BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Colombia’s National Truth Commission on Tuesday called for a radical transformation of the country’s armed forces that would refocus the military around respect for human rights and international law..
The recommendations are part of a detailed report designed to tell the most comprehensive account to date of Colombia’s long and brutal internal conflict, which lasted at least 58 years, involved nearly all sectors of Colombian society and cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of US dollars. .
The report, overseen by a group of 11 commissioners, is the product of the 2016 peace accord between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a left-wing group, and the government. At the ceremony marking the release of the report on Tuesday, they sat on the stage of a theater in Bogotá, some wearing shirts that read: “There is a future if there is truth.”
The commissioners have been tasked not only to investigate human rights violations committed by all actors between 1958 and 2016, but also to write a detailed history of how the conflict has affected social, economic , political, cultural and environmental – then to provide recommendations that will put the country on the path to lasting peace.
The commission was also asked to examine the factors that perpetuated the conflict, including the rise of paramilitary groups and the rapid growth of what has become an all-powerful cocaine industry.
Father Francisco de Roux, the head of the commission, spoke at length about the often arduous work, which lasted almost four years and involved more than 14,000 individual and group interviews, many of which were conducted in 28 “houses of truth » installed all over the world. country. He thanked the many victims who had spoken up, “overcoming fear”, to tell their stories.
Sometimes the victims of the conflict interrupted the speeches, shouting in the rafters and from their seats, and demanding recognition of the deaths of their loved ones or the protection of their territories.
The Colombian conflict began as a war between the government and the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group. This eventually evolved into a complex battle involving the government, the FARC, paramilitary groups and the United States government, which provided billions of dollars in aid to Colombians to help them fight the insurgency and the trafficking of drugs that financed it.
The conflict has left the country with deep scars that are yet to heal – an estimated 260,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians, and more than five million have been violently forced from their homes.
The report was released at a ceremony at a theater in the capital named after Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a presidential candidate whose assassination in 1948 is widely seen as a precursor to the conflict with the FARC.
The survey was highly critical of the United States’ role in the war. Today, despite a more than 20-year effort by the United States to eradicate the Colombian cocaine trade, the drug’s staple plant, the coca leaf, is being cultivated at a record pace, according to US data.
The report comes at an important inflection point in Colombia. Just a week ago, the country elected its first-ever leftist president, Gustavo Petro.
Mr. Petro had campaigned on issues of social and economic justice and inclusion – themes also promoted by the peace accord and accompanying transitional justice process. He now faces the monumental task of delivering on his promises in the face of a deeply divided society and an economy plagued by high inflation, a large deficit and chronic poverty.
The truth commission report could help the healing process – or be used to further divide society. Mr. Petro’s vice president-elect, Francia Márquez, attended the release ceremony. Incumbent President Iván Duque, a conservative who campaigned against the peace accord, did not.
Roux’s father said he believed Mr. Petro would implement the report’s recommendations.
Mr. Petro came on stage and shook hands with the Abbé de Roux who gave the president-elect a copy of the report. The sobriety of the moment contrasted sharply with Mr Petro’s last major public appearance, when he accepted the presidency to thunderous applause earlier this month.
Mr Petro told the audience that he believed this report could help “forever end the cycles of violence” that the country had endured for generations, but that could only happen if the report was not not used as a weapon of revenge. Societies will always experience conflict, he said, “but conflict cannot mean death”.
The report is not judicial and the commission will not issue any penalties or sanctions. This process is conducted by a different body, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which was also created by the peace agreement.
Instead, the truth commission is meant to “establish ethical and political accountability”, according to the commission’s documents, while trying to establish a common truth and “lay the groundwork for the transformations needed to make peace possible”. .
June 28, 2022
A photograph in an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified a man greeting Father Francisco de Roux, the head of Colombia’s truth commission, as retired Major Carlos Guillermo Ospina. This is Roberto Lacouture, victim of a kidnapping by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.