November 11, 2015 (continued from previous post…)
-International Support for the Accord
The announcement by the Colombian government and the FARC-EP on the terms of a new accord on transitional justice made from Havana on September 23 received immediate support from governments around the globe, as well as the UN Secretary General, the Pope, and the European Union. The International Criminal Court, which has been closely consulted throughout the peace process, showed itself to be favorably inclined toward the formula presented, though will review the final text before making an official pronouncement.
Reactions from international organizations have ranged from enthusiastic to skeptical. The U.S. Institute of Peace called the accord “a model for resolving conflicts elsewhere in the world,” and noted that the agreement does not offer impunity, but conditions punishment for serious crimes on the levels of truth-telling in which perpetrators engage. The International Crisis Group declared the agreement to be a “sound, efficient and intelligent step forward,” and “good news for Colombia and the region.” (See its statement here.)
On the other hand, Human Rights Watch asserted that the agreement was “dealing away justice” by not insisting on jail time for gross human rights violators. José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, noted that “while the special jurisdiction would encourage confessions, it would also allow those most responsible for mass atrocities to completely avoid prison, denying their victims the right to justice in any meaningful sense of the word.” Amnesty International expressed concern over how the “most responsible” human rights abusers would be defined, and noted that it could be difficult to obtain convictions for certain crimes, including extrajudicial executions and sexual violence.
Others noted that there may be an inherent bias in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, given that the Attorney General’s Office has investigated in great depth the charges against the FARC, but has been far less efficient with the cases against paramilitaries or against agents of the State.
The United States government, which has been highly supportive of the peace process, welcomed the “major breakthroughs on the outstanding issues in the peace process negotiations: transitional justice, disarmament, and a timetable for signing a final agreement.” In his Sept. 23rd statement, Secretary of State John Kerry noted that “historic progress” had been made “toward a final peace agreement to end more than 50 years of armed conflict.” Last February, Kerry had named Bernard Aronson as peace envoy to support the Colombian government in bringing the armed conflict to a close. Aronson was present at the historic meeting of Santos and Timochenko in Havana when the justice accord was announced. A little over a week later, at an event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., Aronson echoed Kerry’s praise for the recent progress at the peace tables and discussed some of the pending issues at the table, and for the longer term sustainability of peace in Colombia.
Aronson has also supported the FARC’s legal political engagement in politics (a topic of hot debate in Colombia)–on the condition that the FARC cut their ties with criminal activities. This political reintegration would serve U.S. interests.
From Capitol Hill, some offices issued statements of congratulations. In his statement, Cong. Jim McGovern noted, “If well-implemented, the agreement on transitional justice offers all Colombians, and especially those who have been victims of violence and abuse by parties to the conflict, a path to address the deep wounds of the past, hold accountable the perpetrators of violence and abuse, and break the culture of impunity. It is important, however, for the implementation of this agreement not to whitewash serious human rights crimes committed by both sides.” (Full text here.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office noted that their support for Santos’s efforts and, depending on how “effective restrictions on liberty” for FARC and military officials implicated in human rights violations, might have an additional 50-100 million dollars in aid for Colombia for the 2017 budget. (US aid to Colombia was 290 million for 2016).
Public Opinion in Colombia
Public opinion polls in Colombia, highly sensitive to particular political events and the winds of the moment, responded favorably to the news of the agreement. A poll released by the Centro Nacional de Consultoría on Oct. 8, showed a boost of support for the peace process. Conducted in 43 municipalities, the survey found that 65% of the respondents were optimistic about the process; 73% believed Colombia would benefit from a peace accord; 87% favored an accord with the FARC; and 73 percent of the respondents approved President Juan Manuel Santos’s decision to launch talks with the FARC. Perhaps key for any future endorsement mechanism, 79% of the respondents noted they would approve a peace accord. An interesting new question was added to the roster, that asked respondents if, putting themselves in the shoes of the guerrillas, they would consider it easy or hard to set aside their arms and submit themselves to justice. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents thought it would be difficult. This kind of polling that posits questions that encourage empathy can contribute, albeit in a small way, to the more dramatic attitudinal shifts that will be necessary for what the Colombians call “convivencia”, loosely translated as “living together,” in the post-Accord phase.
