Getting There But Not Quite Yet: F.A.R.C. On Trial

Four years ago, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (F.A.R.C.) signed an agreement to assist the Colombian government with a transitional justice system. The peace deal stipulated that former combatants confess their crimes, go on trial, receive sentences, and contribute concrete measures of reparation for their victims. This transitional justice component is chaired by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (J.E.P.), which is investigating the human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law during the armed conflict.

The J.E.P. is focusing on seven main cases. Of those seven, one (Case 001) involves war crimes, crimes against humanity, kidnapping, and hostage-taking. Another (Case 003) is a case of extrajudicial execution, which state agents presented as killings in combat.

Eight of the F.A.R.C.’s former top commanders, including two current members of Congress who have seats in Parliament because of the peace agreement, were charged under Case 001. For the first time in many years of conflict, these commanders are facing an actual action of justice.

The horrendous practices the former guerrillas carried out, as detailed in the J.E.P.’s indictment, are more than alarming. War crimes and kidnappings were committed systematically and on a massive scale. Although it is impossible to be certain, the tribunal estimates that the number of victims is close to 21,400.

Under the rules of the peace accord, these former combatants have two options: accept the accusations, or reject them. They have 30 days to decide, a term that will expire on March 9th. If they accept the charges, the tribunal will sentence them to a freedom restriction penalty from five to eight years, without any jail time. If they decide to challenge those charges, they will go to trial and may be convicted to a maximum jail time of 20 years. Although this is very encouraging, it is still far from delivering justice, truth, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition. It is the actual sentencing of the former combatants, and the reparation measures for the victims, that will truly decide whether there is impunity or justice.

Case 003 is another test for the justice system. The case involves some of the most hideous practices state agents committed, and surrounds the political apparatus which governed Colombia during some of the most turbulent parts of the conflict. The act of killing civilians and making it look like deaths in combat, known in Colombia as “false positives,” was first reported to the public in 2008. The number of false positives was said to be between 2,000 and 4,000 bodies. However, in a recent report from the J.E.P., the tribunal established that there were at least 6,402 victims between 2002 and 2008, the period of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s term.

The report also establishes that 78% of the conflict’s casualties occurred between 2002 and 2008, making it the most violent in terms of mortality.

Following this report, news about the techniques and procedures used by some members of the army has started to show that the scope of these practices goes beyond some military structures. These crimes against humanity have deeper origins within the actual strategy of the Colombian armed forces.

As brutal as this document is, there are still facts to uncover. What was the actual extent of the practice? How up in the army’s chain of command were these methods tolerated, approved, or encouraged? Will any senior commander be held accountable? And will civilians see any justice for these kinds of operations? 

These trials are going the right way, but there is still much to be done. They were 6,402 innocents. 6,402.