Colombia: Agreeing to Impunity

Washington, DC (HRW) – The “Agreement on Victims of the Conflict” between the Colombian government, and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) guerrillas will ensure that those responsible for atrocities on both sides of the conflict escape meaningful punishment, Human Rights Watch said today in an analysis of the 63-page agreement.

Under the agreement, announced by government and FARC negotiators in Havana on December 15, 2015, a new Peace Tribunal would try those responsible for grave crimes committed during the armed conflict. Those responsible for crimes against humanity and serious war crimes who cooperate with the new judicial system and confess their crimes would spend a maximum of eight years under “special conditions” that would entail “effective restraint of liberty.”

“The agreement is full of references to justice, accountability and even effective restraints on liberty,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But a close look at the text reveals a tangle of ambiguities, omissions, and loopholes that make these references seem, at best, an empty promise.”

The government and FARC announced in September that these “special conditions” would not entail prison time. The December 15 agreement establishes that these will “under no circumstances” include any form of detention “equivalent” to prison, and limits all restrictions on liberty to what is “necessary” for performing “restorative and reparative” projects to benefit victims.

“No international tribunal has allowed convicted war criminals to evade prison for these types of serious crimes,” Vivanco said. “The new agreement goes even further by ensuring they will not face any remotely serious form of punishment.”

FARC Area of Operations

FARC Area of Operations

Since 2004, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been conducting a preliminary examination of crimes in Colombia that could fall within the court’s jurisdiction. In 2014, the ICC prosecutor reported that it had “informed the Colombian authorities that a sentence that is grossly or manifestly inadequate, in light of the gravity of the crimes and the form of participation of the accused, would vitiate the genuineness of a national proceeding, even if all previous stages of the proceeding had been deemed genuine.”

In 2006, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled that demobilized paramilitaries who had benefited from reduced sentences of up to eight years under the Justice and Peace Law should serve their sentences in ordinary prisons. The court noted that the right to justice “could be affected by the perception of impunity derived from adding to the already significant sentencing benefits in the law other benefits in the execution of the sentence that would undermine it entirely.”

“The ICC prosecutor and Colombia’s Constitutional Court should carefully review this agreement to ensure that victims receive the justice they truly deserve,” Vivanco said.

The Human Rights Watch detailed analysis of the agreement can be found athrw.org/news/2015/12/21/hrw-analysis-colombia-farc-agreement.