The hardest part of Colombia’s peace negotiations with the FARC guerrillas—it took 19 months to get there—was “transitional justice.” How do you hold human rights abusers accountable to their victims while still convincing them to turn in their weapons?
The peace accords came up with a formula that got more concessions out of the guerrillas than I expected, but left some things vague or to be defined later. We at WOLA had concerns about those vague areas, but didn’t oppose the accord, like some of our colleagues in the human rights community. We have taken a “wait and see” attitude, since so much was put off until later.
Well, “later” is now, as Colombia’s Congress is passing a law to establish the transitional justice system that the peace accord laid out. To our alarm, legislators, likely acting on behalf of powerful ex-military and wealthy allies, made two changes that undermine the accords’ intent.
First, they watered down the definition of “command responsibility” so that former military commanders can avoid justice by claiming there was nothing they could do to stop their subordinates. Second, they made it harder for the new justice system to punish civilians—landowners, political bosses, corporations—who may have aided and abetted serious human rights crimes.
This isn’t the final word. Colombia’s Constitutional Court will have a chance to make changes, and the International Criminal Court may weigh in at some point. But we can’t take a “wait and see” attitude toward this bill, which is a big step in the wrong direction.