Striking the Right Balance: Truth at the Heart of Transitional Justice in Colombia

Flag of the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia” (FARC). Image: MrPenguin20/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Justice in Conflict on 25 September, 2015. Republished with permission.

It wasn’t long ago that the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government seemed stuck. Little if any progress was being made and the biggest barrier to a final accord – agreeing on how to achieve justice and accountability for past atrocities – was proving impossible to overcome. However, in the last few weeks all of the parties agreed to a plan to achieve transitional justice. It was undoubtedly a remarkable development. But did Colombia and the FARC strike the right balance between peace and justice?

When I was interviewing the FARC on the peace negotiations in Havana earlier this year, the atmosphere was tense. The FARC, the rebel faction fighting the Colombian government since the early 1960s, responded to renewed military offensive by suspending their unilateral ceasefire. At that moment, reaching an agreement seemed like a distant prospect, despite the fact that the parties had already been negotiating for three years. Energy and stamina were at their lowest point and those closely involved in the negotiations confided that discussions had been at an impasse for over a year on the issue of justice. After having reached substantive agreements on the three previous agenda points (land reform, political participation, and the illegal drug trade), the talks had stalled on the age-old dilemma of peace versus justice. » More

Peru: the New King of Cocaine

Two lines of cocaine. Image: Nightlife of Revelry/Flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 3 February 2015.

The home of cocaine production has a new address. Stepping out from behind the shadows of its more notorious peers in the region, Peru is taking the helm from its South American neighbors as the leading producer of cocaine in the world. While Colombia’s production declines due to concerted efforts by both its government and U.S. foreign agencies (along with FARC being open to negotiations), a once dormant industry from Peru’s troubled past has resurfaced to meet market demand.

In the early 1990s, Peru was a major producer of cocaine but was eventually surpassed by Colombia following aggressive government policies in Peru to combat the black market trade. These policies have faded over time, and thus the expansion of cocaine growing has boomed once again. » More

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Mediation Perspectives: Innovative Approaches in the Colombian Peace Process

Photo: flickr/Lucho Molina

The Colombian peace process has advanced steadily without major interruption since it was formally launched in Norway and peace talks between the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) began in Cuba in late 2012. As with most peace processes, the Colombian process has evolved over time and in stages, with adjustments to the methodologies, focus, and engagement of the stakeholders. A number of these modifications are breaking new ground, particularly with regard to the roles of civil society and the design of strategies for dealing with the past. » More

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Geopolitical Considerations of the NATO-Colombia Cooperation Agreement

Colombian Navy

Photo: Cristianmed230/Wikimedia Commons.

In June 2013, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Colombia signed a security cooperation agreement aimed at exchanging intelligence information in order to improve the capabilities on both sides of the Atlantic to face common threats, particularly transnational crime.  This accord was sent to the Colombian Congress in September and, at the time of writing, is still awaiting ratification. It should be noted that this accord has weathered criticism, in particular from several Latin American leaders who regard it as a potential NATO “beachhead” into Latin America. The objective of this article is to place this agreement into the proper context of Latin American geopolitical and geosecurity affairs.

The Agreement

The Security of Information Agreement between Colombia and NATO was signed on June 25, 2013 between NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno. The goal is to strengthen security relations between the Alliance and the South American nation.

According to media reports, Bogotá will provide the Alliance with its experience in combating drug trafficking and international terrorism, while “Colombia will allegedly receive intelligence information from NATO, as well as gain access to best practices in relation to transparency, humanitarian operations, and strengthening the army.” In September 2013, the Colombian Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs sent a bill to the Colombian congress to ratify the Bogotá-NATO accord. The document highlights how “an objective of Colombia is to strengthen cooperation with multilateral organizations and nations […] to guide the future vision of the Colombian armed forces.” Hence, closer relations with NATO are strongly encouraged. » More

The Price of Peace

No más FARC – Bogotá – Punto Calle 127. Photo: Patton/Flickr.


MADRID – The relationship between peace and justice has long been the subject of polarizing debates. Some argue that the pursuit of justice impedes conflict-resolution efforts, while others – including International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda – contend that justice is a prerequisite for peace. As President Juan Manuel Santos leads Colombia through the most promising peace talks in five decades of brutal conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), he will have to consider this question carefully.

The Nuremberg trials, which followed Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II, provide an ideal model for post-conflict justice. But, in conflicts in which no side has been defeated, the peacemaker’s job becomes more challenging. Given what is at stake, a trade-off between reconciliation and accountability may well be inescapable.

Since 1945, more than 500 cases of amnesty in post-conflict transitions have been recorded; since the 1970’s, at least 14 states – including Spain, Mozambique, and Brazil – have given amnesty to regimes guilty of serious human-rights violations. In South Africa, amnesty was a key feature of the “truth and reconciliation” process that facilitated the peaceful transition from more than four decades of white-minority rule to democracy.

Similarly, in 2003, Nigeria’s president offered asylum to his Liberian counterpart, Charles Taylor, on the condition that Taylor retire from politics, thereby helping to end the rebellion against him. (In this case, justice was later served; in 2012, the Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Taylor of 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone, making him the first former head of state to be convicted for such crimes by an international tribunal since Nuremberg.)

Although it may be painful to offer a safe exit to war criminals and human-rights abusers, the prospect of ending the suffering of civilians can take priority over a principled stand for justice. Who today would oppose amnesty for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if it ended the brutal civil war that has led to more than 100,000 deaths and created nearly two million refugees (including more than a million children) in just two years?

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