UN Human Rights Council must ensure victims’ right to justice takes centre stage in the Colombian peace process

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The long term viability of any peace agreement risks being seriously undermined if those responsible for human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, are not brought to justice, Amnesty International will tell the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) today.

Despite the two year-long peace process, involving the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), civilians continue to bear the brunt of the harmful consequences of hostilities. Indigenous People, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities are particularly badly affected.

While the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva today, across Colombia civilians are still being threatened and killed. Thousands continue to be forced from their homes and lands because of the armed conflict. Very few of those suspected of criminal responsibility have ever been brought to justice. This cannot go on.

Marcelo Pollack, Amnesty International's Colombia Researcher.

“As the international community focuses its attention on Colombia, now is the time for President Santos to step up and ensure that any peace deal is in line with international law and gives victims full access to truth, justice and reparation. He must also ensure that effective measures are put in place to guarantee the safety of communities, groups and people at risk, including human rights defenders.”

On-going abuses
Security forces and paramilitary groups, acting alone or in collusion with each other, as well as guerrilla groups, continue to commit human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Colombia.

At least 55 human rights defenders and 20 members of trade unions were killed in 2014. There has also been an increase in mass death threats against human rights defenders, peace and land activists, politicians and journalists.

Amnesty International is calling on all parties to the conflict to put an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations, and on the Colombian authorities to hold perpetrators to account.

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has already produced recommendations which offer a blueprint for ending human rights abuses. HRC members and observers should be pushing Colombian government and guerrilla groups to promptly implement these recommendations,” said Marcelo Pollack.

Millions forcibly displaced by the conflict
Almost 6 million people have been forcibly displaced in the context of the armed conflict since 1985. Likewise, some 8 million hectares of land have been abandoned by or taken, often violently, from peasant farmers, Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, among others.

The Victims and Land Restitution Law, which came into force in 2012, was an important first step towards ensuring that the right of some of the victims of the conflict to full reparation, including land restitution. However, only a tiny percentage of the land lost has been returned so far.

“The land restitution process is seriously flawed, with many people excluded from its provisions, and its implementation beset by unecessary difficulties,” said Marcelo Pollack.

“While President Santos has taken some steps in the right direction by intoducing the legislation, he and his government must do more to ensure these promises become reality for the many people who lost their land.”

Addressing endemic impunity
Amnesty International is also calling on the Colombian authorities to address their failure to bring to justice those suspected of human rights abuses, including members of the security forces implicated in alleged extrajudicial executions.

The Colombian Congress is currently debating several bills that would make it easier for the military justice system to investigate members of the security forces implicated in human rights violations, rather than civilian authorities. This would be a serious setback for justice given the military justice system’s long and shameful record of closing down such investigations without holding those responsible to account.

The Legal Framework for Peace, approved by Congress in 2012, could also be used to shield perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations from justice. It gives Congress the power to limit criminal trials to those “most responsible” for human rights abuses, and to suspend prison sentences handed down to paramilitary, guerrilla and security force combatants convicted of human rights abuses.

“We have urged HRC members and observer states to raise these concerns as a priority with the Colombian government and we continue to expect them to do so. The international community has a critical role to play in ensuring that the right of victims to truth, justice and reparation is realized. Now is the time to make those voices heard,” said Marcelo Pollack.

More information:
Amnesty International’s written statement to the UN Human Rights Council: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr23/0004/2015/es/