International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International judicial Academy of the International Law Institute, Washington, D.C.
with circulation assistance from the American Society of International Law

Fall 2017 Issue

Global Judicial PERSPECTIVe


Columbia Peace Process Should Move Forward to Prevent Further Violence

Richard J. Goldstone

By: Richard J. Goldstone, Former Justice, Constitutional Court of South Africa, First Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, and Regular Columnist, International Judicial Monitor Monitor

At the beginning of November 2017, I delivered two addresses in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Both related to transitional justice. The first was arranged by the Central Bank of Columbia. I was invited to discuss possible lessons that might be relevant for transitional justice in Colombia from the experiences of South Africa, the Balkans, and Rwanda. The second was delivered during a conference held by the Colombian Council of State to mark its 200th anniversary during which I discussed South Africa’s experience with transitional justice. The topics chosen by my Colombian hosts reflect the fact that today the main topic of conversation in Colombia relates to transitional justice.

The armed conflict between the government and armed guerrillas has been waged since the 1960s - over fifty years, with a huge death toll and massive numbers of people injured and displaced. The causes of the conflict are manifold and include drug-trafficking and agrarian issues and the political and territorial fragmentation of the state. Recently, the International Center for Transitional Justice reported as follows:

“Armed groups on all sides sought to reduce the military capacity of their adversaries and impose control over the civilian population by committing horrendous crimes. Mass violence has produced nearly eight million victims over the past 50 years – roughly 17% of the country’s population. According to the report of the National Center for Historical Memory, the conflict has resulted in:

220,000 people killed;

Nearly 6 million people displaced;

Over 60,600 cases of forced disappearances, sexual crimes and gender-based violence;

The forced recruitment of almost 6,500 children and youth.”

In September 2016, the Government of Colombia signed a peace agreement with the largest rebel group known by its Spanish acronym FARC. The agreement provides for a system of “Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Recurrence”. The agreement was put to a plebiscite and narrowly defeated by a vote of 50.2% against and 49.8% in favor. That led to further negotiations between the government and rebel groups and a modified agreement was adopted by the Colombian Congress.

The fear of many supporters of the peace process is that the government does not have the political will or power to implement it. There is presently a coalition government and not all of its members demonstrate strong support for it. In the meantime violent incidents continue.

The peace plan provides for government assisted substitution of the coca crops, an important source of income in some of the rebel-held regions and substantial trafficking in drugs. Before substitute crops had been planted, government forces were allegedly destroying the coca crops and thus the livelihood of farmers, their families and the many people who rely on income that flows from the sale of coca. On October 5, 2017 some hundreds of farmers and community members gathered to protest the burning of their coca crops. The protest turned violent when the police are


alleged to have fired at the demonstrators. It was reported that some 15 people were killed and more than 50 injured.. This and other promised programs will require substantial resources in a country that has a relatively small budget.

The largest rebel group that had refused to sign the peace agreement is known by its Spanish acronym, ELN. At the beginning of October 2017, two days before the Pope visited Colombia, ELN joined the peace agreement and agreed to a ceasefire. A few weeks later, at the end of October 2017, an indigenous leader was killed, allegedly at the hands of the ELN rebels. This has also had the effect of undermining confidence in the ceasefire agreed in the framework of the peace talks.

I have mentioned only two of a number of events that make the peace process so fragile. It will be further exacerbated by the upcoming 2018 elections for the Congress on March 11, the first round for the Presidential election on May 27, and a runoff between the two leaders in the first round set for June 17.

Colombia’s system of proportional representation has spawned a plethora of parties and presidential nominees. I was informed that more than 32 people have indicated their interest in running for president. Thus far there are almost 20 registered. To complicate the matter further, FARC is threatening to field a candidate. Such a move would be calculated to fuel strong feelings on the part of many Colombians who oppose the peace process.

A leading politician who is strongly against the peace process is former President Álvaro Uribe. He is not eligible to stand again for president but any candidate anointed by him is likely to substantially benefit from his charismatic support. The present president, Juan Manuel Santos, who received the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace in Colombia, comes to the end of his second term and is also ineligible for reelection. The country is already in election mode and it appears that pending crucial legislation required to implement the peace agreement is languishing in the legislature. It thus becomes apparent that the political situation in Colombia is a difficult, fraught and complex one.

One of the problems brought to my attention by some supporters of the peace process is that its terms are confusing and not clearly understood by many people. I would suggest that time is of the essence and that if procedures required to implement the peace process are not put in place with all due speed, that process will rapidly bleed support and the country will be back to the state of destructive war that obtained before the cease fire was negotiated.

It is clearly in the interests of the people of Columbia that the atrocious violence of the preceding five decades should end. There have been far too many victims. The cost of implementing the peace process and sustaining the institutions that have been created to facilitate it is substantial. According to the Los Angeles Times of March 15, 2017: “In exchange for the rebels' agreeing to lay down their weapons, the government promised billions of dollars in aid and education, land reform, rural infrastructure and guaranteed political representation over the next decade. Santos also committed to protecting the rebels from reprisals by right-wing paramilitary groups.” The cost of providing for promised aid to the rebels is estimated to amount to some 5% of the annual budget.

It is crucial that members of the international community continue to support the people of Columbia in their pursuit of peace. In particular the United States Government should in no way reduce its financial and political support for the peace process. It has consequences, not only for Columbia, but for many millions of people in the region who have over the decades been affected by violence and instability in Colombia.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2017 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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