International Justice

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Tag Archives: Colombia

Peace in Columbia?

The Columbian government has ratified a new peace accord with the Farc rebel group. The agreement was approved unanimously by both the House and the Senate of the Columbian Congress, just over a month after the peace accord was originally rejected. The peace accord calls for the Farc rebels to lay down their weapons and stop the violence. This accord comes after five decades of fighting and the death of more than 260,000 people. The Farc will now begin the transitioning process into a political party as a new means of creating change without violence. This peace accord is highly supported by current Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos; however, many people, including former President Alvaro Uribe, deeply oppose the agreement, claiming it is too lenient on Farc leaders. This agreement marks a major milestone for Columbia in achieving peace after five decades, but many still question how effective the peace accord will be.


Colombian Peace Deal: Truly Victim Centric?

Monday evening, September 26th Farc leader, Rodrigo Londono (aka. Timochenko) apologized to victims of the armed conflict in Colombia during the signing of the new peace deal. The history of the conflict in Colombia stems from the Cold War. The major players involved in signing the peace deal were the Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) – the predominant rebel guerrilla group in the country – and the Colombian government. The group has existed since 1964 and represents the armed wing of the Communist party. Their primary technique in war has been guerrilla warfare in rural areas.

2012 initiated the start of public peace talks in Havana which have culminated in the peace deal established yesterday evening. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended the very ceremonious occasion. All dignitaries in attendance were dressed in white to symbolize peace. A pen constructed from a bullet was used to further exemplify the aspirations for peace behind the deal. Timochenko assured Colombia and the world that his group would be hanging up their guns for good and even asked for forgiveness in his apology to the victims of his crimes. Serious questions remain about the practicality of a new peace in democracy without holding the perpetrators legally accountable.screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-2-19-32-pm

The deal prescribes political party status for the Farc meaning that the now former rebel group will take part in the 2018 legislative elections. In accordance with the deal, the group will be afforded a minimum of ten seats in the legislature for the first two Congressional sessions. There exists a faction within Colombia that remain distrustful of the Farc and are angry that members of the rebel force will be allowed to participate in Congress without first serving jail time for their crimes.


In an interview with BBC President Manuel Santos notes that the peace process has been centered around the needs of the eight million victims created by the 50 year war. The interviewer notes that two former Colombian presidents denounce the deal as “virtual amnesty”. Santos insists that impunity does not exist. He continues that the process has involved truth and reparations on an unprecedented scale to work to amend the wrongdoing. Santos describes the mentality of the negotiations on his part which insisted on “maximum justice that will allow us peace” (Santos, 2016). The next phase will be the most difficult in terms of reconstructing the culture, values, and social network of Colombia. Santos admits that the process will not be easy and may take many years; however, he appears optimistic for the countries future and proud of the restorative work his government has initiated. 


Colombia Struggles to Negotiate Peace Deal

Colombia's President Santos speaks at the presidential palace in BogotaColombian President Juan Manuel Santos sat down with Reuters yesterday to discuss the progress made between the state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the more than two year-long peace talks attempting to end conflict in the country. The war in Colombia, which began fifty-one years ago, has killed more than 220,000 people. The talks, which are taking place in Cuba, have gone further recently than they had previously. Unfortunately, they’ve stalled since the groups broached the subject of transitional justice.

“The bottom line is transitional justice. The guerillas have said they won’t go to jail, they don’t want to submit to transitional justice, but amnesties of yesteryear are no longer possible,” Santos told Reuters. As we’ve discussed in class, these measures could include truth commissions or reparations, depending on the circumstances. In the case of Colombia, the country’s justice system could allow the peace talks to discuss the possibility of alternatives to jail time like house arrest or community service. According to President Santos, nothing is off the table. “We want the maximum justice that allows us to achieve peace.”

The peace talks in Cuba have centered on the FARC’s future role in the political landscape of Colombia, the end to the illegal drug trade in the country, agricultural reform, reparations for the victims of human rights abuses and atrocities, and the demobilization of the rebel forces. Many Colombians are split between those who support Santos’s efforts to end the war and broker peace with the rebels and those who believe the President has already made too many concessions with the FARC.

This leaves many actors in the international community wondering–at what point has the government given too much to the rebels? Is there any point where that can be said in the pursuit of peace?

