Colombia: Peace agreement must open the door to justice

The ratification of the peace agreement marks the beginning of a new and hopeful chapter in Colombia’s history, but the real hard work starts now, Amnesty International said today.

Last night, Congress ratified a revised version of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after the original deal was rejected by a referendum on October 2.

The ratification paves the way for the FARC to begin to demobilize and disarm in a process to be implemented over six months.

The revised agreement offers more clarity on a number of issues, such as on how the sanctions imposed on those responsible for crimes under international law will work. It also forces the FARC to hand over their assets, which could boost the right of victims to reparation. But the agreement remains flawed in terms of guarantees on victims’ rights.

“The official end to a bloody armed conflict that has lasted for more than 50 years and has left some eight million victims in its wake is an achievement that cannot and should not be underestimated,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“However, much of the horror Colombians have been forced to endure for decades has often not been directly linked to direct combat between the security forces and the FARC. Those working away from the spotlight, defending rights or protecting natural resources and territories from powerful economic interests continue to face harassment and deadly attacks. So the peace agreement in itself may do little to keep these activists safe. What they need is effective action to ensure those behind such attacks face proper justice.”

Since 1985, nearly seven million people have been forced to flee their homes, more than 267,000 were killed, some 46,000 people were victims of enforced disappearances, and some 30,000 were taken hostage. Thousands more were the victims of torture, sexual violence, and landmines, while some 8,000 children were forcibly recruited by guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Very few of those responsible have ever been brought to justice.

“The terrible legacy of these violations and the entrenched impunity for most of them means that, despite the peace agreement, many seemingly intractable conflict-related human rights and humanitarian challenges persist, and there is a real risk that these challenges will continue in a post-conflict environment,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Although combat-related violence against civilians has fallen sharply, attacks against human rights defenders, especially Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer leaders, continue in alarming numbers, with more than 70 killed so far this year.

Many such attacks are linked to armed groups seeking to take control of resource-rich lands belonging to rural communities in order to exploit these for economic gain.

The armed conflict with the FARC may officially be over, but other conflicts remain, notably with the guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN), while paramilitary groups continue to be the most serious threat to human rights, especially in the countryside.

The peace process with the ELN was scheduled to start earlier this year, but the group’s failure to release one of its high-profile hostages has delayed the start of the process.

“If Colombia is to really succeed in the long term in making peace work for everyone, the authorities must ensure that the fundamental right of the country’s millions of victims to truth, justice and reparation is properly respected,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

The agreement on victims of the conflict – one of the pillars of the peace agreement and which details how victims’ right to truth, justice and reparation will be guaranteed via a transitional justice system – is undeniably a step forward in terms of victims’ rights, especially when compared to previous experiences with peace processes in Colombia. But despite the revisions, it continues to fall short of international law and standards on human rights.

In particular, Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the fact that the sanctions will not reflect the gravity of some of the crimes committed and also that the definition of command responsibility could allow superiors of both the security forces and the FARC to evade responsibility for the actions of their subordinates.

“The fact remains that Colombia must fulfil its obligation under international human rights law to guarantee victims’ right to truth, justice and reparation. This right cannot be compromised if this is to be a real peace for victims,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

But the requirement in the revised agreement that the FARC hand over their assets could be important in terms of victims’ right to reparation, but only if measures are put in place to ensure all assets are identified, handed over, and effectively used in support of victims.

“This agreement must result in a peace for all Colombians, including the victims of human rights abuses and violations, the human rights defenders who risk their lives to defend the rights of others, the rural communities seeking to protect their lands from exploitation, and the women survivors of gender-based violence bravely fighting for justice. Their voices must be heard loud and clear as Colombia gears up to implement its long-sought peace,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Source: Amnesty International USA