Thursday, March 21, 2013

Amnesty for the FARC?

On Wednesday, El Espectador reported that the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are on the verge of reaching a final agreement on the land reform section of an eventual peace treaty, a key issue in the peace process for the rebels.  If true, it would suggest that the dialogue has a much higher chance of ending in an eventual peace accord and the FARC’s demobilization.

A land reform package resulting from the talks would allow the FARC to bolster their political credibility, which has been battered by allegations of drug trafficking and criminal activity. It would likely pave the way for the group to be able participate with more legitimacy in democratic politics.

The rebels appear open to this possibility, and last year Colombian lawmakers passed the Legal Framework for Peace law, which has created a basis for demobilized guerrillas to run for office.

But while impediments to the FARC’s participation in the democratic process are falling away, one major obstacle persists: the issue of the guerrilla group’s human rights violations. In the process of allowing the guerrillas to participate in conventional politics, many fear that their participation in rights abuses will be overlooked.

In a report (.pdf) presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed this same fear. The report recommends that Colombia investigate all human rights abuses linked to the conflict “as opposed to avoiding addressing past violations through amnesties and other forms of impunity.”

The International Center for Transitional Justice notes that the Legal Framework for Peace law permits lawmakers to pass additional legislation allowing for the “strategic prioritization and selection of criminal cases for investigation and prosecution,” which would likely mean softer sentences or even partial amnesty for FARC members. This would be devastating for victims of guerrilla abuses, and may even violate Colombia’s human rights obligations depending on the crimes committed.

At the same time, FARC leaders are unlikely to agree to a deal which doesn’t appear to afford them some kind of legal protection. Thus the government will be forced to find a difficult balance in an eventual peace treaty: making the future prosecution of FARC members seem as unlikely as possible while still showing the public that the rebels’ abuses will not go entirely unpunished.

News Briefs
  • At an Organization of American States General Assembly meeting tomorrow, OAS member states will discuss changes to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The declaration resulting from the recent meeting in Guayaquil, as well as the recommendations of a working group appointed by the OAS Permanent Council (made up of ambassadors from all OAS member states), will be discussed and voted upon. El Pais has a helpful overview of the main forces involved in the reform push, which may ultimately limit the commission’s independence. According to Peru’s La Republica, so far there is little agreement in the Permanent Council’s working group over what reforms are needed to the human rights body, meaning that the odds of a significant overhaul passing tomorrow may be unlikely. Ecuador’s El Comercio notes that a proposal to re-locate the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Argentina, which was put forward by the Ecuadorean government, will not be on the table.
  • The Venezuelan government cut off a line of communication with the U.S. established by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson yesterday, claiming that the top diplomat had violated Venezuelan sovereignty by supporting the candidacy of opposition leader Henrique Capriles. El Universal reports that Foreign Minister Elias Jaua referred to Capriles as “Jacobson’s candidate.”
  • After meeting with a local coalition of community vigilante groups, the government of the Mexican state of Guerrero has announced that it will create a legal framework for the growing “self-defense” movement there. Animal Politico has the state government’s 8-point plan for coordinating the groups.  
  • While Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing mounting criticism for his failure to rein in the country’s drug-related violence, he called on his country yesterday to give his crime policies a year to sink in before judging their effectiveness. La Jornada reports that the president told reporters he believes the public will see “favorable results, a noticeable reduction” in that time.
  • Inter Press Service profiles a movement in Honduras to push the mining industry to be more transparent and responsive to the needs of local communities. Although the Honduran government has announced that it will join a global initiative to publish and verify the tax payments of extraction companies, many are skeptical that the country can implement the necessary policies.
  • According to Telesur, Bolivian President Evo Morales held a meeting with several former presidents and foreign ministers of the country yesterday to consult them on implementing a “state policy” of gaining access to the Pacific Ocean.
  • A new study by the Carnegie Institution for Science has found alarming levels of mercury in adults in Peru’s southeast Madre de Dios region, caused by rampant illegal mining in the area. According to the study, 78 percent of adults have unsafe levels of the toxic metal in their system in the region’s capital city of Puerto Maldonado.
  • Francisco Jalics, one of two priests who Pope Francis is accused of having identified as dissidents to the Argentine military junta during the country’s Dirty War, has come forward to publicly deny the allegations against the pope. On Wednesday, he told reporters, “The fact is: Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Father Bergoglio.”
  • After more than 50 days, two Paraguayan campesinos accused of participating in the murder of six policemen in a land conflict last June have ended their hunger strike, the AP reports. Outrage over the government’s handling of the conflict contributed to the ouster of former President Fernando Lugo last year.

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