Colombia accord to include trials for rights abuses

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader leader "Timochenko" announced in Havana Sept. 24 that they have set a six-month deadline to sign a peace deal, which will include establishment of a special justice system to try human rights abusers. "We're not going to fail! This is the chance for peace!," President Santos said. "On March 23, 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict in the Americas." Timochenko later posted on the rebels Twitter feed: "Let's join efforts to achieve peace." But terms of the proposed justice process are meeting controvery, within Colombia and internationally.

Under the terms, guerilla leaders who confess crimes to special tribunals, compensate victims and pledge not to return to arms again will receive a maximum of eight years of "restricted freedom" and reparation labor but no actual prison time. War crimes by government forces will also be judged by the tribunals, and combatants on either side of the conflict caught lying or otherwise failing to cooperate will face penalties of up to 20 years in prison. Low-level combatants will be covered by an amnesty, but it will not apply yo war crimes and crimes against humanity will not fall under it. Reparation labor could include such work as helping to clear landmines and plant alternative crops in coca-growing zones. (BBC News, AP, Sept. 24)

The proposal builds on the 2011 Victims Law that sets terms for reparations and the restitution of lands. The FARC also seek a Pluralist and Unified Victims Registry which would list victims of the guerillas, the state, and state-aligned paramilitary groups. They are also calling for a "Special Fund for Integrated Reparation," consisting of 3% of Colombia's GDP for a period of 10 years to finance a "National Plan for the Integrated Reparation of Conflict Victims." An "Amnesty Law" covering low-level offendors is also proposed. iBoth sides have agreed to the creation of a "Special Jurisdiction for Peace" to oversee the justice process. (Recent land restitution efforts carried out by the government have targeted lands usurped by the FARC.) (Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, Sept. 24)

Some Colombian rights groups are applauding the justice proposal. Teresita Gaviria, who co-founded the Association for the Paths of Hope/Mothers of the Candelaria in 1999 after her 15-year-old son was forcibly disappeared said optimistically: "Peace is about to arrive." The Mothers of the Candelaria meet weekly outside the Church of Our Lady of la Candelaria in Medellin, to show photos of their missing loved ones and demand to know what happened to them.Gaviria told Colombia Reports that "the victims must receive reparations and be listened to," but expressed her joy at the news of the deal. Gaviria went to Havana in 2014 as part of the second group of 12 victims—60 in total—who were invited to the negotiation table so that the peace delegations could listen to their plight. The campaigner, whose organization won the National Peace Prize in 2006,said justice deal is "the best opportunity that [the victims] have had," and that the peace talks are "on the right track." (Colombia Reports, Sept. 24)

But the Americas director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), José Miguel Vivanco, warned that the accord could lead to impunity for grave crimes, which would be unacceptable to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The deal "allows those maximally responsible for worst abuses to be exempted from spening even one day in prison," he said. Critics of the deal are tweeting under the hashtag #AcuerdoDeImpunidad. (InfoBae, Sept. 24)

Colombia is already facing investigations by the ICC, but Bogotá's recognition of the court's authroity has been a matter of some controversy.