BOGOTA — There can be no peace without the truth. In Colombia, this means the various armed players recognizing and apologizing for the acts of barbarism they have committed in the civil conflict that has stained our country since the 1960s. 

It is significant that the guerrillas of FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — have recently apologized for killing 79 people in Bojayá in 2002. Yet one cannot begin to digest their pretentious cynicism, general reluctance to recognize other macabre incidents or practiced tendency to "spin" words to give their acts an ideological allure. 

It is not just the FARC of course. The armed parties in Colombia have devoted themselves to constructing whole discourses to legitimize atrocities or pretend they did not even happen. The paramilitaries for example got into the habit of presenting themselves as self-defense formations devoted exclusively to fighting the FARC. As if massacres and mass kidnappings were just collateral damage in their war, and drug-dealing, something they "barely" did on the side.

Their lies were revealed some time ago. The reluctance of former paramilitary authorities to tell the truth has led some to be excluded from the provisions of the Justice and Peace law, while others have faced tough questioning over their "selective amnesia." They have become used to telling the truth when it suits them. Take the former gang chief Ramón Isaza, who only very recently admitted his responsibility for a massacre committed in 1989 in the northern district of Simacota.

The truth can't hide

The Colombian state, sadly, has not done much better. The Inter American Court of Human Rights had to explicitly accuse the state before it admitted that troops and police used excessive force during the 1985 assault to free hostages in the Palace of Justice in Bogota, which had been overtaken by leftist guerrillas. 

Footage of the 1985 Palace of Justice siege — Source: Mario Andrei Pantoja Maguiña

The court's ruling was a warning that the truth will come out one day, and belligerent sides must remember this. Colombia's judiciary has borne this in mind, when decisively excluding from Justice and Peace provisions those disarmed paramilitaries who have not been honest about their activities. 

In fact in a recent ruling, the State Council, an arbitrating body, condemned the state over the 1996 killing of leftist Patriotic Union leader Josué Giraldo Cardona, because, it found, the paramilitaries who killed him had been able to count on the "help of members of the Army Seventh Brigade who were permanently following Patriotic Union party members." It ordered the defense ministry and national police to take reparative measures. 

That is precisely the message for us: The truth had better come quickly, without cynicism, and without again making victims of those who have suffered in this conflict. Starting to weave the truthful story of what has been happening in Colombia would be the next great step necessary toward a lasting peace.