Colombia’s government and rebel group the FARC have reached an agreement on transitional justice and announced that the longest-running conflict in the Western Hemisphere could end in six months. While a momentous breakthrough, it does not address the issue of drug trafficking.
On September 23, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) issued a joint statement detailing their agreement on transitional justice and victims’ rights.
Negotiating in Havana, Cuba since November 2012 to end Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict, this is the fourth of five substantive points in which the two sides have achieved an understanding. Speaking from Havana, President Juan Manuel Santos described the latest agreement as “perhaps the most difficult and most complex to define.”
In addition, President Santos optimistically asserted a final peace accord would be signed by March 23, 2016, with the FARC disarming within 60 days after this occurs.
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Following an end to the conflict, the Colombian government will grant the largest amnesty possible for political crimes and politically “connected” crimes, the latter of which will eventually be defined by an amnesty law.
Not to be included under the amnesty, however, are crimes against humanity. This includes, among other offenses, genocide, serious war crimes, torture, forced displacement, forced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, and sexual violence. These crimes will be investigated and judged by peace tribunals, which will have under its purview all those who participated “directly or indirectly” in the internal armed conflict, including both FARC and government forces.
Those who truthfully acknowledge their responsibility for crimes related to the conflict will receive between 5 and 8 year sentences under special conditions, the exact nature of which remains unspecified. Individuals who do not admit to their crimes, or do so too late, will receive prison sentences of up to 20 years.
Agreements have already been reached on rural land reform, FARC political participation, and the issue of illicit drugs.
InSight Crime Analysis
The joint statement fails to resolve one of the most controversial points of the peace process: whether the FARC’s drug trafficking activities should be considered a “political crime” (or a politically connected crime), for which the government has stated it will grant a large degree of amnesty.
There are indications of how the government may be leaning on this issue. Just last week, the president of Colombia’s Supreme Court said that drug trafficking could be construed as a political crime “when it is used as a tool to economically support political ends in an armed conflict.”
However, it will be difficult for the FARC to prove that their drug profits have gone towards purely political ends. While drug revenues have helped finance the conflict, some FARC elements appear to have used their participation in the illicit drug trade as a vehicle for personal enrichment. The guerrilla group is believed to earn well over $200 million from their involvement in the drug trade.
It also remains to be seen whether the agreement will be accepted by Colombian and international courts, in addition to the Colombian people, who will vote on the final peace deal via a referendum.
How this issue is finally resolved will have significant implications, not only for the outcome of the peace process but possibly for Colombia’s relations with the United States, where several FARC commanders are wanted on drug trafficking charges.
The agreement on transitional justice and the announcement that a final peace accord will be signed within six months is a milestone for war-weary Colombia. But while this most recent announcement is cause for optimism, the ultimate outcome is still far from certain.