Like almost everybody, I am appalled by the thought of a war criminal evading prison and even enter congress if peace with Colombia’s FARC rebels takes effect. But the bartered victims deal is much more than that.
The indignant part of the transitional justice element is part of a much larger “Victims” chapter that seeks justice, truth and reparation for the more than 8 million victims left by the conflict.
Much of the debate on this chapter has been about the possibility given to war criminals who fully collaborate with justice to be sentenced to no more than a “restriction of liberties.”
But if we care to gratify the need for justice of the victims rather than gratify our own sense of justice, we must stop fixating on this.
The probability of impunity
Just because a possibility exist, doesn’t mean it is going to happen.
For example, it is possible that Colombia tomorrow is hit by a devastating earthquake that will wipe out the entire population. However, the probability of this is so small that it would be utterly silly to prepare for our demise.
The same goes for the possibility war criminals effectively evade prison and enter politics. To assume that this will be the norm is absurd, the conditions imposed simply make the possibility highly unlikely.
First and foremost, an alleged war criminal will have to fully and without hesitation tell the truth and nothing but the truth about the crimes he or she allegedly committed in order to obtain this benefit.
This means that if, for example, FARC commander “Timochenko” wants to evade prison, he will have to give full clarity on each of the 132 cases of child recruitment his “Magdalena Medio” block is suspected of.
If a 133rd case emerges Timochenko forgot to mention, that’d be the end for him and he will serve between five and eight years in prison. If his collaboration is so poor, he will be spending the next 20 years in prison.
And this is not to mention the more than 180 cases including homicides, kidnappings and forced displacement he will be held accountable for at the transitional justice tribunal.
So, while I oppose the clause on the “restricted liberties,” in the end I believe only few will actually be able to obtain house arrest instead of prison. The majority of war criminals will most likely end up in prison, and rightfully so.
So, good luck with staying out of prison, Timo.
Justice is more than punishment
Justice, especially transitional justice, contains more than just the punitive element. It also contains the fulfilling of victims’ rights to truth and reparation.
Victims organizations almost unanimously support the peace deal, also the justice element, because of the ample attention given to them and their active participation in the formulation of the agreement.
Historian Alejandra Gaviria, who was displaced after her father was murdered when she was only five years old, recently explained very clearly why she and other victims are so vehement in supporting the deal. Please, listen to her.
As Gaviria so clearly exposed in the video, the priority for victims is not punishment, but truth and reparation.
The Truth Commission put in place as part of the Transitional Justice System allows war criminals to clarify their crimes without their testimonies being used against them in court.
This will allow them to freely confess their crimes and give the victims the truth they so long have been waiting for.
Approximately 98% of the crimes committed against the victims have remained in impunity, in some cases for decades.
Most importantly, many victims continue to live in fear because those trying to perpetuate this chronic impunity continue to assassinate those trying to defend the rights of victims.
These victims and their representatives will be able to stop living in fear once the truth about the crimes committed against them comes out.
Gaviria also clearly explained why for victims the reparation chapter is so important.
This chapter determines that convicted war criminals will have to personally repair the damage they have done.
Concretely, this means that, for example, the members of the FARC’s 6th Front will have to physically repair all the damages they made in Corinto, the town that has suffered more FARC attacks than any other town in Colombia.
If that doesn’t gratify victims’ right to reparation, then what does?
So, rather than fixating on this one phrase that makes us all cringe in indignation, let’s look at the agreement as a whole and then weigh the pros and cons, and form an opinion on whether we are for or against this major step towards peace in Colombia.