UN rights representative calls for peace in Colombia

The representative to Colombia for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Dec. 8 reiterated his call for a peaceful solution to the country's ongoing armed conflict. Christian Salazar made his remarks at a press conference following an announcement by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) stating plans to move forward with the unilateral release of hostages currently being held by the rebels. Last month, a military raid led to the deaths of four FARC hostages, apparently killed by their captors during the fighting. But Salazar stated he believed FARC's plan to release other hostages signaled a new phase of hostage liberation that might help lead both sides to a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. However Salazar recognized at the press conference that at this point even talking about the armed conflict in Colombia was "extremely sensitive." To that end Salazar also praised the actions of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has maintained an open line of dialogue between FARC and the Colombian government, which Salazar held as important to preventing a longterm "spiral of violence" in the country. The rebels announced their plans for the upcoming hostage release in a missive to former Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba earlier this month.

From Jurist, Dec. 8. Used with permission.

See our last post on Colombia.

FARC flip-flop on prisoner release?

The original letter to Piedad Córdoba, dated Dec. 1, did commit to exploring the possibility of a unilateral prisoner release, but also repeatedly invoked an "exchange" (canje) of prisoners, and favorably mentioned the recent swap between the Israelis and Palestinians. It asserted that the FARC had intended to "unilaterally" release the four killed during the rescue attempt last month, and that it is still open to unilateral releases "in spite of" the government's recent actions. The letter used the term "prisoners of war" for what the government and media call "hostages," and it is true that at this point those still being held by the FARC are all members of the security forces. Santos continues to rule out a prisoner exchange. (Diario Hoy, La Plata, Dec. 8; Venezolana de Televisión, Caracas, El Tiempo, Bogotá, Dec. 7)

However, Santos' strategy of a series of government-backed demonstrations around the country to demand release of the FARC-held prisoners (a tactic also used by his predecessor Alvaro Uribe) seems to have backfired. Marches were held in all Colombia's major cities Dec. 6, with participants chanting "Freedom, feedom," and "No more FARC!" But organizers had hoped for hundreds of thousands to take to the streets; in the end no more than 10,000 attended nationwide. After the marches, the new FARC commander—variously known as "Timoleón Jiménez," "Timochenko," and Rodrigo Londoño (apparently his real name)—issued a new statement again demanding an exchange of prisoners. The statement explicitly portrayed this as a reaction to the demonstrations: "The slogans of the marchers who went out into the streets moved us to demand a humanitarian exchange, the political solution, before the conversations begin." (Colombia Reports, AP, AFP, DPA, Dec. 8)<