The truth is an indispensable element in peace and reconciliation processes. Its importance remains in the need for the creation of a collective memory, the fight against oblivion and the guaranteeing of the rights of victims and society to know what happened in the context of the armed conflict. The process of obtaining truth, justice and reparation in Colombia is progressing little by little, despite attempts by the far right to curb it.
Point 5 of the Peace Agreement known as the “Agreement on Victims of the Conflict” was designed with the aim of repairing and taking care of the almost 9 million victims of the Colombian armed conflict1. To do this, the creation of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition (SIVJRNR, in Spanish) that aims to contribute to the fulfilment of the rights of the victims, the clarification of the truth, the accountability of what has happened and the recognition of the responsibilities from those who participated in the internal armed conflict, among others.
The SIVJRNR is made up of three mechanisms: i) The Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition Commission (CEV), ii) The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JSP), and iii) The Unit for the Search for People Presumed Disappeared in the Context and by Reason of the Armed Conflict (UBPD). The work carried out by these mechanisms has been of great importance in the process of obtaining the truth and fulfilling the rights of victims.
In its 2020 and the first half of 2021 report, UBPD reports that it recovered 163 unidentified bodies and handed over the remains of more than 109 people2. This unit, with a mandate of 20 years, has the duty to locate more than 120,000 people missing during the conflict between 1958 and 2016.
The JSP, for its part, has made some crucial decisions this year. In January, it attributed the former FARC-EP secretariat for more than 20,000 kidnappings and the inhumane treatment suffered by the victims during their captivity. Subsequently, it released the prioritization strategy for Case 03: Assassination and Enforced Disappearances Presented as Combat Losses by State Agents, known as “false positives.” The SJP established that at least 6,402 people were illegitimately killed with the aim of presenting them as combat casualties all over the national territory between 2002 and 2008, a period in which the 78% of the total historical victimization3 has been recorded.
The SJP’s Chamber for Acknowledgment attributed war crimes and crimes against humanity to 25 Army generals, officers, and non-commissioned officers because of “false positives” in Catatumbo and the Caribbean Coast, 2 of the 6 territories prioritized by the Court for the first phase of the investigation of case.
The Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition Commission is an extra-judicial mechanism, and its work revolves around four axes: clarification, acknowledgment, coexistence, and non-repetition. The task of the Commission is to listen to the victims, perpetrators, and witnesses of the armed conflict from all sectors to provide a broad account of the facts behind half a century of war. Its conclusions will be historical in nature and will be recorded in a final report to be submitted at the end of its mandate.
The decree regulating the CEV establishes that its period of operation will be 3 years, which ends in November 2021. Because of this, social organizations have filed a complaint at the Constitutional Court to extend the mandate of the Commission with the argument that the sanitary state of emergency caused by COVID-19 had limited the work of the CEV due to the inability to travel to the territories. In fact, of the 37 months in which the commission functioned, for 17 months it faced the phenomenon of the pandemic.
The CEV was a forum in which various actors of the armed conflict intervened. On August 4, former paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso, and former FARC-EP commander Rodrigo Londoño appeared before the Commission to tell the truth about the armed conflict. In his intervention, Mancuso affirmed “the Patriotic Union was not exterminated by the Autodefensas, its perpetrator was the State”, this makes it possible to verify what has been denounced for years: the traditional political class has hired paramilitaries to assassinate opposing groups. Likewise, he spoke of the strategy for ranching land for the benefit of politicians and entrepreneurs.
Former President Álvaro Uribe also testified before the CEV, yet he did not do so in the sense of contributing to the truth or acknowledging any kind of responsibility. “I do not recognize the institutions born in Havana” expressed the former leader, who not only denies the systematic nature of extrajudicial executions, but also any responsibility he may have had, asserting that he had been misled by his subordinates.
Despite the progress achieved by the SIVJRNR, the government party submitted a bill that would remove the legal framework for peace and political crime from the Political Constitution.
2 Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas dadas por Desaparecidas. Actualización de informe de rendición de cuentas. Ver: https://ubpdbusquedadesaparecidos.co/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/UBPD_Rendicioncuentas_2020-2021.pdf
3 Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP. Comunicado 019 de 2021. Ver: https://www.jep.gov.co/Sala-de-Prensa/Paginas/La-JEP-hace-pública-la-estrategia-de-priorización-dentro-del-Caso-03,-conocido-como-el-de-falsos-positivos.aspx