Colombia faces the monumental challenge of building “a painful truth” while finding out what happened during the country’s armed conflict that killed more than 260,000, according to the the President of the Truth Commission.
“We are behind a truth that responds to all the victims, a painful truth, but necessary, without biases or negotiations,” said Father Francisco de Roux who leads the entity that seeks to find closure for victims of a half-century long war between the Marxist FARC guerrillas and the state.
The truth commission began its formal investigations on Thursday.
The role of De Roux is similar to that of archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led a truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa after 1996, two years after Apartheid.
Like in South Africa after Apartheid, Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict between the state and the FARC has left countless victims and tens of thousands disappeared.
As the quest for answers begins, the scholar declared that Colombia has “an inescapable duty” when it comes to explaining why and how millions of peoples had their lives destroyed over the course of the armed conflict.
The truth must be a public good, a right and an inescapable duty when it comes to explaining why life and dignity were destroyed in thousands of massacres, enforced disappearances, kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, abuses of women, displacements, theft of land. to the peasants and from herds to cattle ranchers, exclusion and expropriation of indigenous people and Afro-Colombians, homicides of trade unionists, educators, politicians, governors and businessmen, deaths in senseless combats of a multitude of young people in an absurd war, and destruction of rivers , mountains and native species.
Francisco De Roux
The Valle del Cauca-born cleric explained that the 11-person entity will approach the task with four primary objectives, “to clarify the truth of the armed conflict; recognize the dignity of the victims; recognize those responsible for violent actions and show society the legacy of human rights violations that occurred in the context of the armed conflict.”
In an emotionally-charged ceremony, one indigenous leader cried out for an end to the social stigmatization of these people in a nation that has seen them become more and more marginalized.
“We do not want a truth to sharpen the war, but to build peace. We do not want to continue counting dead ” said Aida Quilcue.
While the entity has already faced extreme opposition from the military and the South American country’s hard right, De Roux hopes that he can count on the support of the newly-elected President Ivan Duque.
The general population has been deeply divided about the peace process in general and the Truth Commission specifically.
In particular the country’s military and ruling party Democratic Center have rejected De Roux’s commission members, “because they have belonged to Army and Police detractor organizations,” according to military association Acore.
One far-right opposition senator loyal to President Ivan Duque called De Roux a “guerrilla priest.”
Colombia’s armed conflict between the FARC and the state began in 1964, but was preceded by countless periods of political violence.
The ELN, the last standing guerrilla group, began its first ever bilateral ceasefire with the state last month while negotiating a peace deal.
The truth commission, officially called the “Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition,” will seek to clarify major human rights violations that occurred during the armed conflict. It will also try to provide a general explanation of the conflict as a whole.
The Commission will have the ability to subpoena persons to testify, but any evidence it collects cannot be used in criminal proceedings.