Human Rights Watch on Dec. 22 rejected a recently signed transitional justice deal between Colombia's government and FARC rebels, claiming it "sacrifices victims' right to justice" in efforts to make peace. According to the global rights organization, "the agreement sets out a regime of sanctions to be used by the tribunal that do not reflect accepted standards of appropriate punishment for grave violations." Consequently, the deal makes it "virtually impossible that Colombia will meet its binding obligations under international law to ensure accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes."
HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco asked the International Criminal Court and Colombia's Constitutional Court to "carefully review this agreement to ensure that victims receive the justice they truly deserve."
The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC leadership have been negotiating an end to Colombia’s 51-year-long conflict since November 2012, spending almost half this time negotiating how to respond to the 7.4 million Colombians who were victimized in the war Both the state and guerillas during the conflict have committed crimes on a massive scale, including war crimes and other crimes against humanity, and face allegations that would put politicians and guerillas behind bars for years under common criminal law.
However, in their attempt to make peace, the government and FARC negotiators have agreed that, under the condition that a convicted war criminal cooperates with justice, there can be no prison sentence and any imposed "restriction of liberty" may not exceed eight years.
"The agreement is full of references to justice, accountability and even effective restraints on liberty, but a close look at the text reveals a tangle of ambiguities, omissions, and loopholes that make these references seem, at best, an empty promise," said Vivanco. "No international tribunal has allowed convicted war criminals to evade prison for these types of serious crimes. The new agreement goes even further by ensuring they will not face any remotely serious form of punishment."
Among the serious crimes are thousands of kidnappings, mainly by guerillas, and thousands of executions of civilians carried our by the military. According to the government and the FARC, the victims have been at the center of the negotiations. Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo responded to HRW, asserting that "truth, reparation to victims and guarantees for no repetition." He added: "It is worth it paying the cost of sacrificing some justice…to obtain peace."
The Colombian government has long denied opposition accusations it was "exchanging impunity," and says it has actively involved victims in the preparation phase of the agreement. However, following the publication of the deal, many victims criticized the pact—not necessarily for a lenient punishment, but a lack of guarantees for truth and reparation.
According to the country’s vice-prosecutor general, Jorge Perdomo, the justice deal will affect a staggering 12,000 guerillas and another 12,000 alleged war criminals acting on behalf of the state. The FARC will demobilize an estimated 8,000 fighters, while thousands of unarmed members are expected to be tried too. If the International Criminal Court agrees with HRW and finds justice arrangements to end the war too lenient, it may step in and prosecute accused war criminals itself. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 22)