FARC and Colombian Government Agree to Truth Commission, Recognition of Victims

With the Colombia run-off election 8 days away, FARC and the Government of Colombia reached another milestone in the Havana peace talks.

Both sides agree the victims of the violence in Colombia must be heard. A truth commission will be set up, which FARC refers to as the "Commission of Clarification of the Origen and the Truth of the History of the Conflict." FARC has also declared a cease-fire for the next three weeks, through the election.

Here is the text of the agreement (English). Here is FARC's press release (English.)

Colombia Reports uses the headline "FARC formally admits responsibility for victims of Colombia conflict" but I think that's misleading. FARC has not admitted responsibility for the atrocities to the victims. In fact, the agreement says at this stage, the parties will not be exchanging blame. Recognizing there are victims and that the victims have a right to be heard and learn the truth is not the same as an admission of guilt or responsibility for what befell them. FARC and the Government have always claimed the other is responsible. The agreement says: [More...]

Acknowledgment of responsibility. Any discussion of this item must start with the acknowledgment of responsibility towards the victims of the conflict. We will not exchange impunities.

...Clarification of the truth: Clarifying what happened during the conflict, including its multiple causes, origins and effects, is a key part of the fulfillment of the rights of victims, and society in general. Rebuilding trust depends on full clarification and recognition of the truth. (my emphasis)

The Colombian military and paramilitary groups, which had the support of many in Uribe's administration, and possibly Uribe himself, were responsible for much of the violence and human rights violations. And through the flawed Justice and Peace initiative, most of them got deals without satisfactorily answering to victims.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2014 World Report on Colombia:

During the Uribe administration, the Colombian army executed an alarming number of civilians, particularly between 2004 and 2008. In many cases—commonly referred to as “false positives”—army personnel killed civilians and reported them as combatants killed in action, apparently in response to pressure from superiors to boost body counts.

...as of June 2013, the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office had been assigned investigations into 2,278 cases of alleged unlawful killings by state agents involving nearly 4,000 victims, and had obtained convictions for 189 cases. The convictions covered 605 army members, of whom 91 were (mostly junior) officers. More than 40 army colonels and lieutenant colonels were under investigation...

...In 2012 and 2013, in cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the government denied the military’s participation in human rights violations for which military members had already been convicted in national courts. The government claimed the FARC killed 17 civilians in Santo Domingo, Arauca in 1998, despite multiple judicial rulings in Colombia establishing the air force’s responsibility for the massacre. The court rejected Colombia’s arguments and held the state responsible.

Uribe’s security chief while president, retired police Gen. Mauricio Santoyo, pleaded guilty in the U.S. to working with the paramilitary groups from 2001 to 2008 and is serving a 13 year prison sentence.

In his plea agreement, he said he took bribes from the AUC from 2001 to 2008 in exchange for tipping them off ahead of police operations against them. Some of the operations also involved US drug enforcement agents.

...As part of a 2003 peace deal brokered by Alvaro Uribe's government, most paramilitary leaders surrendered and demobilised tens of thousands of their men in exchange for reduced jail terms and protection from extradition.

Uribe's cousin and political ally, Senator Mark Uribe Escobar, served 4 1/2 years in prison for his ties to the paramilitary groups, also known as "right wing death squads.")

Uribe’s conviction followed accusations that he had garnered the support of paramilitaries for his senatorial election run in 2002. Witnesses alleged the aspiring politician facilitated the dispossession of peasant land by paramilitaries in return for political support to achieve a seat in congress.

Uribe is one of the dozens of congressman implicated in the “parapolitics” scandal, a term used to describe the ties between the once-determined terrorist and now-demobilized paramilitary organization AUC, and Colombian lawmakers, businessmen and public officials.

The paramilitary groups did not end with the Justice and Peace program. They have rebanded. Human Rights Watch says:

Displacement levels are particularly high along the Pacific Coast, such as in the predominantly Afro-Colombian city of Buenaventura, where paramilitary successor groups caused the forced displacement of more than 2,500 people during the first week of November 2013.

I don't see where either FARC or the Government is acknowledging responsibility for the atrocities, as opposed to acknowledging the victims have a right to be heard, to learn the truth as to what happened to their loved ones, to reparations, and to be free of repetitive violations in the future.

That being said, the agreement is historic. FARC and the Colombian Government are closer to peace than ever. Peace is in the country's best interest.

Unfortunately, the right-wing candidate running against Santos in the election, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who is backed by Uribe and whose election would likely mean Uribe's return to power, is against the Peace process. Recognizing in recent weeks he could lose the election based on his harsh stance, he's now saying he'd continue with the peace process if FARC agreed to harsher punishment. That's the same as ending the peace talks, in my view.

For a primer on FARC, in its own words, check out Marulanda and the FARC, for Beginners. Or this shorter description from its website. (Both are in English.)

I hope Colombia, for its sake, rejects Zuluaga at the polls next week. To vote for peace, it should re-elect Santos.

the fear that Mr Santos will go easy on the FARC in order to get a deal done is overblown. This campaign has served to remind him of the depth of Colombians’ suspicions of the FARC: whatever happens, he will not have a mandate to seek peace at any cost. He has also promised that any accord will be put to voters, possibly in a special referendum. If Colombians dislike a deal, they will have the chance to reject it.

My earlier posts on the elections and on the FARC peace talks are here and here .

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