A group of 65 Democrats in the United States Congress urged State Secretary John Kerry on Monday to urge FARC and Colombian government negotiators to not neglect victims and prevent impunity for victimizers in Colombia’s armed conflict.
The group of House Democrats, led by Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02) expressed strong support for the ongoing talks in a signed letter addressed to Sen. Kerry and Bernard Aronson, the US special envoy to the talks.
Aronson is Washington’s go-between in Cuba where the peace talks are between the FARC and the administration of Juan Manuel Santos are held.
In spite of declaring favor for the current negotiations, the group voiced concern that talks may ignore the needs of the very people who have suffered most from the decades of violence between guerrillas, the military and state-aligned paramilitary groups.
“We also wish to express, in the strongest possible terms, our concern that the final accord not contribute to Colombia’s long and tragic history of impunity. It is not our place, nor do we intend to impose upon the negotiators what might be the best system or combination of sanctions, punishments, deprivation of liberty or alternative sentencing. We strongly believe, however, that they must break, not reinforce, Colombia’s culture of impunity.”
Despite strong language throughout the address its language remains vague as to what crimes require acknowledgement and prosecution. The issue is a sensitive one for the United States government. Many of the war crimes committed by the Colombian government took place while it was receiving direct US aid, including military supplies, financial contributions and training of personnel.
Both sides of the conflict are known to have committed acts considered war crimes under the Geneva Conventions. The FARC is guilty of using child soldiers in its ranks, the use of kidnapping for funding and also is responsible for thousands of civilian casualties from land mines across the countryside.
The Colombian government is responsible for war crimes as well, most notably the execution of thousands of civilians who were presented as guerrillas killed in combat. This practice became particularly common under former President Alvaro Uribe, and when current president Juan Manuel Santos was Defense Minister.
In any case, the letter and its content indicate an explicit acknowledgement by members of the United States government that both sides must be held responsible for past crimes if victims are to have any chance for closure and safety if peace is signed.