-Victims’ Groups Respond to the Justice Accord
Victims and victims’ groups, whose voices are perhaps the most important in this equation, appear hopeful that the agreement on justice, which has been a major stumbling block, means that the war will finally come to an end. Ending the war continues to be the key ask of all five of the victims’ delegations that presented their testimonies to the negotiating parties in Havana.
In general, the proposals of the victims’ delegations–and others presented at the four forums on victims sponsored by the United Nations and Colombia’s National University– have given priority to truth, reparations, and non-repetition. Acknowledging that full justice is unlikely, victims’ organizations have nonetheless insisted that there cannot be impunity and that some punishment of the perpetrators and reparations is warranted. The victim delegates issued a collective statement on Sept. 28 welcoming the agreement: “This is a decisive step toward the recognition and full respect for human rights and IHL in Colombia, to the extent that it signifies a model with a restorative justice perspective that can permit the transformation of sanctions into effective contributions to reparations, to non-repetition and to the building of peace.” The victims’ delegation noted furthermore, “The Justice Accord, like the creation of the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Conviviality (Convivencia), and Non Repetition, opens the historic opportunity for a full acknowledgement of responsibilities from the State, the FARC, and all the groups and individuals involved in the conflict. Therefore, its success relies on the serious commitment to truth and to the relevant reforms necessary to consolidate the Nunca Más.”
-A Sampling of Other Responses
Among members of the political class in Bogota, there was a mixture of reactions to the justice accord. Journalist María Jimena Duzán called the debates “Kafkaesque.” Everyone seemed to have an opinion, no one agreed on the details of what had been agreed, and there was no way to validate which of the contradictory assertions about the content of the accord were correct, since no one had seen the actual text of the accord. There was consequently intense but short-lived pressure–especially from exPresident Alvaro Uribe and Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez–to release immediately the 75-point version of the justice accord. These pressures died down considerably in subsequent weeks as it became clear that the parties were still clarifying what had been agreed to.
The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Committee, an alliance that groups 265 human rights organizations, expressed its “satisfaction and optimism” on the transitional justice agreement, applauding the restorative justice approach and the focus on “satisfying the victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition.” It was also pleased to see the important role that human rights organizations and victims groups were given by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace created under the Justice accord. Among its concerns, however, were that recent military justice reforms that could “allow agents implicated in grave violations to elude their obligation to appear before the Peace Tribunal”. The alliance also questioned the lack of specific criteria for the selection of the Peace Tribunal members, and the continued paramilitary threat to citizen participation, democracy, and the success of the peace accords.(For its full statement, click here.)
Jenny Neme, director of Justapaz, while hopeful about the potential of restorative justice to dealing with past abuses, cautioned about the need to build capacity for such processes. “Facilitating processes of encounters between victims and oppressors is very demanding. … It is hard for victims to look their oppressor in the eyes and envision a shared life. [These processes] must be accompanied,” she told me.
Women’s organizations in Colombia were pleased that the accord made particular note of sexual violence as a crime that would not be considered for amnesty–a promise that the negotiators had made to Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, when she visited Colombia and later Havana this year. Groups were however appalled that yet again women were largely excluded from both the ceremonies on Sept. 23 and the justice working group that had crafted the transitional justice agreement. They were hopeful that any future commissions, including the truth commission and other bodies created to implement the accords, would have a favorable gender balance.
For now, the recent agreements have struck what political analyst Laura Gil called a “coup against skepticism,” and the expectations for peace are mounting quickly. It is important all the same to keep in mind that what is being negotiated is the end of the conflict and to adjust expectations accordingly.
That said, a successful peace accord will not produce immediate change and change will not happen automatically. A sustainable peace will depend on the actions of the citizenry to help keep political will strong and consistent. For this to happen, there is an ongoing need to educate the public about the peace process, what to expect, and the citizenry’s responsibilities for peace-building. The clock is ticking however and there is little time to waste.