By Rodrigo Uprimny,* EL ESPECTADOR, September 20, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Kidnapping is a terrible crime, which, having been committed systematically by the guerillas, took our armed conflict to extreme levels of cruelty. A point that unites almost all Colombians is our desire to put an end to kidnapping, and for the cases that took place to be cleared up, for the victims be recognized and given reparation, and for those responsible to be held accountable in court.

One of the backbones of the Peace Agreement with the FARC was to move forward in that direction. In the future, the ending of the armed conflict would prevent any more kidnappings by the guerrillas. In the past, since kidnapping was not to be given amnesty, the obligation of the demobilized former FARC guerrillas is to tell the complete truth about the crimes as a condition of acceding to the so-called own sanctions: effective restriction of liberties and rights for five to eight years, in which the defendant also has to carry out some restorative work to aid the victims and build the peace. If the former guerrillas responsible for that crime or other atrocities do not comply with these conditions, then they must be sentenced for up to twenty years in prison by the JEP.

This demonstrates that, contrary to the attacks by opponents, the peace with the FARC is not a peace with impunity, but rather one with justice. It is a transitional justice, which is different from the ordinary justice provided in the criminal law, but one that becomes more significant, because it allows the clearing up of a lot of cases that right now are in total impunity in the ordinary justice system. Besides that, this transitional justice recognizes the victims and gives them a privileged voice, while it also requires the perpetrator to take responsibility.

Even though it doesn’t function with the speed that many of us would like to see, two very significant events of this week demonstrate once again that this transitional justice is beginning to show results. First, the principal former commanders of the now extinct FARC admitted before the JEP that the kidnappings that they committed were an unacceptable atrocity, and lacked any extenuating circumstances. They begged the pardon of the victims and they committed themselves to clarifying what happened in the crimes and aiding in the search for the remains of the victims who had disappeared.

Secondly, Íngrid Betancourt furnished her testimony to the Truth Commission, telling of her six years in captivity, demonstrating the devastating impact of this crime, even after she had been set free. Íngrid told how in her kidnapping she “entered into a kind of exile, into a solitude where a person could not touch bottom, and in that solitude a person is lost, she forgets who she is and who she was.”

The kidnapping victims, dignified and able to speak; those responsible for this atrocity, taking responsibility in the justice system. This peace with justice, in spite of its imperfections and of the difficult situation it is passing through, deserves to be defended. Or would we prefer to perpetuate the war and remain trapped in its cruelties, as Márquez and Santrich have done? I wish the ELN would listen to these clamors for peace and against kidnapping and give up their idea that that atrocious practice is compatible with the International Declaration of Human Rights. That idea is totally mistaken, as I have demonstrated in prior writings. But, above all, I wish that they would stop kidnapping and free all of their kidnapped victims as an essential gesture to recover the possibility of peace negotiations with those guerrillas.

It’s in that spirit of defense of this peace that is imperfect and in difficulties, but making fair and necessary progress, that I join the invitation to the movement “Let’s Defend the Peace” so that we can get together on Saturday the 26th in the international conference “The World Is Demanding Peace” on Youtube, La Línea de Medio (The Middle Way), and Facebook Live. With all of you, for peace, there will be more of us.

(*) Researcher at Dejusticia and Professor at the National University.

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