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Rosario Figari Layús

The role of transitional justice in the midst of ongoing armed conflicts

The case of Colombia



ISBN: 978-3-86956-063-2
111 pages
Release year 2010

Series: Potsdamer Studien zu Staat, Recht und Politik , 5

8,00 

Between 2002 and 2006 the Colombian government of Álvaro Uribe counted with great international support to hand a demobilization process of right-wing paramilitary groups, along with the implementation of transitional justice policies such as penal prosecutions and the creation of a National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation (NCRR) to address justice, truth and reparation for victims of paramilitary violence. The demobilization process began when in 2002 the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia,AUC) agreed to participate in a government-sponsored demobilization process. Paramilitary groups were responsible for the vast majority of human rights violations for a period of over 30 years. The government designed a special legal framework that envisaged great leniency for paramilitaries who committed serious crimes and reparations for victims of paramilitary violence. More than 30,000 paramilitaries have demobilized under this process between January 2003 and August 2006. Law 975, also known as the “Justice and Peace Law”, and Decree 128 have served as the legal framework for the demobilization and prosecutions of paramilitaries. It has offered the prospect of reduced sentences to demobilized paramilitaries who committed crimes against humanity in exchange for full confessions of crimes, restitution for illegally obtained assets, the release of child soldiers, the release of kidnapped victims and has also provided reparations for victims of paramilitary violence. The Colombian demobilization process presents an atypical case of transitional justice. Many observers have even questioned whether Colombia can be considered a case of transitional justice. Transitional justice measures are often taken up after the change of an authoritarian regime or at a post-conflict stage. However, the particularity of the Colombian case is that transitional justice policies were introduced while the conflict still raged. In this sense, the Colombian case expresses one of the key elements to be addressed which is the tension between offering incentives to perpetrators to disarm and demobilize to prevent future crimes and providing an adequate response to the human rights violations perpetrated throughout the course of an internal conflict. In particular, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes require a fine balance between the immunity guarantees offered to ex-combatants and the sought of accountability for their crimes. International law provides the legal framework defining the rights to justice, truth and reparations for victims and the corresponding obligations of the State, but the peace negotiations and conflicted political structures do not always allow for the fulfillment of those rights. Thus, the aim of this article is to analyze what kind of transition may be occurring in Colombia by focusing on the role that transitional justice mechanisms may play in political negotiations between the Colombian government and paramilitary groups. In particular, it seeks to address to what extent such processes contribute to or hinder the achievement of the balance between peacebuilding and accountability, and thus facilitate a real transitional process.

Between 2002 and 2006 the Colombian government of Álvaro Uribe counted with great international support to hand a demobilization process of right-wing paramilitary groups, along with the implementation of transitional justice policies such as penal prosecutions and the creation of a National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation (NCRR) to address justice, truth and reparation for victims of paramilitary violence. The demobilization process began when in 2002 the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia,AUC) agreed to participate in a government-sponsored demobilization process. Paramilitary groups were responsible for the vast majority of human rights violations for a period of over 30 years. The government designed a special legal framework that envisaged great leniency for paramilitaries who committed serious crimes and reparations for victims of paramilitary violence. More than 30,000 paramilitaries have demobilized under this process between January 2003 and August 2006. Law 975, also known as the “Justice and Peace Law”, and Decree 128 have served as the legal framework for the demobilization and prosecutions of paramilitaries. It has offered the prospect of reduced sentences to demobilized paramilitaries who committed crimes against humanity in exchange for full confessions of crimes, restitution for illegally obtained assets, the release of child soldiers, the release of kidnapped victims and has also provided reparations for victims of paramilitary violence. The Colombian demobilization process presents an atypical case of transitional justice. Many observers have even questioned whether Colombia can be considered a case of transitional justice. Transitional justice measures are often taken up after the change of an authoritarian regime or at a post-conflict stage. However, the particularity of the Colombian case is that transitional justice policies were introduced while the conflict still raged. In this sense, the Colombian case expresses one of the key elements to be addressed which is the tension between offering incentives to perpetrators to disarm and demobilize to prevent future crimes and providing an adequate response to the human rights violations perpetrated throughout the course of an internal conflict. In particular, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes require a fine balance between the immunity guarantees offered to ex-combatants and the sought of accountability for their crimes. International law provides the legal framework defining the rights to justice, truth and reparations for victims and the corresponding obligations of the State, but the peace negotiations and conflicted political structures do not always allow for the fulfillment of those rights. Thus, the aim of this article is to analyze what kind of transition may be occurring in Colombia by focusing on the role that transitional justice mechanisms may play in political negotiations between the Colombian government and paramilitary groups. In particular, it seeks to address to what extent such processes contribute to or hinder the achievement of the balance between peacebuilding and accountability, and thus facilitate a real transitional process.