Colombia’s Inspector General on Tuesday criticized government plans for a referendum on the final peace deal with the country’s main rebel group FARC.
Alejandro Ordoñez, who has previously described himself as “skeptical” about the peace process, criticized the government’s proposal to hold a referendum to seek popular approval of an eventual peace deal between the government and the guerrillas on the same day as the national elections.
“It would be an armed referendum,” said Ordoñez in an interview with RCN radio. “It is not constitutional to hold [a referendum and national election] on the same day because it would affect the freedom of citizens to go to the polling stations.”
The inspector general’s worry is that the FARC would forcibly prevent certain citizens from going to the polling station. Not only would this result in a skewed result in the referendum, but it would also prevent those same citizens from voting in the national elections, since both votes would take place on the same day.
“It is impossible [to have a fair vote] while there are still a number of armed Colombians,” Ordoñez said, adding that a fair vote would only be possible “after they have laid down their weapons.”
The inspector general also said that any peace deal between the FARC and the government would likely be at odds with international agreements concerning human rights. Colombia’s chief prosecutor Eduardo Montealegre has said that demobilized FARC guerrillas may be able to evade prison under a post conflict transitional justice system, even if they are convicted of crimes against humanity.
“Peace cannot be obtained at any price,” said Ordoñez. “The limit is the rights of the victims, and [a peace deal] would be sacrificing the rights of the victims. How can we hope to clear up the truth of what happened if we don’t persecute the perpetrators?”
These concerns echo those put forward by the International Criminal Court (ICC), who recently said that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community must not go unpunished.”
The ICC have a pending bill which would set out the legal framework for peace, defining the legal boundaries of what the government is and is not allowed to agree with the rebels.
FARC’s chief negotiator at the peace talks, “Ivan Marquez,” has criticized such a framework: “it would change the government into the judge of the conflict, omitting the fact that the state is part of the conflict and cannot be judge.”
Marquez also accused the ICC of knowing little about Colombia’s internal conflict, rejecting the ICC’s suggestion that the FARC rebels should go to prison for their crimes: “we don’t want the gift of seats in Congress if the price to pay is that, while some of us go to Congress, others will gain a seat behind bars or be condemned to extradition”.
In criticizing the proposed referendum on a peace deal, the inspector general ironically finds himself in the company of FARC supreme leader “Timochenko”, albeit for different reasons. Timochenko believes a referendum will “give the president extraordinary powers to issue decrees.”
Rebel group FARC and the government have been involved in peace talks since November in order to seek a negotiated end to the internal conflict.
While an accord has been reached regarding land reform, no agreements have been made on the issue of the FARC’s political participation, drug trafficking, the practicalities of the end of the armed conflict and the rights of the victims.