Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos defended a constitutional reform Wednesday that would give legal benefits to demobilized members of guerrilla and paramilitary groups.
The proposed reform to article 22, known as the “Legal Framework for Peace,” has incited criticism from political opponents who claim it would provide impunity to perpetrators of human rights violations. In the wake of the proposal, critics claimed that it would allow for demobilized members of illegal armed groups to eventually run for political office.
“Neither Timochenko nor any of the guerrilla leaders will reach elected office because of this legislation. That’s not possible,” Santos said in a press conference, referring to the current commander of the FARC, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko.”
Santos explained that the legal reform does not mention pardons for demobilized leaders, which are currently banned by international law.
“The act is silent on the possibility of political participation of the leaders of the guerrilla groups. Some want the nation to believe that these leaders could participate in politics, because the act allows, by statute, the prosecution of some guerrilla members to be waived. But that’s a fallacy,” Santos said, explaining that the proposed bill “insists on persecuting the most senior criminals, the leaders, who are not subject to the waiver of prosecution.”
He promised that the proposed bill’s goal is “to develop a comprehensive strategy for transitional justice, which will satisfy the rights of victims and make the transition to what we all want, which is peace.”
Santos reiterated that the Legal Framework for Peace will prevent demobilized guerrillas and paramilitaries from returning to illegality. He pointed out his administration’s work in combating illegal armed groups.
“These are the achievements of a strengthened military, with morals and a sense of patriotism that fills all Colombians with pride,” he said.
Former President Alvaro Uribe is a vocal critic of the constitutional reform, claiming “the government is pressuring Congress with bureaucratic intimidation to pass a framework of impunity for terrorism.”
While in office, Uribe also received fierce criticism for granting legal benefits to demobilizing members of the AUC, a paramilitary organization held responsible for tens of thousands of human rights violations including murder, rape and forced displacement.
The reform also garnered opposition from NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) which claimed it allowed “impunity for heinous human rights violations committed by guerrillas, paramilitaries and the military.”
Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW’s Americas division, warned of a potential investigation into the amendment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) if Colombia decides not to prosecute crimes that violate the standards of international law.
Under ICC law, all those deemed responsible for serious crimes should be prosecuted, and in the case that a state is unable or unwilling to bring suspects to trial, the legal body may run its own investigation.
Colombia’s Congress has passed the bill in six of eight debates required for it to come into legislation.