Colombia: FARC amnesty law approved

Colombia's Congress on Dec. 28 approved the Amnesty Law as part of the peace process between the government and the FARC rebel army, protecting guerilla fighters from prosecution over most crimes related to the conflict. The bill passed the lower house with 117 votes in favor and three against, while the Senate approved it with a unanimous 69 votes. Lawmakers aligned with far-right former president, Sen. Alvaro Uribe refused to participate in the vote. Human rights absues and "grave" war crimes recognized by the Rome Statute are excluded from the amnesty. The measure creates a special "transitional justice" system for combatants accused of such offenses. (Jurist, Dec. 29; TeleSur, EFE, Dec. 28)

Those who could be covered by the law include the estimated 7,000 active FARC fighters, some 4,000 imprisoned FARC adherents, 1,200 detained members of the security forces and more than 1,000 social leaders accused of links to the guerillas—in total, perhaps some 14,000 individuals. (El Espectador, Dec. 28; Prensa Rural, Dec. 24; El Tiempo, Contagio Radio, Dec. 21)

Under a campaign dubbed #OjoALaPaz (Eye on Peace), social organizations held public vigils in support of the bill's passage. Members of the activist groups Acuerdo Ya, Paziempre and Sinestesia staged an encampment for peace in Bogotá's central Plaza de Bolívar as the bill moved through the legislative process. (El Tiempo, Dec. 28)

However, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the bill in an open letter issued during the debate. The letter praised the amnesty bill for "excluding human rights atrocities, which would be investigated, prosecuted, and sanctioned by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace." But it warned that "some provisions…could limit accountability for abuses," and protested that the bill "only excludes explicitly some war crimes." The statement also raised concerns that "the conditional release mechanism created in the bill for state agents or guerrilla fighters responsible for war crimes seems to lack basic safeguards necessary to ensure that war criminals are not allowed to escape justice." (HRW, Dec. 25)

The deadline for FARC fighters to gather in designated "concentration zones" around the country in preparation for their disarmament has been pushed back from Dec. 31 to Jan. 10. After initial delays, the process of gathering resumed following the Colombian high court's Dec. 13 approval of a "fast track"  legislative process for the peace accords. Incidents of army "harassment" of gathering guerilla fighters or local campesinos have been reported—at Carrizal, Antioquia, this week, and at Vista Hermosa, Meta, the week before. However, both sides say the process will continue. (El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Espectador, Dec. 28; Prensa Rural, Dec. 29; El Espectador, Dec. 22)