Kidnapping the Hope for Peace: Explaining the Colombian Peace Deal and Its Consequences

By Iván Colón Estarellas

After 52 years of Civil War between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, for its Spanish acronym), both parties reached an agreement for peace on August 24, 2016. The agreement is the product of four years of negotiations in Havana, Cuba between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC under the leadership Rodrigo Londoño (“Timochenko”), and has been hailed as a major accomplishment in Latin America and the world. After much excitement for reaching such a comprehensive and consequential deal, the people of Colombia went to the polls on October 2, 2016 to vote either to accept the terms of the peace deal or to reject it. The people voted to reject the deal by a thin margin; 50.2% of voters rejected the deal while 49.8% favored it.[1] Since that day, Colombia has succumbed into a state of uncertainty, with both sides looking for ways to keep the essence of the deal alive.

The peace treaty that was agreed in Havana consists of six main points. The first of these points calls for a Rural Integral Reform to give land rights to the most disadvantaged people in the rural areas.[2] The second point deals with establishing new political parties especially in the regions most affected by the conflict. It also provides for the creation of “temporary peace districts” for people living in these regions to elect members of Congress during this transition phase.[3] The third point looks to set specific guidelines to put an end to the conflict. The fourth point deals with finding a solution to the country’s illegal drug problem by bringing more economic development to areas where most of the illegal drugs are cultivated and by using a health-minded approach in dealing with drug addiction.[4] The fifth point establishes various methods of punishment and sanctions for the players of the conflict, and creates a “special tribunal for peace” that will serve as a truth and reconciliation commission. Lastly, the sixth point provides a mechanism to implement the deal.[5]

The agreement’s most contested points are point 3 and 5. Point 3, provides guidelines to finish the conflict.[6] Pursuant to said point, both parties will cease-fire under the direct supervision of the United Nations. The FARC and the military forces will also surrender their weapons, with the United Nations leading all efforts in collecting arms and explosive devices, including the creation of safe zones. Only then, will the FARC be permitted to have political representation in the Colombian Congress.[7] Under the agreement, said participation will consist of five senators and five representatives during the next two electoral cycles beginning in 2018.

Point 5, for its part, deals with finding justice for victims of the FARC and establishing truth and reconciliation commissions. This point also creates a “special jurisdiction for peace,” which deals with all crimes committed during the conflict, and creates a special tribunal for peace and other organs in order to fulfill the mission of truth and reconciliation.[8] Said tribunal will allow for the extension of amnesty or pardons for political and other related crimes committed during the conflict.[9] Yet, it specifies that crimes against humanity, acts of genocide, war crimes, kidnappings, torture, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, sexual crimes, forced displacement and recruitment of minors will not be subject to amnesty or pardons.[10] Regarding these types of crimes specifically, the agreement proposes the following sanctions:

  • Proper sanctions, which will be applied only to those who recognize the truth and responsibility of their actions before the tribunal, and entail serving five to eight year of non-prison sanctions with an effective restriction of liberties and rights, such as liberty of residence and movement.[11]
  • Alternative sanctions, which will be will be applied to those who confess their crimes before sentencing but after the start of the criminal process against the defendant, and entail five to years of jail time.[12]
  • Ordinary sanctions, which will be applied to individuals who do not recognize or confess any wrongdoing, and entail serving 15 to 20 years of imprisonment.[13]

These terms agreed for the sanctions against the FARC members for many years of atrocities and wrongdoings and all other provisions of the peace deal were to be tested at the polls on October 2, 2016. As evidenced by the results of the referendum, the Colombian peace deal left a sour taste among the citizens of Colombia. This sour taste was caused mostly by points three and five of the treaty. Regarding point three, there is a lot of uneasiness among the opponents of the deal surrounding the potential FARC political participation during the next two election cycles. Opponents of the deal, such as former President Álvaro Uribe, believe that guaranteeing ten members in Congress is too much at this stage.[14] Uribe, and those who share his view, hold that former “terrorists” or any individual serving any punishment as defined by this deal should not be allowed to hold public office,[15] as that would pave the way for a future far-left government.[16]

