Colombia War Crimes Tribunal

May 14, 2018


Just a year after the finalization of the Colombia-FARC deal, the new Colombian transitional justice tribunal has begun collecting evidence from all sides of the FARC conflict, which lasted for half a century, leaving 250,000 people confirmed dead, 60,000 missing, and 7 million people displaced (Rampietti, 2017). The main opposition to the FARC peace deal was dissatisfied by the lack of punishment to FARC members. Rather, the government wants to peacefully integrate ex-FARC into society as peacefully as possible. Many Colombians have lost family members and friends to violence between the FARC and Colombian government and are not so eager to forgive members of a group that has caused so much violence and despair. What is most controversial about the new transitional justice tribunal is that justices are limited to how severely they may punish those convicted. 

Patricia Linares, the president of the tribunal explained to Aljazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti that the goal of the justice system is not an eye for an eye, and that the case of crimes committed in Colombia’s FARC conflict can not be addressed in the same way as any other justice case. The goal is to address crimes committed and apply punishments that will give the Colombian people some feeling of justice while maintaining the peaceful transition of demilitarization. Although according to the Linares, many Colombians feel that “the punishments given to the convicted are not proportional to the crimes they committed, but it is a necessary compromise for any kind of justice to happen” (Rampietti, 2018). The type of justice that Linares describes is different from the most commonly used “punitive justice system” which is very typically used in both Latin America and North America. Rather, they are following a restorative justice system (Ballesteros, 2017)The FARC conflict has created a division among the Colombian people, and as the FARC rejoin society, the government and ex-FARC members' efforts to move on from the conflict are viewed by many others as nowhere near to the sentences they deserve. 

As a part of the peace deal, the FARC transitioned from a guerilla group to a political party and are guaranteed seats in congress for the next elections. FARC members would hand in all weapons and ammunition, recount their part in war atrocities, and spend up to an eight year sentence of community service (Rampietti, 2018)Ex-members will work to build roads and schools, which, though not as severe a punishment as many would like, will be largely beneficial to Colombia’s infrastructure, which falls behind that of many other countries. According to the International Trade Centre, Colombia’s overall infrastructure was ranked 92nd out of nearly 150 countries in 2013, with the quality of roads ranked as low as 121 out of 148 (International Trade Centre, 2013). Nearly 7,000 members of the FARC have already gone through the process of demilitarization. Such a large number of people working to improve the nation’s infrastructure could result in significant improvements for the country. Despite the benefits that the peace deal could provide for the country, many citizens are still angry about the mild penalties that the ex-FARC members, even those that ex-members convicted of multiple severe and violent crimes are facing— and they aren’t alone in these ideas. Many high profile international organizations share their opinions that the FARC need to be more appropriately punished. 

The Human Rights Watch notes that the transitional justice tribunal should limit a broad provision allowing FARC guerrillas to seek or hold public office even while serving sentences for grave abuses” which it currently does not have the power to do. They are also dissatisfied with the court’s narrow definition of command responsibility (the basis on which military commanders are responsible for crimes committed by those in their authority) which they claim is inconsistent with current international law (Human Rights Watch, 2017). When reviewing the Constitutional Amendment 1 of 2017 regarding the way the FARC are to go through the transition into society, the Human Rights Watch says that they missed the opportunity to fix some of the major flaws they point out in their review of the peace deal.  

Regardless of the positives and negatives of the transitional justice tribunal, investigations are underway, and the process has begun that the government and FARC hope will bring peace to Colombia. Those who voted against the peace deal will likely continue to oppose the restorative justice system in the coming months (Ballesteros, 2017). With so many opposing views on the matter of how the FARC should be punished, relatively few people will likely be pleased at one time through the process of demilitarization, and the transition to peace. However, if the result is lasting peace after half a decade of violence, the peace deal will have satisfied its purpose. 


About Author(s)

Rachel.Bierly's picture
Rachel Bierly
Rachel Bierly is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Linguistics as well as pursuing minors in Spanish, Chinese and a certificate in Latin American Studies. Though her major is Linguistics, her focus lies in Latin American languages, culture, and politics. Rachel spent the summer of 2019 living and conducting research in Manizales, Colombia regarding the process of demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration for ex-guerrilla combatants. When Rachel is not working at Panoramas she enjoys traveling, learning new languages, and rock climbing. She hopes to one day use her experience to defend the rights of minority groups and underrepresented communities in the United States and Latin America.