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Correcting Course: Victims and the Justice and Peace Law in Colombia
Correcting Course: Victims and the Justice and Peace Law in Colombia
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Colombia’s FARC Ends its 53-year Insurgency
Colombia’s FARC Ends its 53-year Insurgency
Report 29 / Latin America & Caribbean

Correcting Course: Victims and the Justice and Peace Law in Colombia

The more than 155,000 victims of Colombia’s conflict registered to date with the attorney general’s Justice and Peace Unit (JPU) – mostly those who suffered from the paramilitaries – are mainly onlookers to, not actors in, a lagging transitional justice process.

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Executive Summary

The more than 155,000 victims of Colombia’s conflict registered to date with the attorney general’s Justice and Peace Unit (JPU) – mostly those who suffered from the paramilitaries – are mainly onlookers to, not actors in, a lagging transitional justice process. Over three years after passage, implementation of the Justice and Peace Law (JPL) is stymied by the relative disinterest in promoting victims’ rights of the Uribe government and much of political and civil society. The problems are exacerbated by serious operational and financial bottlenecks in the judicial process and assistance and reparations to victims, as well as the persistence of armed conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgents and the emergence of new illegal armed groups (NIAGs) and paramilitary successors.

To avoid failure of the process, more government commitment to rigorous JPL implementation is required, as is constructive dialogue with the political opposition and victims and human rights groups on the new victims of violence law before Congress and an integrated victims and reparations strategy. There is also need to increase protection of victims from illegal armed groups, eliminate military abuses and strengthen the rule of law across the country.

The government has treated military efforts to reestablish security throughout the country as a much higher priority than defence and promotion of victims’ rights. The institutions charged with JPL implementation experience great difficulties moving the judicial process forward, providing assistance to victims and recovering ill-gotten assets that can be used to pay them reparations. Focused narrowly on its security policy, the government has done little to address these serious shortcomings. Its recent decree establishing an administrative reparations program is likely to provide only short-term relief to victims and could undermine the justice and truth goals.

Some civil society as well as human rights organisations are trying to reach out to victims and give them legal and other help, but they represent only a small sector of the large and fragmented victim universe. Political parties kept their distance for several years, and the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation (NCRR), charged with defending and promoting victims’ interests, has been hamstrung by its closeness to the government and internal divisions. Only a recent initiative by the Liberal party for a victims law has started to bring civil society and parties, both opposition and pro-government, together on the issue.

Victims’ active participation in the JPL process is hindered by the evolution of the armed conflict. The emergence of NIAGs is a major obstacle, especially in regions like Nariño, where the new groups are using intimidation and violence much like their paramilitary predecessors did. The ongoing military struggle with the FARC, in which the security forces sometimes have used questionable and even criminal tactics, also causes difficulties. Victims have been able to increase their participation and make themselves better heard only in regions where NIAGs have not yet emerged, insurgent groups have been driven out and civil society organisations and local, departmental and national government institutions are cooperating more closely, such as eastern Antioquia.

Expanding the rule of law, security and victim protection and strengthening institutional capacity for JPL implementation are major challenges the Uribe administration must meet if it is to prevent the transitional justice process from failing. The current debate in Congress about a new victims law is an opportunity for government and political opposition to work together and engage victims, human rights and civil society organisations in the design of a policy seen as an essential complement to, not a competitor with, the effort to win the military struggle with illegal armed groups. Efforts by the security forces to recover territory contribute to the consolidation of the state’s presence in Colombia’s regions, but to be ultimately successful they need to be combined with rigorous implementation of the JPL, so as to end impunity, as well as expand the rule of law across the country – two measures that are rhetorically key pillars of the government’s pacification strategy but in practice are too often undermined by its own actions.

Bogotá/Brussels, 30 October 2008

FARC guerrillas carry a white flag symbolising peace as they march toward a camp where they will disarm and reintegrate into civilian live after more than five decades of conflict. Bogotá, Colombia on 8 February 2017. NOTIMEX / Presidency of Colombia

Colombia’s FARC Ends its 53-year Insurgency

With the official disarming of its main rebel organisation, Colombia has passed a remarkable new milestone in its peace process. But major challenges remain: the destruction of remote arms dumps, reintegration of ex-combatants, and progress towards peace with other armed groups.

The International Crisis Group celebrates the most significant achievement of the Colombian peace process to date: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has now finished handing over 7,100 weapons to the UN Mission, putting an end to its 53-year insurgency. Now the parties must focus on implementing the rest of the peace agreement, which will require overcoming several major challenges.

The first is to ensure security. Peace with the FARC has ended Colombia’s largest insurgency but other armed groups remain active. The National Liberation Army, or ELN in Spanish, continues its war against the government despite the ongoing Quito-based peace process. The government and ELN have announced a plan to reach a ceasefire in early September, and should intensify their efforts at the negotiating table to do so. Other armed groups, including criminal organisations and FARC dissidents, control important parts of Colombia’s periphery. The government should increase its military and police efforts in the short term to effectively regain control of areas under their influence. Finally, the remaining 872 FARC weapons caches registered by the UN mission must be destroyed by 1 September, as agreed.

The second challenge will be to reintegrate FARC combatants into civilian life.

The second challenge will be to reintegrate FARC combatants into civilian life by allowing them to participate in economic cooperatives, perform political work and receive educational support. The FARC hopes it can do this while maintaining its internal cohesion and collective lifestyle. But planning is behind schedule as key details are missing on the projects the FARC hopes to help carry out in order to generate income and sustenance for its fighters. The FARC’s proposal that its fighters remain in extremely remote areas of Colombia, where the group has been present for decades, may stumble because these parts of the country are characterised by poverty, lack of markets and poor infrastructure. Recently, the Colombian Agency for Reincorporation and Normalisation, or ARN – the state institute in charge of ex-combatant reintegration since 2006 – was put in charge of FARC “reincorporation”. It will need increased financial resources to guarantee a successful process.

Finally, the peace agreement still faces serious political resistance. Opposition political parties have vowed to change certain aspects of the agreement and, with congressional and presidential elections scheduled next year, they will soon have the opportunity to make their case. The successful weapons handover in theory should give proponents of the peace agreement a boost, but much will depend on developments on two important fronts. The government and FARC will need to show that their coca substitution agreement yields results – namely, a decrease in coca production and a transition to an economy based on sustainable, legal economic activity. Current trends are not promising. Colombia is likely witnessing record-high coca cultivation levels, which critics have linked to the peace process and an overly-soft drug policy.

Moreover, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) – the transitional justice mechanism designed to both render justice and shed light on what occurred during the insurgency – needs to demonstrate it is making a difference and enforcing accountability, particularly against guerrilla commanders, in order to counter the perception of FARC impunity.

[T]he FARC’s violent insurgency has come to an end and the organisation has ceased to exist as an armed group.

The weapons handover is a milestone: the FARC’s violent insurgency has come to an end and the organisation has ceased to exist as an armed group. For all the challenges that remain, and for all the uncertainties that lie ahead, this is a remarkable achievement for the Colombian people. At a time when faith in peacemaking and conflict resolution is at a low, it is also a welcome and inspiring example for the rest of us.