Peace, But No Justice in Colombia

Written by Juanita Garcia Uribe

On October 24th, Sergio Jaramillo Caro, the former High Commissioner for Peace in Colombia, spoke on the topic of “Peace and Justice: The Case of Colombia” at Henry R. Luce Auditorium.

Jaramillo worked under the Santos administration and was largely responsible for the orchestration of the three-year-long negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerilla group. The ratification of the subsequent peace agreement on November 27, 2016 marked the end of the longest-running domestic conflict in the Western hemisphere. Although the agreement ended over fifty years of armed conflict, it garnered considerable opposition from the Colombian public and, most notably, former President Álvaro Uribe.

Jaramillo began his lecture by defining the main resolutions and the strategies of the negotiation process. Among the topics discussed were the complete disarmament of the FARC, reparations for victims of the armed conflict, criminal sentencing, and the granting of political participation to former combatants – arguably one of the most controversial concessions. Despite the contentious debate surrounding the agreement itself, Jaramillo portrayed his strategy and rationale in the negotiation process in a technocratic manner, citing various UN doctrines and negotiation tactics to justify the concessions made by the Colombian government.  

A central negotiation tactic to the Colombian government’s strategy was for President Santos to publicly recognize the existence of an armed internal conflict in Colombia. Without this, Jaramillo argues, “it [would’ve been] impossible to negotiate an agreement” that abides by the legal framework of the international community. Moreover, it established a horizontal negotiation structure where the FARC were seen as equal participants to the Colombian government in negotiations. This last concept – the idea of bilateral negotiations – was a recurring theme throughout the rest of Jaramillo’s presentation.

However, Jaramillo’s discussion of “peace in justice” in Colombia lacked one critical component: a robust discussion on justice. This disparity was addressed in a question from an audience member. In his prepared statement, Jaramillo applied the concept of “transitional justice,” in which post-conflict countries implement judicial measures in order to mitigate the tradition of violence, to Colombia. However, the audience member questioned the Colombian government’s implementation of justice. Instead, he argued that the government relinquished justice for peace in granting lenient punitive measures to ex-combatants.

Surprisingly, Jaramillo conceded to this claim, yet defended the Colombian government’s lax demands regarding justice. He asserted that without a horizontal structure, bilateral negotiations are impossible, and without bilateral negotiations, there is no peace. More importantly, in order to appease the FARC, as equal members of the negotiation, the Colombian government had no choice to but to lessen their demands for justice.

Another audience member questioned Jaramillo over the ratification of the agreement in spite of its rejection by 50.2% of the popular vote. Jaramillo maintained that the government ratified the peace agreement only after revising the terms to meet the demands of the plebiscite. He also referenced a map showing which states voted for or against the agreement. In particular, he drew attention to the fact that the peripheral states, which were more affected by the conflict, voted “yes” while the wealthier, more urbanized central states voted “no.” Though he uses this example to further legitimize the passage of the agreement, his reasoning also calls into question the relative level of education of the poorer, peripheral states, which may have been a factor affecting their access to research into the terms of the agreement. It also remains unknown why the Colombian government refused to put the revised agreement to a second popular vote.

As a Colombian-American, I found High Commissioner Jaramillo’s presentation on the peace process incredibly informative, considering the fact that much of the reporting of the issue was biased. Although I understand that the peace process was essential to ending a fifty-year armed conflict, I personally believe it should not come at any costs – especially at the expense of justice. In my opinion, waiting for a long-term solution in which there is justice is preferable for the Colombian people, as it will help with the healing and reconciliation process. However, the fact that most ex-combatants were not punished for their confessed crimes and can run for political office is an insult to many Colombians, like myself. These individuals devastated the country’s political conventions by seeking economic reform through violence. A newfound political opening will not moderate their ideology to be more palatable for the Colombian people. Instead, it will embolden them and their demands, threatening the political stability Colombians have fought so hard to achieve.

In the end, it is my belief that Colombians deserved a better agreement – one that sought both the peace and justice that High Commissioner Jaramillo supposedly outlined. Although achieving peace is paramount in re-stabilizing Colombian society, it should not have come at the cost of seeking justice. El fin no justifica los medios – The end doesn’t justify the means.