“The Amnesty Tightrope” in Colombia

This article demonstrates the tension between peace and justice we’ve discussed in class.  Ongoing conflict in Colombia may come to an end if the two parties can agree to the terms of a peace agreement, but the crucial issue is whether or not combatants will get amnesty.  This is complicated by the fact that Colombia signed and ratified the Rome Treaty in 2002, giving the ICC jurisdiction.  If the agreement relies on impunity, there may be an issue of international law, as the ICC may prosecute despite an amnesty agreement.  The ICC has already been involved with the conflict and opened a preliminary investigation as far back as 2004.

Colombia’s President, Juan Santos, has resisted, insisting on Colombia’s “right to chart it’s own path for justice,” highlighting the tension between international justice and state sovereignty.  This is a difficult balance to strike because there is merit on both sides.  On one hand, the country in which the violence is taking place should certainly have ownership over the resolution of that conflict.  It will increase the chances that the terms of the deal are followed and that the deal is perceived as fair.  On the other hand, the role of the international community as a check on the domestic justice process is crucial.  Holding those responsible, especially the elite perpetrators in positions of power, cannot be compromised.  Prosecution is necessary not only to ensure there is justice for the victims of this conflict, but also to establish a deterrent precedent in future conflicts.

The Trial of Hebert Veloza Garcia, a test of Transitional Justice in Colombia


In 2005 the Colombian Congress led by then president Álvaro Uribe Vélez passed Law 975, the Justice and Peace Law. Law 975 offered paramilitary leaders and soldiers who were not included in previous attempts to demobilize extra-legal armed forces reduced sentences if they told the truth about their crimes, paid reparations to the victims, and promised not to return to a life of crime. Currently in Colombia under Law 975 paramilitary troops that opt to demobilize and qualify receive reduced prison sentences of 5-8 years. Article 29 of the law states that the severity of the prison sentence will be based off of the “gravity of the crime and the effective co-operation provided in the clarification of the same.” Previously laws to encourage the demobilization of extra-legal armed forces had not included amnesties for those whom had committed human rights abuses as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), does not recognize amnesty for those who commit crimes against humanity, war crimes, and/or human rights violations.

On October 30th, 2013 Hebert Veloza Garcia, a paramilitary commander of the AUC, was convicted of 85 crimes including cases of torture, forced disappearance, and 105 homicides. Under Law 975, in exchange for his truthful confession, he received a prison sentence of seven years and a fine of approximately 5.2 million dollars. Garcia is currently serving time in the United States on drug charges and will serve the seven years on his return. Veloza’s trial and subsequent sentencing was considered a victory for transitional justice in Colombia.

Sikkink argues that because people have such strong ideas about justice victims are always disappointed and disillusioned by the results of trials, but all I can see is a man who committed over 85 separate crimes including torture, forced disappearances, the forcible recruitment of children, and homicide only serving seven years in prison.

Veloza was found guilty of importing to and selling cocaine in the United States in excess of five kilograms. In the U.S. this carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison to a maximum of life in prison. For ordering and taking part in massacres and acts of torture. Veloza received seven years in prison. The correct way in which to enact transitional justice is a topic few agree on, but can and should amnesty be a true part of transitional justice?

Comments on this post have suggested that the reason for this short sentence is that Colombia is seeking not punishment but the fixing of broken relationships and a restoration of harmony. This case and the comments on my original post bring up a very important debate in the field of transitional justice: restorative versus retributive justice. The South African Truth Commission is the most publicized example of a purely restorative mode of justice, and though it has many critics, it is considered a success story. But what readers need to understand is that the situation of the county needs to be taken into account when deciding the correct form of justice to implement. Colombia has been in a low-intensity civil war for the last 50 years and because of this, and other factors, the lines between illegal and legal armed actors and those in positions of political power have blurred on more than one occasion. The government does not have the infrastructure in place or the authority to carry out a process like the South African Truth Commission. There are arguments for both a retributive and a restorative form of justice for the country, but after so much time I feel that the country needs to focus more on retributive justice with features of restorative justice in order to reassert the government’s authority.


Possible Constitutional Reform in Colombia may endanger justice

UN independent experts urge Colombia to reconsider proposed criminal law for military

Amidst peace negotiations that could outline the future of transitional justice in Colombia, a new constitutional reform could pose grave danger to fairness and accountability in what concerns those crimes committed by members of the government.

The proposal entails giving military courts jurisdiction over human rights violations perpetrated by the military, jurisdiction that should belong to regular criminal courts. It would create “a Penal Guarantees Court to deal exclusively with accusations against members of the military or police forces of the Fuerza Pública.” Many activists and human rights monitors argue that this would create preferential treatment for members of the military, creating an atmosphere of impunity.

