President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday said that the most serious crimes committed during the country’s 49-year armed conflict will not be rewarded with impunity in any eventual peace between the government and rebel group FARC, who have been in talks since November.
Speaking in San Andres during the 9th Constitutional Jurisdiction Conference, the President said that “the government and Colombia’s Congress, as well as our judges and prosecutors, all have the will and the capacity to implement the principles of the international penal court.”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has long worried that war crimes committed during the country’s armed conflict could go unpunished in order to achieve a peace agreement.
The ICC’s Prosecutor General, Fatou Bensouda, said in August that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community must not go unpunished.”
These fears were heightened earlier this month when Santos suggested that those members of the armed forces who had committed “errors” during the armed conflict could be absolved of their crimes or given shorter sentences, if doing so would contribute to a lasting peace.
But now the President seems to be returning to his earlier, more hard-line stance concerning an eventual peace deal, which would leave “no room for impunity.”
“There will not be impunity for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes committed in a systematic way,” he said.
“I can say with pride that since our Constitutional Court’s creation it has been at the vanguard of those cases concerning international rights in terms of human rights and international humanitarian rights.”
The President added that this represents the first time that Colombia is actually taking its duty to fight against impunity seriously.
Evidence of this came on Tuesday, when the country’s Supreme Court sentenced in absentia nine top FARC officials – including the FARC’s supreme commander “Timochenko” and the two leaders of their negotiating team in Havana, “Ivan Marquez” and “Pablo Catatumbo” – to 31 years in prison.
“It’s not about sacrificing justice to achieve peace, but about how to achieve peace with full justice,” the President said, although he did warn that it would be unrealistic to expect an investigation into every single crime committed during half a century of violence.
He also called on the ICC not to act as an obstacle to peace, defending the “margin of autonomy” that Colombia has in order to forge its own route towards reconciliation.
So far the peace talks between the government and the FARC have only yielded an agreement on land reform; no agreements have yet been made on the issue of the FARC’s political participation, drug trafficking, the practicalities of the end of the armed conflict, and the rights of the victims.
The government hopes that the agreement will be in place by next March, so that it can be voted on as a referendum at the same time as the general election. The FARC is opposed to the idea of a referendum.