In Renewed Effort to End Hostilities, Colombia Adopts New Transitional Justice Tools

After several months of intense political debate, Colombia’s Senate passed constitutional reform measures containing extensive transitional justice provisions. On June 14, 2012, the Legal Framework for Peace was adopted to confront decades of massive human rights violations and help to bring a sustainable peace to Colombia’s ongoing internal armed conflict.

The Legal Framework for Peace provides practical legal tools to facilitate negotiations with armed groups, but recognizes that perpetrators of the most serious crimes must face justice.

The amendment incorporates lessons learned from prior transitional justice efforts in Colombia, such as the Justice and Peace Law of 2005 (Law 975). It affirms that justice cannot and should not be reduced solely to criminal trials, but should instead be employed in conjunction with non-judicial measures with the aim of establishing the truth about the past. It offers a new legal framework to allow for the initiation of these tools, which include criminal trials, non-judicial truth-seeking mechanisms, reparations for victims, and institutional reforms.

Notably, the reform orders the creation of a truth commission, which would have the power to develop articles within the law, including “formulating recommendations for the application of transitional justice instruments, including the application of selection criteria.”

Through the new framework, peace agreements will be able to outline requirements for future political participation of former combatants. A special law—while subject to prior vetting for constitutionality—would set preconditions for political participation to prevent political participation by any individual responsible for systematic acts constituting crimes against humanity or genocide.

In addition, Colombia aims to use its state legal mechanisms to reveal and dismantle embedded organized crime through focused investigations into those allegedly most responsible for systematic war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide.

For future negotiations with illegal armed groups, the amendment defines conditions under which criminal charges could be reduced to allow for the use of non-judicial mechanisms aimed at uncovering the truth. The award of sentence reductions or non-judicial benefits would be subject to conditions applied on an individual basis, and would include acknowledgement of responsibility, clarification of the truth, contribution to reparations funds for victims, or agreement to non-participation in hostilities.

To receive these benefits, armed groups would have to meet conditions such as demobilization, signing a peace agreement, freeing kidnapped prisoners, and releasing and reintegrating illegally recruited minors.

The Legal Framework for Peace equips Colombia’s constitution with comprehensive tools to negotiate peace and bring justice to the victims of the conflict. Through these reforms, lawmakers have signaled Colombia’s commitment to the principles of transitional justice in its ongoing efforts to bring an end to the conflict.