Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Colombian Government, FARC Agree to Deadline for Peace Deal

The bloody and brutal decades-long armed conflict in Colombia could soon come to an end after the country’s government and FARC rebels set the date for a final peace agreement.

“The head of the FARC secretariat and I have agree that negotiations must end and a final accord must be signed in six months at the latest,” declared Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos from Havana at a press conference where he appeared with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, and FARC top commander Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko.

On top of the March 23, 2016 deadline Santos announced that Colombia’s oldest guerilla army has until May 23rd of next year to lay down their arms.

“It will not be a simple task because there are still points that need to be agreed upon,” noted Santos though he optimistically emphasized, “the hour peace is at hand.”

The representatives from the guarantor countries of the peace talks, Dag Nylander of Norway and Rodolfo Benitez of Cuba, also noted that the government and FARC agreed to a partial accord on a transitional justice scheme if a peace deal becomes a reality.

A special court will be created where FARC members as well as Colombian state security agents, military and civilian collaborators can be put on trial for war-related crimes.  Among the charges to be considered by the tribunal are crimes against humanity, genocide, rape, extrajudicial killings, forced displacement and recruitment of child soldiers. Those accused who accept their charges can receive punishments of between five to eight years in prison under special conditions and arrange for reparations to the victims of their crimes.

For those who reject the charges against them, however, the deal established a prosecution phase where they could be imprisoned for up to twenty years without any judicial concessions.

The plan also provides a general amnesty to soldiers and rebels who could be accused of “political crimes.” As a result, Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre suspended criminal charges against FARC commanders though he did emphasize that “there will be no pardons to those accused of human rights abuses or war crimes.”

Santos admitted that “some people with not be satisfied” with the transitional justice deal and that was certainly the case with one of the strongest critics of the peace process: ex-President Alvaro Uribe. The opposition senator claimed that the deal will worsen violence and sets a “bad example” of justice towards FARC leaders.  FARC lead peace negotiator alias Ivan Marquez could be accused under the transitional justice scheme but also theoretically Santos as well as his predecessor Uribe.

“I cannot plant any more seeds of hate…Peace cannot truly begin until we can undergo a reconciliation with our aggressors,” said armed conflict victim Ana Lucia Correa regarding the justice pact. Yet for displaced Colombian, Mirley Ferraro, “laughed” at what she viewed as a lack of justice for those affected by war.

Since the beginning of peace talks in November 2012, partial agreements have already been reached on land reform, political participation for demobilized rebels and an end to the illegal drugs trade. The discussions have not always gone smoothly in nearly three years and were briefly suspended following the kidnapping of a Colombian army general last year and a deadly rebel attack last April.

The peace process has received widespread international support including from the U.S. whose special envoy for the talks, Bernard Aronson, was reportedly present at Wednesday’s conference in Havana.
“The announcements made today at the peace talks in Havana represent historic progress toward a final peace agreement to end more than 50 years of armed conflict,” read a statement from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “Peace is now ever closer for the Colombian people and millions of conflict victims.”

Pope Francis largely refrained from making overt political announcement during his recent visit to Cuba, yet he declared that the current peace process couldn’t be permitted to fail.

“May the long night of pain and violence, with the support of all Colombians, become an unending day of concord, justice, fraternity and love... so that there may be lasting peace,” said the Argentine pontiff at a mass in Havana last Sunday.

YouTube Source – EFE

Online Sources (English) – The Guardian, International Crisis Group, Colombia Reports, U.S. Department of State 

Online Sources (Spanish) – El Tiempo, El Espectador, Noticias Caracol, El Colombiano

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