11 independent human rights activists and experts wrote an open letter to the Colombian government warning it of the dangers of such a proposal, calling it a “historic setback….in the fight against impunity…”. The United Nations human rights office also called on the Colombian government to reconsider such a reform.

Skepticism on Colombia’s Peace Talks

This op-ed, written at the onset of the Colombian peace talks this past October by the prominent Latin American writer, Carlos Alberto Montaner, reflects a particularly skeptic point of view in respect to the negotiations that I think is worth noting. Montaner’s first point is that the FARC have strayed far from their political ends and today resemble a drug cartel more than “violent revolutionary organizations.” Thus, Montaner hypothesizes that more than policy change or peace, the guerrilla group’s motivation for participating in these peace talks is to acquire a legitimate spot on the Colombian government from which they can handle the drug business with much more power.

Although Montaner’s point might seem far fetched, he does very well in questioning what the FARC’s motivations are when coming to the negotiation table. Has the organization been weakened to the point where negotiation seems like a viable option? What has changed? It could be that the group was incredibly weakened during Alvaro Uribe’s presidency, coupled with the fact that the former president was reluctant to any peace process that included impunity for the guerrilla group.

But has the organization really been weakened, or has it just translated its operations to neighboring Venezuela? Also, what does it mean that the negotiations are being held in Cuba? How can a country that has been under a totalitarian regime for the past 50 years, whose leaders have not themselves been held accountable for decades (to its own citizens or to the international community) be a legitimate guarantor for these peace negotiations?

Colombia: Reparations as Justice

For those of you interested in Colombia and/or reparations, there is an interesting new video and multimedia project, called for Voices of Dignity, available from the International Center for Transitional Justice. The ICTJ describes the project as follows:

Where states commit widespread and systematic crimes against their citizens, or fail to seriously try to prevent them, they have a legal obligation to acknowledge and address the suffering of victims. Reparations, both symbolic and material, publicly affirm that victims are entitled to redress. Through video and three photogalleries, ICTJ’s multimedia project Voices of Dignity tells the story of two courageous women from Colombia, and their struggle for acknowledgement and redress in a country where more than four million people have been affected by decades of civil war.

¿La paz o la justicia para Colombia?

Last week saw the unfolding of two seemingly unrelated—yet intrinsically linked—events in the field of international justice: First, the commencement of formal peace negotiations between the Colombian government and leadership of the FARC guerillas; and second, the opening of the ICC’s eleventh Session of the Assembly of States Parties. While approximately 4,800 miles separate Havana from The Hague, the topics of discussion at ICC facilities in the Netherlands will have some bearing on the talks taking place in Cuba.

As asserted by Paul Seils, vice president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, this preliminary step towards ceasing violence and embracing peace in Colombia brings to light the multifaceted nature of the long-standing conflict—and the immense challenges that will accompany such a process. That being said, a successful transition to a state of relative peace in Colombia could have far-reaching positive implications for Latin America as a whole. Nevertheless, attempting to resolve such a structurally embedded conflict (in terms of the many strata of Colombian government and society that are involved, openly or otherwise) calls attention to the ever-present tension between peace and justice. Seils makes note of the unique definition of peace in the case of Colombia—the centerpiece of which is “establishing a credible state where the rule of law applies to all”—and this further tangles the web of attempting to attain peace while providing justice (both of which as a means of stability for the war-ravaged nation). How can stability and faith in the rule of law be restored without some sort of judicial proceedings?  At the same time, however, how will the threat of prosecution (on the international and/or the domestic level)—for those on all sides of conflict—factor into (and perhaps hinder) peace negotiations?

Meanwhile, this tension between peace and justice is on the agenda for discussion at the ICC’s Session of the Assembly of States Parties. It will be interesting to see what stance relatively new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda takes (especially in comparison to that of her predecessor, the somewhat controversial Luis Moreno-Ocampo) and how that will affect the situation in Colombia and similar situations elsewhere in the world. While justice in Colombia, for example, may very well be pursued (if pursued at all) through means other than the ICC, her opinion (as a leading figure in the field of international justice) and actions as a result of that will most likely come to have bearings on the pursuit of transitional justice in all forums.

Parallels between Charles Taylor and Hugo Chavez?

In learning that Charles Taylor was prosecuted for just for aiding and abetting war crimes perpetrated by Sierra Leone’s proxy militia, it had me wondering what it would take to indict President Chavez in relation to his questionable ties to FARC.

While it is public knowledge that Chavez and FARC express ideological solidarity towards one another, the extent of Chavez’s political involvement in Colombian affairs remains under scrutiny.

