Colombian rebel group FARC has found no support for their persistence in rejecting possible prison sentences for guerrillas in the event a peace deal ends their 50-year war against the state.
The group, currently negotiating peace with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos in Cuba, is facing the legal consequences of thousands of human rights violations committed by the guerrillas.
In the event peace is signed, some 20,000 armed and unarmed members of the group have to face justice. The vast majority would be able to be avoid prison as part of an amnesty agreement.
However, according to the FARC, all rebels should walk free and Colombia will have to apply a form of transitional justice that excludes the incarceration of demobilized FARC members.
The guerrillas’ demand has been fiercely rejected by the government, the FARC’s primary opponent in the complex armed conflict.
But the government and the conservative opposition in Congress are not the only ones who oppose full amnesty for the guerrillas.
After FARC negotiation leader in an interview said that “there will be zero jail time” for FARC members as “no peace process in the world has ended with leaders of the insurgency behind bars,” both the Colombian government and Human Rights Watch rejected the statement.
Also Kofi Annan, until 2006 the Secretary General of the United Nations, insisted at a press conference that “all those who committed crimes should be held accountable.”
According to the former UN chief, “justice should be adapted to Colombia’s context at the same time that it respects international laws.”
International law does not allow impunity for war crimes. If according to international standards alleged perpetrators of war crimes or crimes against humanity are not or not adequately prosecuted, the International Criminal Court in The Hague could decide to assume the investigations, and convict and punish war criminals.
Annan’s implication that the FARC will have to pay for war crimes if convicted is “wrong,” negotiator “Jesus Santrich” told the radical leftist Anncol website.
According to Santrich, the FARC has been “exercising its right to rebellion against a terrorist regime.” Consequently, the rebels are “not willing to spend one day in prison.”
It’s not that the rebels are denying having committed war crimes.
In December last year, the guerrillas asked forgiveness for the 2002 massacre in the western Colombian town of Bojaya in which a rebel mortar accidentally hit a church where 80 civilians were hiding.
However, that massacre is only one of many alleged war crimes and human rights violations the FARC are accused of.
Notwithstanding, Annan’s reminder that justice must be respected “definitely does not help at all to move forward with the peace process.”
“We did not come to Havana to take part in a process of submission or surrender, but to find solutions to the serious political, economic and social problems Colombia is facing,” said Santrich.
The FARC’s continued resistance to accept possible jail sentences has isolated the group and has strengthened the position of the conservative opposition, led by former President Alvaro Uribe, who has long urged to not allow impunity for FARC crimes.
The debate on transitional justice is taking place while the two negotiation teams, accompanied by diplomats from Norway and Cuba, are negotiating victims, transitional justice, and the final end of violence between the FARC and the state.
If the talks are successful, the FARC would convert to a non-violent political movement, remove itself from its drug trafficking practices and end its 50-year-long war with the state.