EL ESPECTADOR, September 1, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
“As the President of the JEP, Eduardo Cifuentes, has said it so well, it’s an ambush against the peace process, along with a shabby political interest,” stated former President Ernesto Samper.
The general amnesty put forward by the Democratic Center Party, and which we hope the administration does not adopt, is anachronous in international terms, and immoral in its legal aspirations, because it seeks to wash away the guilt of a group of criminals, and hand them a check of impunity in exchange for no obligation whatsoever to society or to the victims. It’s really, as the President of the JEP, Eduardo Cifuentes, has said so well, an ambush against the peace process with a shabby electoral interest, and to repeat the point, it’s not an idea shared by the majority of Colombians; it’s trying to get past the conflict by going back to war. If what they want to do is revive the dilemma of war or peace with a view to the next campaign, it’s the promoters of the idea who should understand that Colombia, which has now, although timidly, had a taste of peace, will vote massively for the peace process to continue when this administration is over.
General amnesties were very common in Latin American when, presented as “end of story” laws, they offered the perpetrators of every kind of atrocious crime (murders, disappearances, tortures, extortions, theft of children, etc.) the easy exit of “a clean slate”.
That’s the way a number of military dictators of the past achieved a bewitching peace.
The evolution of new constitutional theories of human rights, and the International Humanitarian Law, activated by international organizations, ensured that proceedings and trials were re-opened, so that the exonerated actors would answer to the victims for their amnestied actions. At the same time, they ensured that, in the future, the amnesties were exclusively referred to as political crimes, as happens now in constitutional standards in Colombia.
The best-known regional case in this “atonement” process was the case of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. We experienced a similar process of partial amnesty that was promoted in Colombia during President Uribe’s administration in the demobilization of the paramilitary groups. By means of the Justice and Peace standards, that was offered to the paramilitary commanders who demobilized, turned over their weapons, accepted sentences that did not exceed eight years, and told their victims the truth about their criminal actions. The paramilitaries demobilized, turned over some of their weapons, submitted to the system, and when they started to tell the truth they had agreed upon, they were extradited to the United States for drug trafficking crimes, in order to silence them.
Meanwhile, this country was starting to see the need to find paths to ending the war, needing a path different from the costly and ineffective armed confrontation we had lived through for five decades. This peaceful intention was expressed in the Victims’ Law. That Law recognized what was going on in the country, it was not just a narco-terrorist threat—that legitimized the use of excessive force without legal or humanitarian considerations—but an armed conflict that could be ended through political negotiations. Those would have to begin with the negotiators’ recognizing the International Humanitarian Law, human rights, and the whole truth that the victims were demanding.
While earlier peace processes had been concerned about the reincorporation of the perpetrators, this one, for the first time, focused on the nine million victims of the conflict. More than 280,000 of those victims had lost their lives. In order to create a system with reparations, a transitional justice system was established. It was required to act as a bridge between the armed conflict and the post-conflict of reconciliation. That’s how the triumph of the negotiated peace was realized, not just pax romana, (a hegemonic peace, guaranteed by force and law) scorched earth, the kind of peace we were accustomed to.
Some political groups—the Democratic Center and Radical Change Parties, among others—insisted, irresponsibly, on leaving out the transitional justice system—which is supported by Congressional legislation—calling the system “third parties” who were, nothing more nor less than all of the Colombians that did not make up part of the constitutional armed forces or the revolutionaries that had take part in the war. As if the conflict of the last fifty years had been a solitary and single confrontation between legal and illegal weaponry, absolving all of the citizens of their obligation to contribute to the whole truth, and thus provide redress to the victims.
For that reason, the request for a new general amnesty sounds peculiar, to say the least, because, having accepted the idea that every citizen is obligated to collaborate, even the subjects of active violence, with the transitional justice system that is made up of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the Truth Commission, and the Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons, it would have been easier just to call all of the killers together and thus agree on a historical and legal narrative that would cover everybody.
The significant act, in which, in the end, we have gathered into the system all of the former Presidents—including former President Uribe, who didn’t believe in it—thanks to the efforts of Fr. Francisco de Roux, and to the Truth Commission for carrying out the moral commitment that we have to the victims of the conflict; to lighten the burden of their mourning. They are demonstrating that what is being proposed with this new concept has nothing to do with the process of restorative transition that we are experiencing. Instead, it’s a questionable electoral strategy to gain the support of the unrepentant paramilitaries, corrupt politicians, and a lot of criminals.
As far as the first are concerned, it’s sufficient that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace opened its doors, so as to offer the same right as the victims have, so that the former paramilitary commanders who were part of the conflict, and were extradited to the United States to keep them from talking, will face the JEP, receiving the same benefits as the military and the former guerrillas, to explain the circumstances of time, place, and manner in which they committed their crimes.
There are still persons and sectors that do not understand, or who do not want to understand, the difference between the transitional justice system with its restorative character, and the ordinary justice system with its punitive and inquisitorial character. Passing over that difference, a difference that is newly based on the overriding interest in the victims’ right to the whole truth, explains their obsessions, as expressed by former President Uribe, with the former members of the FARC Secretariat. In exchange for demobilization and telling the whole truth, they obtain a place for democratic reincorporation. In the exchange, they have definitively abandoned their weapons, and promise reparation to the victims. How many of them would have accepted the offer to leave the jungle behind and spend the rest of their lives behind bars? It’s exactly the same as what has happened with all of the successful peace processes in the world: violence or democracy.