The historic declaration agreed between the Colombian government and the country’s main guerrilla group, FARC, will not contribute to a lasting peace unless those responsible for human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, are brought to justice, said Amnesty International.
The 10 principles on victims’ rights contains no commitment to bring to justice those who displaced, tortured, killed, abducted, disappeared or raped millions of Colombians over the past five decades.
“The fact that the government and the FARC have made a commitment to place victims’ rights at the centre of the peace talks is a great step forward. However, the devil is in the detail. Any agreement that fails to ensure those suspected of criminal responsibility for abuses face the courts will be incomplete and fragile,” said Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher at Amnesty International.
“The government must ensure that those responsible for crimes under international law do not simply get away with it. Victims have a right to see justice served in ordinary civilian courts. It will be a challenge, but it is the only way to ensure a lasting and effective peace in Colombia.”
On 7 June, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) issued a declaration, including a 10-point plan, on a set of principles that will frame the next phase of the peace talks, which will focus on the right of victims to truth, justice and reparation.
In the declaration both sides have, critically, acknowledged their responsibility in human rights abuses and violations, that victims’ rights lie at the heart of the peace negotiations and that these rights are non-negotiable. The two sides also agreed to include victims in these discussions and announced the creation of a “commission to establish the facts” on the conflict and its victims.
However, there is no commitment to guarantee justice.
The government and the FARC have officially been engaged in peace talks since October 2012. Talks are due to re-start after the second round of presidential elections on Sunday.
“The sky-high levels of impunity have been one of the reasons why the conflict has endured for so long. The perpetrators know that they can simply get away with it,” said Marcelo Pollack.
“To demonstrate they are being genuine about victims’ rights the two sides must make a verifiable commitment to immediately put an end to human rights abuses and violations. The authorities also need to bring to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility for human rights abuses and violations.”
The conflict has been marked by widespread and systematic violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, torture, forced displacement, abductions and sexual violence. These have been committed by the security forces, either acting alone or in collusion with paramilitaries, and by guerrilla groups.
Indigenous People and Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities, as well as human rights defenders, community leaders and trade unionists, have been particularly at risk of human rights abuses and violations. Some 70 human rights defenders were killed last year alone.
In April, Amnesty International wrote to the presidential candidates outlining the organization’s principal human rights concerns and calling on them to place respect for human rights and an end to impunity at the heart of the campaign and at the centre of the peace negotiations.