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The success of an historic peace deal between the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerilla group, which was officially signed today in Cartagena, rests on the Colombian authorities’ ability to ensure truth, justice and reparation for the millions of victims of the more than 50 year-long conflict, said Amnesty International.

The peace agreement will still need to be ratified via a plebiscite, to be held on 2 October.

“Today will rightly be a day of celebration in Colombia. The authorities must now guarantee this historic achievement is not undermined by ensuring that all those responsible for the despicable crimes under international law inflicted on millions of people over half a century face justice,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“The crimes of those who carried out, ordered or benefited from these abuses, including those in business and politics, cannot and must not be brushed off with the stroke of a pen.”

The transitional justice model agreed last year by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will go some way to ensure a degree of truth, justice and reparation for some of the victims of the conflict. 

However, many of its provisions appear to fall short of international law and standards on victims’ rights. For example, the punishments for those who admit responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity do not reflect the gravity of such crimes. Likewise, the definition of command responsibility could allow many guerrilla and security force commanders to evade justice for human rights abuses and violations committed by their subordinates.

Colombia has come a long way since its most violent years. However, human rights abuses and violations against marginalized communities, particularly Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities, as well as against human rights defenders, including community leaders, trade unionists and land rights activists, continue unabated.

“Most of these attacks –many of which are attributed to paramilitary groups that continue to operate despite their supposed demobilization a decade ago –are not occurring in the context of combat and are often motivated by economic interests. Many of those communities at risk of attack are precisely those campaigning against the exploitation of their lands and territories by mining, infrastructure, industrial and agro-industrial concerns,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Ending hostilities between government forces and the FARC may do little to halt such attacks unless the authorities take effective action to combat those armed groups targeting civilians, and bring to justice those in the state, in politics and in business who support them,

“For any peace agreement to be effective and long lasting, it must also be implemented in very close consultation with the individuals, groups and communities who have been affected by this bloody conflict for decades. Anything less will be little more than words on paper,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.