With talks on in Havana to end the decades-old civil war in Colombia, a push is on to force negotiators to meet face-to-face with victims of the violence.
It used to be that peace was negotiated with a pardon exchanged for a surrender of weapons. Now, respect for human rights has become a requirement of any settlement, which leaves no room for a negotiation without truth, justice and reparation.
In other words, negotiation must include a guarantee that there is no impunity. In this national and international dynamic, the victims or the “forgotten ones” of yesterday are the essence of today's peace. And this is finally now becoming the backbone of the peace process that the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) are carrying out in Havana, Cuba.
One year ago, FARC spokespeople said that the only one who had to ask for forgiveness was the State, and that they had been the real victims. Now, they recognize that their obligation is to face their own victims. Still, the FARC insists that this cannot take place through some media spectacle, or by making the country believe that the insurgency has been the only source of violence in Colombia.
Truth is that, today more than ever, giving the victims the right that belongs to them, the right to be heard, is the best way to disarm the enemies of the peace process and gain credibility. This is why the involvement of a representative delegation of victims in some of the talks in Cuba is being considered.
In his inaugural address on July 20, Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, president of Colombia’s Congress, declared that the goal is to bring a group of victims of the FARC to meet its negotiators in Havana in the next few weeks.
The aim is not about gaining any advantage at the negotiating table, but to give a sense of realism to the talks, he explained. “The moment the FARC decides to give a face to the victims will be decisive in guaranteeing the negotiations’ success,” Cristo told El Espectador.
He insisted that putting the victims at the center of the process will calm those who believe that the talks between the government and the FARC are leading to impunity.
But the presence of victims in Havana is not the only factor aimed at strengthening the peace process. For example, the designation of Luis Eladio Pérez as the Colombian ambassador in Caracas is not simply a matter of diplomacy. Pérez was kidnapped by the FARC, and held for almost seven years. Moreover, then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, played an important role in his liberation.
Victims from both sides
In other words, a victim of the FARC and the armed conflict that has been bleeding Colombia for several decades is now the representative of the Colombian government to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and a government interested in negotiations moving forward.
Other countries have also contributed to the momentum in the hopes that there will be a definitive agreement between the FARC and the state this time. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Spanish President Felipe González, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others, have all been part of the international pressure to back the peace process.
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A protest in Colombia against violence (photo: Frank Ballesteros)
It is clear that peace in Colombia interests the world. But the International Criminal Court has made it clear that the peace process must not leave a trail of impunity. Hence, the idea of involving the victims has emerged as a centerpiece to the process.
One only has to go through the State Council archives to confirm that the state has also committed excesses in the armed conflict, with a paramilitarism that relied on units of the Armed Forces to consolidate its expansion. Nevertheless, to deny that the FARC has left thousands of victims was a mistake.
As a result, the fact that the FARC representatives have recognized that they have to face the victims is a sign of progress. To understand the significance of this encounter, it is enough to read the recent study by Memoria Histórica about the FARC’s kidnappings of at least 2,287 Colombians who never saw home again.
The murder of the Turbay family in Caquetá in 2000, the car bomb at the El Nogal Club in February 2003, the massacre of political hostages in Urrao that year, and the murder of 11 congressmen in Valle del Cauca in 2007 are just the beginning of the FARC’s long list of defenseless victims.