By Sinikka Tarvainen (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Controversy was growing in Colombia on Monday over President Ivan Duque’s initiative to modify the functioning of a post-conflict justice system, with critics saying it could undermine the already fragile peace process with former FARC guerrillas.
The president addressed the nation late Sunday, saying he objected to six of a total of 159 articles in legislation regulating the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
The transitional justice system was created to help implement a 2016 peace deal with FARC following 52 years of conflict. The arrangement foresees milder punishments for ex-guerrillas and soldiers who agree to cooperate with the JEP, which got to work in January 2018.
Even before he took office in August 2018, right-winger Duque had criticized the peace deal signed by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, as being too lenient on the rebels.
Duque said on Sunday that he would send legislation on the JEP back to Congress, asking it to clarify that FARC must compensate its victims financially and to clarify rules on the eventual extradition of FARC members.
He also wants to toughen the rules on the sentencing of war crimes, to allow the ordinary judiciary to also investigate those who are under the jurisdiction of the JEP, and to exclude sexual crimes against minors from being judged by the JEP.
Repeat offenders of crimes such as involvement in drug trafficking, which was a source of financing for FARC’s military campaign, would be excluded from benefits.
The legislation regulating the JEP had already been ratified by Congress and the Constitutional Court, and the overhaul proposed by Duque would require a constitutional reform.
More than 100 prominent Colombians, among them former government and FARC peace negotiators and opposition politicians, wrote to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday, daily El Espectador reported.
They said that Duque’s government “persists in formulating new obstacles, or in trying to revive already closed debates in the legal processing of the norms” regulating the JEP.
Victims’ representatives welcomed Duque’s proposal as a chance to receive adequate damages, while Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez saw it as a “valuable opportunity” to create a consensus around the JEP.
But former president Cesar Gaviria, who heads the 171-year-old Liberal Party, accused Duque of not respecting government agreements and the Constitutional Court.
“This presidential decision puts at risk achievements in the area of ending the conflict with FARC,” he said in a statement.
Armed conflict in Colombia has left more than 260,000 people dead since 1958, according to the governmental National Centre for Historical Memory. About 7 million people have been displaced.
The 2016 peace deal led to around 7,000 FARC members handing over their weapons. The rebel movement became a political party, of the same acronym, and was given 10 seats in Congress.
Representatives of the former rebels have accused the government of neglecting engagements such as protecting them from attacks and helping them become reintegrated into civilian life.
More than 1,000 FARC dissidents still operate in the countryside, as does the 1,500-strong guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN), which staged a bombing that claimed more than 20 lives at a Bogota police academy in January.
Duque’s critics are concerned that his hawkish line on the peace agreement could prompt more people to join armed groups.
Critics also claim that Duque wants to prevent the JEP from investigating previous governments – such as those of his mentor, former president Alvaro Uribe – over crimes such as the “false positives” scandal, in which up to 10,000 civilians were killed and dressed as guerrillas by soldiers trying to gain bonuses.
Duque, however, tweeted that his aim was to guarantee “all Colombians real truth, real justice, real damages and real non-repetition” of crimes committed during the conflict.