Pope Francis has declined an invitation by Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos to help pick judges for a transitional justice tribunal in the event a peace deal with FARC rebels is approved by the people.
In a statement published by the Vatican, the Catholic Church leadership said the pope “reiterates his support for the goal of attaining the peace and reconciliation of the entire Colombian people.”
However, the pope declined to take part in the justice system that will try to rule over the tens of thousands of war crimes committed during more than half a century of violence.
“Considering the universal vocation of the Church and the mission of the Successor of Peter as shepherd of God’s people, it would be more appropriate this task would be entrusted to other bodies,” the statement said.
The Colombian president had asked the United Nations and the Catholic Church’s highest clergy to help pick judges for the justice system that is among the most controversial elements of the peace deal between the government and the FARC, Colombia’s oldest and by far largest rebel group.
The post-conflict justice system is controversial because, according to the peace deal, it will not have the authority to send convicted war criminals who fully collaborate with justice to prison.
War criminals who refuse to cooperate or hesitatingly cooperate will be sent to prison for sentences up to 20 years.
The justice element of the peace deal has been fiercely criticized by both Colombia’s conservative opposition and Human Rights Watch.
In an editorial published on this website, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, called the agreement a “dirty deal.”
The FARC, the state and state-aligned paramilitary groups are accused of having carried out thousands of homicides, kidnappings, massacres and other atrocities.
Victim organizations have expressed their support for the peace deal, but have also criticized the element of justice.
When Colombia held a similar demobilization process with the paramilitary organization AUC, approximately 30,000 people demobilized but only 66 were reportedly convicted for war crimes.