WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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28 Jun 2022 | Commentary

Colombia’s Truth Commission Final Report: Meeting the Victims

It’s been a historic day. The Truth, Coexistence and Non-Recurrence Commission, as the commission that emerged from the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) guerrillas is officially known, presented its final report on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. This closes a key chapter in the historic cycle that the country began in 2016 at the end of the peace negotiations.

The Commission’s mandate does not contemplate providing evidence in judicial proceedings or pointing out individual responsibility for crimes committed. Its mandate is to identify groups who participated in the armed conflict and were responsible for human rights violations, such as killings, disappearances, massacres and torture, among other crimes. The report’s conclusions, however, are essential for building the peace Colombia so desperately needs.

Below, WOLA provides some of the highlights of the report:

1.The focus on victims’ right to the truth. When it was created during the peace negotiations, the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC gave the Commission a threefold mission: to help clarify events that took place during the conflict, to promote and contribute to the recognition of victims whose rights were violated, and to promote coexistence in Colombia’s territories.

During the report’s presentation, Francisco Roux, president of the Commission, said that the document provides “a message of hope and future… Of uncomfortable truths that challenge our dignity. Words that come from the victims who have fought to keep the memory.”

“The report is a window into the immense pain generated by violence in the context of the armed conflict in Colombia, but also an opportunity to build memory on behalf of the victims,” reflects Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, president of WOLA, on the historical importance of the report. “Understanding the complexity of the serious human rights violations that were committed over the decades is fundamental to having informed discussions about the duty of the State to protect and guarantee these rights and to repair them when they are violated.”

2.The civilian population, the most vulnerable during the war. One of the main conclusions of the report is that the non-combatant civilian population was the most affected during the years of conflict. The report states that “out of every ten people killed violently in the armed conflict, eight were civilians”. When the currently known number of missing persons is added (some 121,000), “the figure rises to 90 percent civilian casualties”. Furthermore, violence affected certain populations in particular ways. Although “the suffering and uncertainty caused by the internal armed conflict were experienced in all parts of Colombia, they were and continue to be more destructive and persistent in ethnic communities.”

Jiménez Sandoval highlights the unprecedented exercise of inclusion made by the members of the Commission as they were producing the report. “It tells us about the differentiated impacts on groups that experienced disproportionate violence during the conflict. The focus on ethnicity, gender, LGTBIQ+ people and voices in exile make this report a unique tool compared to initiatives of this type in other countries and highlights the importance of this type of approach,” she said. WOLA has been one of the organizations that particularly supported the Commission in this differentiated approach.

3.The role of the United States. The report acknowledges U.S. support for the peace process but is critical of the role that a number of U.S. governments played in developing security policies, militarizing society, and withholding information about the relationship between paramilitary groups and the Colombian military. Overall, the Commission recommends that the international community continue its efforts to support the full implementation of the peace agreement.

4.Drug policy. It recommends that the Colombian government leads and promotes an international debate to reformulate drug policy in cooperation with the United States and creates a new vision to move from a prohibitionist perspective toward legal regulation.

5.Next steps: Among the main recommendations of the Commission, included in the final report, are:

  • That the Colombian government advances in the implementation of the peace agreement, strengthens humanitarian assistance measures and guarantees a territorial approach with emphasis on ethnic and gender issues. That the security of former combatants be guaranteed, and that progress be made in negotiations with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN).
  • Improve the administration of justice in four areas: The independence of the institutions in charge of investigating human rights violations, adjustments to investigation methodologies, creation of an investigation support mechanism, and the establishment of limits to the extradition of persons implicated in other crimes to guarantee victims’ rights.
  • Create an independent commission to examine the risks of co-optation and corruption of the Attorney General’s Office and that this office assumes all investigations so that they fall under the jurisdiction of the ordinary justice system.
  • That the Colombian government promotes concrete transformations in the security apparatus to reduce militarization, with a new doctrine that prioritizes human rights. This includes the separation of the National Police from the Ministry of Defense.

The publication of the report and the recommendations made, which President-elect Gustavo Petro pledged to read and implement, have undoubtedly opened a new chapter in Colombia’s history.