Human Rights Watch (HRW) congratulated Colombia on its “improved” peace deal, despite ongoing concerns about justice for war criminals.
Transitional justice was one of the most controversial aspects of the first peace deal that was rejected in a referendum on October 2.
The NGO offered recommendations when the first peace agreement was released, and was encouraged to find that it “contains language that would make it possible to much more easily correct at least two of the most problematic provisions.”
While they congratulate the parties for their steps towards peace, HRW feels that how convicted war criminals are punished remains unclear.
The peace deal allows war criminals to stay out of prison, but serve time under conditions of “restricted liberties” while carrying our restorative labor for their victims.
Despite steps in the right direction, it remains unclear whether those sentenced “would face restrictions during the hours and days they are not carrying out these projects.”
The text does appear to restrict movements not related to compliance with sentences that are “not expressly authorized in the judgment,” but further clarification is needed.
HRW requests the agreement be amended to specify that those sentenced are restricted to their “place of residence” while not working on the restorative projects, and define what the term implies.
They also remain concerned about political participation.
At issue is that while serving sentences, those sentenced can hold public office.
HRW believes this will undermine the seriousness of the crimes committed and the seriousness of the sentence.
However, they enthusiastically supported changes to the issue of command responsibility, which they said was the one of the most important changes to the agreement.
The original agreement required commanders to have control of the criminal acts committed in order to be held responsible, which HRW considered an impossible standard to prove in court.
The new agreement only requires that commanders had “effective control,” although they request that legislation specifically tying it to the definition in the Rome Statute be adopted.
The changes make it much more likely that commanders will be held responsible for war crimes, and it will be impossible to scapegoat low-ranking soldiers.