The peace deal that the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Groups of Colombia (FARC) struck has relevance far beyond Colombia. First, it brings an end to one of the world’s long running conflicts. Surely, this on its own is a cause for celebration in a world awash with violence. Second and perhaps importantly, what makes it particularly relevant for other parts of the world, notably Africa, is the example it sets for navigating the vexing terrain of peace versus justice.
In Africa’s evolving peace and security architecture, no other issue has emerged to be more challenging than how the demands of peace and justice are addressed in African societies transitioning from conflict to peace. It is only logical that those engaged in the process of pursuing peace and justice in Africa follow Colombia’s peace process with interest.
As recent experiences on the continent show, the dilemma is how to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable without compromising the possibility of negotiated settlement. Sequencing is viewed as one way achieving this balance but remains problematic.
Although many point to the example of South Africa as another option, legal developments internationally with the emergence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and within the African Union (AU) generally mean that the use of amnesty even on South Africa’s model is frowned upon, if not rejected as a license for impunity. The result is that the question of peace and justice is often framed in the stark ‘either or’, black and white terms. As the recent spate of African withdrawals from the Rome Statute show, such antagonistic formulation of peace versus justice has become the hallmark of the controversy over the International Criminal Court in Africa.
Part of the problem has been no good model of peace settlement that successful struck the right balance and compromise between peace and justice has been found.
Now with Colombia’s peace deal one can find a useful model. The negotiated peace deal has offered Colombia the opportunity to end more than half a century conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. The peace serves the interest of justice by preventing the violations and victimization that the continuation of the war would unavoidably have created.
In terms of Africa’s experience with transitional justice, Colombia’s peace deal has many parallels to South Africa’s negotiated transition. As in South Africa, Colombia’s peace deal crafts a common political future for all sides to the protracted conflict. FARC undertook to lay down arms, eradicate the illegal drug economy, remove landmines, admit responsibility for violations of humanitarian law and human rights and offer reparations for victims. In return, the deal obliges the Colombian government to provide the FARC security guarantees conditions and facilitate its integration into mainstream politics as a political party with 10 seats in Congress for the next two terms. As in South Africa, despite the referendum setback the peace deal is subject to democratic approval, in its revised form, at least by congress.
In accord with the international and African legal developments, Colombia’s peace deal corrected aspects of the limitations in South Africa’s transitional justice. In a breath of fresh air to the discourse on transitional justice, Colombia’s peace deal laid to rest the issue of the use of amnesties. Thus unlike in South Africa, Colombia’s peace deal rejected the use of amnesty in exchange for truth. Accountability is framed to go beyond and above truthful confession of violations. Yet, Colombia’s peace deal shows that for countries that seek to achieve a negotiated end to armed conflict the alternative for amnesty is not retributive justice.
In addition to truth telling, accountability entailed sanctions and obligations to redress victims. As one of the elements of the peace deal, the truth and reconciliation process entails that perpetrators of human rights and humanitarian law violations from both FARC and government security forces who confess their crimes would be eligible for a reduced sentence of up to 8 years of restricted liberty and community labor to repair damages to victims. Those who do not comply with these conditions will face a special court and prison sentences up to 20 years.
Additionally, unlike criminal prosecution, which puts its focus on punishing the perpetrator, Colombia’s peace deal has put victims at the center of the peace process by including them in the peace process, emphasizing restorative justice and according them major role in the transitional justice process. It is no coincidence that the peace deal received the most support from parts of the country most affected by the conflict.
As Virginia M. Bouvier rightly noted, rather than throw criminals in jail (generally at a high cost without many positive results), the transitional justice system under the peace deal seeks to establish a dialogue between victims and victimizers that satisfies the rights of the victim to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition of the wrongs committed. It addresses the structural conditions for the armed conflict.
For conflict affected societies, the challenge they face is crafting a settlement which at ones guarantees security of the present through a negotiated end of armed conflict, confronts the wrongs of the past through restoring victims and holding perpetrators accountable as well as rectifying the root causes and engineers a common future through rehabilitated integration of warring parties to mainstream politics. With Colombia’s peace deal, which received the support of the UN, EU, US and Amnesty International, it is now possible to negotiate a peace that meets the demands of the past, present and future of African societies in transition within the bounds of relevant international and AU norms.