Colombia’s government and FARC rebels on Wednesday announced prison sentences of no more than eight years for war crimes committed during the country’s conflict the warring parties are trying to end.
The signing of the agreement of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace followed a historic meeting between president Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader “Timochenko”, also attended by US envoy for the peace talks, Bernard Aronson, and Cuban president, Raul Castro.
The deal includes a post-conflict international justice tribunal which will sentence those who accept responsibility and will investigate those who do not immediately accept their responsibility for causing harm to victims.
Juan Manuel Santos
Guilty military personnel, guerrillas and civilians alike will have to pay reparations to their victims. Those who sign the peace deal, accept responsibility, face charges and pay reparations will be safe from extradition if they are wanted by the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Responsible parties who cooperate with the judicial process will receive a prison sentence in special conditions of at least five years and no more than eight years.
The judicial concessions will be as generous as international law allows with cooperating parties receiving ample amnesty for crimes not considered war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Those who do not cooperate with the peace process and this justice tribunal will pay longer prison sentences of up to 20 years and not receive judicial benefits if found guilty.
The signed justice agreement is in accordance with the Comprehensive System of Justice, Truth, Reparation and no Repetition and will guarantee truth for the Colombian population, reparations for the victims and punishment for all parties responsible for harm caused during the civil conflict.
The joint justice agreement on Special Jurisdiction for Peace which was negotiated by an international panel of jurists was read by representatives from the guarantor countries of the peace talks, Dag Nylander for Norway and his Cuban counterpart, Rodolfo Benitez.
When Timochenko arrived in Havana on Wednesday the peace delegation for the FARC announced on twitter, “peace has arrived.”
Santos announced the meeting in Havana with Timochenko on twitter saying, “peace is close.”
These two conflicting leaders have never met before so today’s meeting is historic. Santos has not visited Cuba since the beginning of the peace talks in November 2012.
Accompanying the leaders were Humberto de la Calle, peace negotiator for the government and “Ivan Marquez”, negotiator for the FARC.
Also at the meeting were senators from the U Party, Green Alliance, the Democratic Pole, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. The only party not represented aboard that historic flight to Cuba was the Democratic Center, led by former president and staunch opponent of the peace talks, Alvaro Uribe.
Peace talks between the FARC and the government have been held in Havana, Cuba since November 2012 in the hope of resolving the 51-year-long armed conflict which left 260,000 Colombians dead and over 6 million displaced.
Transitional justice is an incredibly important part of the final peace deal between the two warring sides because it will bring consequences such as truth commissions and prison sentences for all parties responsible for the harm caused to victims of the conflict.
By September 1 of this year the National Victims Unit registered a total of 7,620,114 Colombians killed, displaced or otherwise victimized by the state or the guerrillas during the decades-long armed conflict.
Therefore negotiations between the FARC and the government were made difficult because both parties feared the legal consequences of the tens of thousands of war crimes that they committed.
Transitional justice in Colombia: a very sharp double-edged sword
For example, if the FARC peace negotiator “Ivan Marquez” goes to prison for the crimes that were committed under his command then president Juan Manuel Santos would also have to answer for at least 1,500 civilian killings allegedly carried out by the military while he was defense minister.
Weak, corrupt state
The FARC has been accused of thousands of war crimes including kidnapping, homicides, sex crimes, child recruitment and the laying of landmines.
The state, including many top ranking officials, faces charges of thousands of cases of civilian killings, torture and the long-time collaboration between paramilitary groups and (elected) state officials.
“Justice” was omitted from the initial peace talks agreement and therefore the negotiators could avoid it until the final agenda points, “victims” and “end of conflict” which are now close to being agreed upon and a justice agreement must therefore be established.
FARC on the verge of transitional justice deal with the government
During negotiations Colombian Congress passed legislation called the Legal Framework for Peace which would provide transitional justice for demobilized illegal armed groups but the FARC were not happy because the framework did not account for state-committed crimes.
Victims’ organizations called for justice for state crimes and rights for the state’s victims as well the those harmed by the guerrilla group.
In order to accelerate the negotiations on justice which reached a deadlock, the government and the FARC formed an international committee to help both parties come to a compromise in the complicated issue.
Opposition leader Alvaro Uribe, a fierce critic of the peace talks, has reason to be concerned about the justice deal because when he was commander in chief, the Colombian military executed more than 3,500 civilians and several of his closest allies proved to be paramilitary collaborators.
Impunity for any responsible party is impossible because of Colombia’s commitment to the International Criminal Court which will step in and prosecute suspected war criminals if they are not adequately punished.
According to a 2012 ICC report on Colombia “there exist reasonable grounds to consider that the FARC, the ELN, the National Army and the paramilitaries have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Colombia.”