Like Taylor, Chavez has been technically democratically elected and enjoys a populist following to shield him from domestic criticism. Chavez has recently appeared in the news for attempts at peace talks with FARC but the fact remains that there are substantial accusations against Chavez for endorsing this UN-deemed terrorist group.

Following the Colombian government’s successful 2008 raid of a clandestine FARC camp on the Ecuadorian border that resulted in the assassination of a senior FARC, the authorities seized computer hard drives with files that were confirmed to be genuine by Interpol.

The files mention $300 million in FARC funding from Chavez’s regime that was ostensibly supposed to be used for the construction of a dirty bomb as well as FARC response to requests from Venezuela’s intelligence services to provide urban warfare training to pro-Chavez groups when the socialist leader was feeling vulnerable following a brief 2002 coup. Later that year, American intelligence officials released a report citing clear evidence that, “Venezuelan officials have tried to facilitate the shipment of arms to the FARC.”

Earlier this year, the US grew concerned over Chavez’s announcement of General Rangel as defense minister; a statement from the Treasury Department then said that the general “materially assisted the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC”.

Though trafficking is out of ICC jurisdiction, Taylor has set the precedence for holding a head of state accountable for sponsoring violence. Given that diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela crumbled under the Chavez-FARC allegations, it would behoove the international community to investigatively intervene. However, does the hesitancy to act protect current and potential Colombian victims when Chavez is one of the few political figures FARC pays heed to?

Colombian Peace Talks: Peace before Justice?

As Colombia and the FARC rebel group meet in Oslo to begin peace talks.  I cannot help but think of the conflict between peace and justice that such talks potentially represent.  The conflict between the FARC and Colombia began in 1964 and has continued despite previous attempts to negotiate a peace.  This conflict has included numerous human rights abuses.  As recently as September of this year, Al Jazeera confirmed that the FARC was still recruiting (often forcibly) children to fight as soldiers in the conflict:  Furthermore, the FARC has used illegal drug trafficking, particularly cocaine, to fund their movement.  The Colombian government’s hands are also dirty, as they have engaged in extrajudicial killings and illegal surveillance in the (recent) past:

So, as peace talks begin, the question arises, how can both peace and justice be secured?  While the FARC will seek amnesty and political integration as part of the settlement, recent polls show that a majority of Colombians oppose any settlement that will give them amnesty for their crimes ( But in order to achieve peace, it would seem that some concessions must to be made and promptly, especially since the current talks have not even instigated a ceasefire.  Thus, settlements like this feel somewhat like a hostage situation.  If you offer no concessions, more people die. But to let the perpetrators go unpunished would be a mockery of justice.  So what do you do? Make promises of amnesty just to have international justice override those invalid agreements later? Perhaps the hope is that justice will never catch up, but to ignore seeking justice is to ignore the sufferings of thousands.

Photographing the Road to Reconciliation in Colombia

As someone who loves all things Latin American and all things journalistic, this announcement on the International Center for Transitional Justice’s website caught my eye. As part of “Memory Week” in Colombia, the ICTJ and the Center for Historical Memory organized an amateur photography contest, the theme of which was “Images to Resist Oblivion.” Each of the three series of photos calls attention to a different set of past atrocities and intimately explores the effect they have had on the surrounding community. Not only are these photos worth looking at simply to further our understanding of the violence in Colombia, but they also raise questions about the role that alternative forms of remembrance can play in the process of reconciliation.

As Charles Villa-Vicencio succinctly writes, “There is no general agreement concerning the nature of reconciliation. Each context makes its own demands of the concept” (The Politics of Reconciliation, pg. 68 of Telling the Truths, ed. Tristan Anne Borer). Expanding upon Villa-Vicencio’s line of thought, ever-changing conceptions of the meaning of reconciliation require new approaches to (ideally) reaching that state. Photo contests/exhibitions (curated by victims themselves) may provide an effective avenue for those whose communities were torn apart by atrocities to take a step towards reconciliation on a more personal level while simultaneously increasing overall awareness of said atrocities. Serving as a form of visual remembrance, in addition to documenting what actually happened, photographs can—perhaps most importantly—call attention to the emotional aftermath in effected communities. This can in theory provide a sense of catharsis for victims while also reassuring them that they do have value as human beings, that they will not be forgotten or overlooked, and that their struggles will be taken into account in the pursuit of justice—all of which are important steps on the (elusive) road to reconciliation.

