Saturday, June 22, 2013

Writing Down the Rules for War - and Peace

Almost a decade ago, human rights organizations criticized the government of Pres. Alvaro Uribe because its demobilization agreement with right-wing paramilitaries seemingly let those guilty of grevious human rights offenses off with light punishments.

Victims of a 1997 paramilitary massacre.
Now, a new Human Rights Watch report asserts that the 'Framework for Peace' created for the negotiations with the FARC guerrillas could bring the same result.

The Framework for Peace is intended to facilitate reaching a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, who are negotiating peace with the government in Havana - but at a price: light punishments for those guilty of severe human rights abuses. In a response to questions from Colombia's Constitutional Court, Human Rights Watch said that the Framework "flagrantly contravenes the legal obligations assumed by Colombia according to international law."

Even such mechanisms as a post-conflict truth commission wouldn't address this injustice, says HRW.

Investigators dig victims of false positive
killings from a mass grave.
Still, with all of its failings, the paramilitary demobilization seems to have succeeded. Altho some paramilitaries have continued committing atrocities and in other areas they have been replaced by criminal groups called bacrims, Violence levels have fallen in many parts of Colombia. The horrific massacres of whole towns haven't been repeated.

Colombia may find that paying the same price of injustice for peace with the FARC is worth it.

A few years ago, Colombia was shaken by one of its most horrific human rights scandals when it wasFalse Positives.' Now, military jurisdiction legislation approved by Congress this week could let those killers off easy, say human rights advocates.
discovered that military units were kidnapping and murdering young men and disguising them as guerrillas in order to earn bonuses or time off. They were called '

Posters portray the Fuero Penal Militar law as
permitting the targeting of civilians.
Rights group, including HRW and others, have assailed the military jurisdiction law (ley de fuero militar) approved by Congress this week. The law is supposed to protect soldiers by making clear when they can and cannot use force. But rights defenders suggest it could legalize attacking civilians, and that cases of plain murder, such as the false positives, could end up in military court - where sympathetic judges are likely to treat soldiers lightly. Military officials promise that this won't happen - at least with past cases.

The legislation also attempts to create rules for hostilities with the new violent groups, called Bacrims, which have sprung up after the paramilitaries demobilized. But battling these groups, which may not wear uniforms and are hard to distinguish from common criminals, also carries dangers of attacks against civilians.

Colombia may win from these two laws - but the cause of justice, and the armed conflicts' many victims - look likely to lose.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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