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Statement on the Transitional Justice Agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC
Statement on the Transitional Justice Agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC
It’s Time for the European Union to Push Yemen Towards Peace
It’s Time for the European Union to Push Yemen Towards Peace

Statement on the Transitional Justice Agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC

The agreement on transitional justice reached by the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and publicly announced yesterday in Havana is a major breakthrough in the four-year peace talks. In effect, it anticipates the termination of the 51-year armed conflict. In an unprecedented personal meeting, President Juan Manual Santos and FARC’s maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry ("Timochenko"), agreed that a final peace agreement would be signed within six months.

The agreement establishes a “Special Peace Jurisdiction”, formed around courts that will be set up to try those considered to have been responsible for particularly the most serious and representative crimes committed during the conflict. Those who cooperate with this judicial system and acknowledge past wrongdoings would, if convicted, serve between five and eight years under special conditions that would in any case ensure effective restriction of their personal freedom. Those who are slow to come forward and accept responsibility for wrongdoings could eventually serve the same term but in ordinary prisons, while those who do not cooperate could eventually be convicted and punished with prison sentences of up to twenty years.

The announcement is silent on the nomination and appointment process for these courts – which would be largely staffed by national judges, with a minority international presence – and the facilities where sentences would be served, as well as the question of reparation for victims. However, it indicates a balanced and wise approach is being taken to the difficult dilemmas posed by a conflict that has inflicted suffering on more than six million victims, according to official reports, and a peace process that requires legal and political certainties for the parties and for Colombian society. FARC have gone farther than ever before by accepting the requirement that those most responsible for serious crimes must face restrictions on their liberties for up to eight years. The government has accepted that the new mechanism will have jurisdiction over all who participated in the internal armed conflict – including state agents.  

By providing an amnesty for political crimes and crimes associated with them, the agreement also resolves the legal uncertainties facing thousands of rank and file guerrilla members. Simultaneously, by reaffirming that certain crimes (crimes against humanity, genocide and serious war crimes) cannot be granted any legal pardon and will be prosecuted, it meets Colombia’s basic obligations under international law and ensures an easier passage for the ultimate peace agreement, albeit still with the prospect of some revision, by the legislature, the Constitutional Court and other mechanisms.

The separate commitments that the final peace document will be signed within six months and that FARC will begin the decommissioning of their weapons within 60 days thereafter mean the parties have for the first time established a clear timeline for the effective termination of the conflict. It is critical to this end that a bilateral ceasefire take shape during the coming weeks. The agreement also links the goal of justice for victims with the objective of reincorporation of the guerrillas into political life.

The coming period will not be easy for the negotiators in Havana, as many details remain to be worked out. The decommissioning of weapons and reincorporation of former combatants will be of utmost complexity. The parties will need energy, courage and political will – as well as the active engagement and support of their partners in the international community – to prepare for what will be the difficult implementation of a final accord. Setbacks will be inevitable; and cohesion on both sides cannot be guaranteed.

However, this agreement on transitional justice is a sound, efficient and intelligent step forward. If correctly implemented and completed, it significantly improves the chances that one of the oldest conflicts in the world may be brought to an end. This is good news for Colombia and the region.

Bogotá/Brussels

It’s Time for the European Union to Push Yemen Towards Peace

Originally published in IRIN

After more than three years of fighting, Yemen is teetering on the cusp of an even fiercer war. The Saudi Arabian-led coalition is poised for an offensive on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah that could plunge Yemen into greater turmoil, deepen its humanitarian crisis, and provoke a surge in cross-border missile attacks by the Houthi rebels.

The European Union and its member states have a chance to stop the conflict from sliding into a lethal new stage; now is the time to take action. All sides have declared a readiness to engage in talks (with various conditions), but they need to be nudged towards the table before a full-fledged battle for Hodeidah breaks out.

As the outlines of a new UN peace plan have begun to surface, the EU should use the fact that it has maintained decent relationships with the warring parties to resume the UN-led peace process, moribund since 2016. This must be done before an assault on the port that could scuttle potential talks, especially if the rebels make good on their threats to attack coalition warships and oil tankers, or if one of their missile strikes on Saudi Arabia results in high civilian casualties.

Since Houthi rebels killed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh (their erstwhile wartime ally) in December last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their Yemeni partners have been acting as if the tide has turned in their favour. They have tried to entice Saleh supporters into their camp, encouraged intra-Houthi rifts, and targeted Houthi leadership. In April, they killed Saleh al-Sammad, the de facto Houthi president who was known as a moderate.

Not only would fighting over Hodeidah put off any prospect of peace, but it would also compound an already acute humanitarian crisis.

On the ground, coalition-backed local forces have achieved some tactical victories since Saleh’s death, especially along the Red Sea coast. But they have failed to decisively shift the military balance to their advantage.

Not only would fighting over Hodeidah put off any prospect of peace, but it would also compound an already acute humanitarian crisis. The port, which has been under an on-off Saudi blockade, is a choke point for goods entering the Houthi-controlled north and a lifeline for the 60 percent of Yemen’s 27 million plus population who live there.

The UN has already called Yemen’s humanitarian crisis the worst in the world. The prolonged fighting that would likely ensue from an assault on Hodeidah would only exacerbate the suffering.

Despite the prospect of intensified warfare, the Houthis have stated publicly and privately their readiness to negotiate with Saudi Arabia over security concerns and re-engage with the UN process, led by the recently appointed special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths. It remains unclear if the Houthis’ newly expressed appetite for talks stems from heightened military pressure or from an increased confidence from the death of Saleh, whom they suspected of dealing with Riyadh behind their backs. Either way, this opportunity for a return to the negotiating table ought not to be squandered.

The EU and its member states are uniquely placed to steer things in that direction. The bloc has maintained working relations with the warring sides, including the Houthis, and is therefore seen as relatively neutral, unlike the United States, whose support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been critical to the coalition’s war effort.

The EU should reiterate its firm public position against a coalition assault on Hodeidah, building on its access to all sides and using its influence in Washington, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh.

The EU has also provided consistent support for UN efforts to broker a ceasefire and mediate peace talks. As a non-belligerent, the EU should now reiterate its firm public position against a coalition assault on Hodeidah, building on its access to all sides and using its influence in Washington, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh.

In return for a halt to such an assault, the EU should press the Houthis to stop missile strikes on Saudi Arabia and ships in the Red Sea, and to accept an on-shore UN inspection mechanism that would intercept weapons deliveries through Hodeidah. An agreement along these lines could be a stepping stone toward resuming political talks on a broader range of issues, including the handing over of heavy weaponry by all fighting groups.

Moreover, European states, in particular UN Security Council members such as the United Kingdom (the penholder on the Yemen crisis), should press for a new resolution that would support a more inclusive political process. The current framework for negotiations is based on the fundamentally flawed Security Council Resolution 2216. The April 2015 resolution limits talks to the now defunct Houthi/Saleh bloc and the internationally recognised government of deposed President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which fails to recognise the full range of Yemeni forces on the ground. And it places unrealistic preconditions on the Houthis, including the injunction that they withdraw from territories they control and hand over their weapons before the talking can begin.

The fourth year in Yemen’s war is on course to be just as devastating as the previous three, if not a lot worse. But a concerted European effort at bringing the belligerents back to the table might just deter them from further foolhardy military pursuits and revive what is now a political process on life support.