencing to demobilized guerrillas who confessed their crimes, provided the government first reaches a peace deal with guerilla groups to lay down their arms.
The proposed legislation is part of a move by the Santos administration to reform the widely discredited Justice and Peace law of 2005, which aimed to facilitate the demobilization of the paramilitary group, the AUC.
The new law however only applies to members of Colombia’s two largest insurgency groups, the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) and does not apply to criminals involved in drug cartels or paramilitary groups.
Congress approved the law despite severe criticism from rights groups that said the bill is too lenient with human rights abusers, claiming there needed to be harsher sentencing and citing that the bill permitted former guerrilla members to eventually run for political office.
Although the bill bars those convicted of human rights abuses from holding public office, numerous rights groups have expressed concern that the bill sets a dangerous precedent.
“The Legal Framework for Peace is essentially an amnesty in disguise,” said Human Rights Watch. “Adoption of legislation that provides a ‘get out of jail free card’ to those most responsible for the worst crimes would send a strong signal of unwillingness on the part of the Colombian government to move forward with accountability.”
“This is the price to pay for peace, we have to be upfront with people about it,” said Senator Hernan Andrade in repsonse to the criticisms.
Colombia’s Interior Minister Federico Renjifo defended the bill Friday, saying it is meant to provide a foundation for transitional justice, a method for prosecuting rebels, and a route to truth, justice and reparations for victims.
“Hopefully one day we will have the completion of the internal conflict, this is a tool that will allow us to select processes and prioritize crimes,” said the Minister in an interview with Radio Caracol.
Renjifo also denied that the government was already in engaged in peace talks with the FARC.
In order to become law, the bill must still pass a final vote in a congressional commission and be signed by President Juan Manuel Santos, which he is expected to do.