Justice News

Here are a few news stories on international justice that caught my attention this week. Feel free to respond with questions and thoughts, or start a new post on one of the individual news stories.


Colombia milita boss ‘Martin Llanos’ confesses murders (BBC)

The Colombia government will soon begin peace negotiations with the FARC rebels who have rivaled the government for territory and power for decades. Justice issues are likely to figure prominently in the negotiations and particularly whether there will be some measure of amnesty to ensure stability and land reform policies for victims. Many parties are guilty of crimes in the Colombian conflict, ranging from leaders of left-wing rebel groups and right-wing paramilitary groups, and government officials. The ICC has Colombia under ‘preliminary investigation’ – the Court and local civil society continue to pressure the government to ensure robust accountability for all parties to the conflict.


No winners in ICC-Libya Standoff (Foreign Policy)

International Criminal Court Debating Where Moammar Gadhafi’s son should be trip (WaPo)

There is increased tension between the ICC and the new transitional government in Libya over who gets to try Saif Gaddafi (son of late Libyan leader Moammar Ghaddafi) and Senussi (former intelligence chief). Libyan authorities claim that are both willing and capable of trying him, which is allowed under the “complementarity” provisions of the Court’s Rome Statute. The former Chief Prosecutor publicly preferred the trial stay in Libya, but it’s up to the ICC judges and not the Prosecutor. Gaddafi and his lawyers prefer an ICC trial, arguing that a fair trial in Libya is not possible and he would also get the death penalty there.

As Kersten argues in his FP article, this is potentially bad for the credibility of both the ICC and the transitional government in Libya.  The article is also a great background piece on on all the turmoil in he ICC-Libya case.


President Uhuru Can’t Face ICC Trial (The Star)

Kenya AG Praises Bensouda, Blasts Ocampo (Capital FM)

Two candidates for Kenya’s upcoming presidential election are facing charges by the ICC – Kenyatta and Ruto. Both, along with two others, are accused of inciting and planning the violence that followed the disputed results in the last presidential election in 2007/2008. While all the accused have so far cooperated with the ICC, the Kenyan government continues to seek a deferral of the cases and challenge whether candidates and potentially a new president should face an international court. Re the first article, state officials have no immunity from prosecution for crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc. So a potential President Kenyatta could still face the ICC regardless of what the Kenyan constitution says.


Amnesty Reports Unlawful detentions in Rwanda (VOA News)

The Rwanda government continues to be at odds with international human rights groups who accuse the semi-authoritarian regime of repression in various forms. In this recent report, Amnesty highlights the unlawful practices of torture and illegal detention that the government has allegedly practiced to eliminate threats. Undoubtedly, there are threats to regime stability in Rwanda. But the government continues to act with impunity with regard to serious violations of human rights at home and in neighboring Congo.


UN Decries Impunity for Nepal War Crimes ((AFP)

The HRC just published a report, detailing the crimes and failures of accountability in Nepal’s civil war. is one instance, among many, in which the UN Human Rights Council can pressure states on transitional justice through naming and shaming. Typically, the UN commissions an investigation into abuses and publishes a report of this nature prior to the international community setting up a tribunal or other mechanism.


Congolese warlord Lubanga appeals (News 24)

Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, was convicted this year by the ICC on child soldiers charges. He is now appealing his sentence whereas the Chief Prosecutor would like a longer sentence. Many believe Lubanga should have also been charged with other serious crimes related to acts of sexual violence and massacres.

Colombia Ruling on Reparations for Child Soldiers

On December 16th, 2011 Colombian courts made the world’s first ruling mandating reparations be paid for the illegal conscription of child soldiers. The ruling was made in relation to a lawsuit against Fredy Rendón Herrera, alias “El Alemán,” former leader of the armed Élmer Cárdenas paramilitary group. The Rendón trial established that 309 minors were illegally recruited by the paramilitary group and will receive reparations including monetary compensation and medical and psychological care.

Demobilized in 2006, these now adults face lives of rejection and discrimination from their communities.  Due to the extremely demanding nature of paramilitary work, some of these youth suffered terrible injuries and have  trouble getting the physical care they need, not to mention homes and jobs. Carlos Lozano Acosta of ICTJ’s Colombia office stated that the reparations “should seek to remedy the loss of childhood and, to the extent they can, the opportunities lost with it.” When asked, many young people said that they would feel compensated by access to an education and job opportunities.

Additional compensation is to be made to girls recruited by paramilitary groups “who were in a situation of potential assault or harassment from other combatants”, as well as those recruited at extremely young ages.