Colombia to get truth commission

In the ongoing peace talks in Havana, Colombia's government and the FARC rebels agreed June 7 to set up a truth commission that addresses the deaths of thousands of people in five decades of the country's conflict. Both sides pledged to take responsibility for victims, a break with the longtime practice of blaming each other. The FARC also announced a ceasefire from June 9 to 30, to allow the presidential run-off elections to move ahead. The group had previously declared a week-long ceasefire around the period covering the first round of elections on May 25, in which the hardline Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won more votes than other candidates, but fell far short of the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. Zuluaga criticized the truth commission agreement, insisting that the FARC to admit to being the main culprit of the violence of the past generations. "The FARC rebels are the primary victimizers in Colombia, with all the murders and terrorism they have committed in all these years of massacres," he said at a campaign stop in Huila.

This contrasts the position of the FARC who, after signing the agreement to recognize their responsibility, nonetheless said that "the State is ultimately responsible due to its action or inaction." Said chief rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez: "The victims do not only come from the armed conflict and the errors of war; the economic and social policies are the worst victimizers as they have caused the majority of deaths in Colombia."

According to the National Center for Historic Memory (NCMH), the FARC are the second most lethal actor in the the armed conflict that is said to have claimed 220,000 lives since 1956. The NCMH finds that paramilitary groups that operated with varying degrees of official collusion between the late 1980s and the official demobilization of 2006 committed 9,903 homicides—twice as many as the FARC. The paramilitaries additionally committed four times the number of massacres that in total have left almost 12,000 Colombians dead since 1985.

The NCMH finds that guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN did commit by far the most "terrorist attacks," leaving 223 Colombians dead and another 1,343 injured since 1988. The rebels also committed most kidnappings—24,492 since 1970. Hundreds of these kidnap victims are assumed dead.

Zuluaga has been quick to exploit the peace process as political ammo on the campaign trail. In his last speech before the end of the campaign, Zuluaga said he was sad that his rival, incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos "has been seeking reelection with his biggest ally being the principal victimizers, a narco-trafficking cartel, and a terrorist group." (Al JazeeraColombia Reports, June 8)

  1. Colombia to begin peace process with ELN

    The Colombian government announced the commencement of formal peace talks with the country’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, according to a joint statement released on the President’s website. (Colombia Reports, June 10)