In Colombia, the search for political peace by the government has been paralleled by a search for the truth by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Since the peace talks between the Colombian government and guerrilla group began, the latter of these two groups has called for the formation of a truth commission. Leader of the talks, Humberto de la Calle recently expressed the governmental sentiment that a truth commission may be formed only after a peace agreement has been reached.1 He stated that truth must come as a product of an accord to maintain peace in the future.
The FARC has proposed the formation of a truth commission in order to construct a more cohesive history of the armed conflict that has been affecting Colombia for the past 50 years. One of FARC’s main negotiators, Ivan Marquez, explained the group’s reasoning for this request. He stated, “We wonder: how to establish responsibilities, or how to address the issue of victims at the peace talks, repair them, and make a commitment of ‘never again,’ if we don’t establish how the violence, which resulted in six decades or more of armed conflict, began?”2 FARC believes that the role of the state in the conflict needs to be analyzed more thoroughly in order to assess its responsibility to the victims of the conflict.
FARC looks to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in response to Apartheid as a model for their proposal. This commission, however, was founded after apartheid had been abolished and served as an aid in the transition to democracy. Truth commissions have also been established in several other Latin American countries in the aftermath of political violence. Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Guatemala all serve as examples of countries that have used truth commissions to foster peace and democracy. Although these commissions have tackled complex political issues with many different actors, none of them has addressed a conflict as long-standing as that which has been affecting Colombia over the past decades.
Perhaps the reason for the Colombian government’s hesitation of the formation of this commission is in the name itself: Truth. Before a “truth” can be established, both sides will have to take responsibility for their actions and prepare for what issues may be unveiled as members of society come forth to seek reparations. In the aftermath of violence, perpetrators and victims are clearly delineated and the voice of the victim is what becomes heard through public hearings. In Colombia’s case, however, these subjective roles have yet to be formally established. FARC sees itself as the victim of the government’s repression while the government sees itself as the victim of FARC’s guerrilla attacks. Meanwhile, individuals of society who have suffered human rights violations are victims of both FARC and the government’s ongoing warfare.
Traditionally, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions come into being after social and political conflicts have been resolved. However, FARC’s proposal to create a commission at this point in the negotiation process raises several interesting questions. Would public hearings before an agreement is reached only intensify the issues at hand? Or could a search for truth help these two actors find their way to peace? Perhaps instead of acting as a medium for dealing with the remains of violence, a truth commission could instead act as a vehicle to establish a solution to the conflict itself. FARC has already made this proposal twice2, suggesting that they may further pursue the issue of truth as the peace talks continue. Whether or not the government will remain firm in its decision to postpone the formation of a commission, and the affects it will have on peace negotiation, remain to be seen.
(1) “Colombia wants truth commission after peace deal.” eNCA. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
(2) Wight, Andrew. “No truth commission before Colombia peace deal signed: Govt to FARC.” 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.