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Human Rights

Victims Want Voice and Vote in Colombia’s Peace Talks

Alirio Uribe of the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CAJAR), questioned by reporters before filing a lawsuit against the expansion of jurisdiction of the military justice system. Credit: Courtesy of CAJAR.

BOGOTA, Mar 7 2013 (IPS) - Victims of crimes of the state want their recommendations to be taken into consideration by the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas that are seeking to end half a century of armed conflict.

The “victims’ demands to the parties” involved in the talks, outlined in an 11-point document presented Wednesday Mar. 6, include “deliberate and decisive participation” by their representatives in the peace process taking place in Havana, Cuba, and state that “everyone guilty of crimes should be punished.”

“We feel solidarity with the victims of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, founded in 1964),” Franklin Castañeda, the president of the Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and a spokesman for the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), said in a press conference in the capital Wednesday.

But, he added, “Colombian society shouldn’t only demand things from the FARC.”

State crimes should not be amnestied,” he said, and the state should acknowledge that it created far-right paramilitary groups to back up the army, and “should effectively dismantle” these structures.

“It is unacceptable for state crimes to be erased from the history of this country,” said left-wing parliamentarian Iván Cepeda.

“Our message is very clear: if there is going to be talk of justice, truth and reparations, everyone who has participated in this conflict has to assume their responsibility,” he said.

MOVICE, the Association of the Families of Detained-Disappeared, founded 30 years ago, and groups of sons and daughters of people who have been killed, as well as numerous human rights organisations, say that is the only way to keep the internal armed conflict from continuing, as it has despite several attempted peace processes that have taken place since 1955.

The organisations signed the “proposals on truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition” delivered Wednesday to the United Nations, which is facilitating the peace talks.

“This analysis based on international human rights law is built on the basis of much pain and many tears,” Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo said in the news briefing.

Giraldo and human rights lawyer Federico Andreu of the non-governmental Colombian Commission of Jurists headed the group that drafted the document, which sets forth 11 proposals, including the creation of an independent truth commission.

Preliminary negotiations between the government and the FARC began around two and a half years ago, in total secrecy, at the initiative of President Juan Manuel Santos.

The talks were officially launched in October 2012 in Oslo, and continued in Havana, where five rounds of negotiations have been held behind closed doors. Cuba and Norway are guarantors of the talks, and Venezuela and Chile are observers.

Progress has reportedly been made on several points, such as land ownership, the top issue on a six-point agenda that also includes the question of human rights.

In 2008, Mar. 6 was chosen as the “day of dignity of the victims of state crimes in Colombia”. On that day, large protests were held to pay homage to victims of forced disappearance and extrajudicial executions since 1946.

This year, 500 delegates met in Bogota in the sixth national conference of victims of state crimes. Besides producing proposals for the peace talks, they filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the expansion of the jurisdiction of the military courts, a reform approved by Congress in 2012.

They argued that the civilian justice system should have the authority to decide whether crimes committed by members of the armed forces are human rights violations or “acts of service” committed in the line of duty.

Andreu told IPS the groups’ demands to the government and the FARC were “based fundamentally on the obligations that international law imposes on the state, and on the rights that it upholds for victims.

“Any peace process, in order to be real, has to focus on strengthening the state of law, and on guaranteeing the key question: that the main authors of crimes against humanity, war crimes and human rights violations must be tried and punished,” he said.

“A series of measures must also be taken,” Andreu added, “to guarantee that the doctrines that prompted these crimes are abolished from the military sphere.”

The document demands that “the agents of the state who have committed, tolerated or incited these crimes, or have guaranteed the impunity surrounding them, be purged from the public administration.”

Unless these things are done, he said, “the peace process will be incomplete. There will be a process of demobilisation of one of the actors in the conflict (the FARC), but the violence and human rights abuses will continue.”

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