Regarding the fifth point of the treaty, the opponents of the deal hold FARC members should be judged in traditional Colombian courts rather than in the tribunals and under the jurisdiction created by point five of the deal.[17] This is a view that is shared by those seeking redress, who believe that this point does not allow for real justice or reparations.[18] José Miguel Vivanco, the Director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch, agrees, stating the peace deal has “seriously undermined [the] opportunity for a sustainable and just peace.”[19]

It can be agreed that the main goal of this peace deal between the Government and the FARC was to find enduring peace in order to set the tables for a new era of prosperity for Colombia. I believe that this peace deal was the best way to put the conflict behind and move quickly towards a bright future. Foremost, regarding point 3, I believe it is crucial for the FARC to have a proper voice in the political system. For many years, the only voice that the group had was through guns and terror. Now, the most efficient way for the group to express its vision for the country is through the mainstream political system. It can also be argued that many other political parties could incorporate some ideas of the FARC into their political platform to little by little integrate them into civil life. In this regard, I believe that the opponents of the deal must remember that a full-blown democracy only exists when there is a space of expression for everyone, not just for those who think alike.

Furthermore, regarding point 5, I believe it is important to keep in mind that, as the deal properly establishes, there will not be full immunity for crimes against humanity, war crimes or any other serious crime. Only those that come forward promptly will be allowed to conduct some community service or serve alternative sanctions to a prison sentence. In my opinion, said opportunities for acknowledging wrongdoings and for serving non-prison sentences provides former FARC members with powerful tools for integrating into civil life and a first step towards a solid rehabilitation. In so doing, I believe that these types of sanctions will contribute more to the country than just having all the rebel fighters serving long prison sentences.

Trading war for peace is never easy. But looking to secure ever-lasting peace is the cornerstone for any country in conflict seeking overall wellbeing. Perhaps with their vote this past October 2, 2016, the Colombian people committed the most consequential kidnap in five decades of war. Yet, the agreement still withstands. The Colombian peace deal remains a monumental agreement that may serve as an example for many countries with similar internal conflicts. Ultimately, the people of Colombia will either have to at least partially reconcile with their former tormentors or continue to be terrorized until an undetermined time. In a move that provides hope towards finding a more perfect peace that the people of Colombian will accept, both parties recently expressed their commitment to maintain the current cease-fire until the end of December 2016 and perhaps return to the negotiating table.[20] I hope this time the Colombian people return the hostage in order to move into a new era of Colombian prosperity.

[1] Julia Symmes Cobb & Nicholas Casey, Colombia Peace Deal is Defeated, Leaving a Nation in Shock, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/03/world/colombia-peace-deal-defeat.html?_r=0

[2] Treaty for Peace, Colombia-FARC, Aug. 24, 2016, 8-29.

[3] Id. 30-49.

[4] Id. 88-111.

[5] Id. 171-192.

[6] Id. 50.

[7] Id. Point 3.2, 61.

[8] Id. Art. 46, 137 [Special Jurisdiction for Peace].

[9] Id. Art. 38, 135.

[10] Id. Art. 40, 136.

[11] Id. Art. 60, 147; Regarding proper sanctions, the treaty states that alternative punishment may be served in the form of special projects that contribute to fulfillment of the objectives of the treaty.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] El País (Colombia), Álvaro Uribe responde por qué se opone al acuerdo de paz, (Sept. 4, 2016) http://www.elpais.com.co/elpais/colombia/proceso-paz/noticias/alvaro-uribe-responde-por-opone-acuerdo-paz

[15] Id.

[16] Hisham Aidi, Why Colombians Opposed the Peace Deal with FARC, Al Jazeera (Oct. 4, 2016) http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/10/colombians-opposed-peace-deal-farc-161004064506763.html

[17] John Otis, After Voters Reject Colombia Peace Deal, Guerrillas Are Left in Limbo, NPR, (Oct. 16, 2016, 5:15pm) http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/10/16/497980907/after-voters-reject-colombia-peace-deal-guerrillas-are-left-in-limbo

[18] Nicholas Casey, Aching for Peace, but Also Justice, Colombians Weigh Deal With FARC, The New York Times (Aug. 25, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/world/americas/colombia-farc-peace-deal.html?_r=0

[19] Id.

[20] Helen Murphy, Colombia’s president extends ceasefire with FARC through year end, Reuters (Oct. 13, 2016, 8:43pm) http://www.reuters.com/article/us-colombia-peace-idUSKCN12E01R

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