Wednesday, May 25

Alejandro Valencia, member of the Truth Commission of Colombia: ” The horror of war is much greater than we know ”

Clarifying what happened in an armed conflict is always a monumental task for a Truth Commission, regardless of where the atrocities committed are analyzed. But in the case of Colombia, the challenges are even greater, because although the war between the government and the FARC-EP guerrillas ended in 2016 with the signing of a historic Peace Agreement, today the difficulties to implement it and violence continues to spread throughout the country. In these last five years of peace, the murders of social leaders, defenders of the territory and ex-combatants of the former guerrilla have occurred almost daily.

Added to this is the social outbreak that began on April 28 and ended up causing the most intense protests in recent decades in the country, which left more than 70 deceased. Although the trigger was the controversial tax reform that the government of Iván Duque intended to apply, then there was widespread outrage due to problems such as poverty, lack of opportunities and inequality. In those protests, the population also demanded that the Government fully comply with the Peace Agreement and that the murders of social leaders and ex-guerrillas stop.

As the truth of what happened during more than half a century of armed conflict between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP is also outside Colombia, the Commission for the Clarification of the Truth – an institution created within the framework of the Peace Agreement – has started work to hear the testimonies of victims and survivors in exile and this week made a stop in Madrid. This time, in addition, it has done so in the company of the Special Jurisdiction for La Paz (JEP), the court that judges the actors of the armed conflict, whether military or ex-guerrillas, in exchange for them telling the truth of what happened.

The objective is to dignify these stories and integrate them into the final report that this commission must present next November to clarify what happened during the war. The armed conflict in Colombia left eight million victims among the dead, disappeared and displaced. The military forces were mainly responsible for the extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances.

The lawyer and human rights defender Alejandro Valencia, one of the members of the Commission for the Clarification of the Truth, has spoken with about that face-to-face session of listening to victims and survivors in exile in the framework of the case called ” Victimization of members of the Patriotic Union (UP) by State agents “.

How was this meeting in Madrid with Colombian exiles from the armed conflict? What was the goal?

The objective was to meet with a group of exiles from all over the world who belonged to the Patriotic Union, the political movement that was created by a peace agreement in the 1980s (under the government of Belisario Betancurt) and that practically was exterminated. The idea was to take in-depth testimonies from some of these leaders that the commission had not yet been able to hear and to be able to discuss some aspects such as what restorative justice measures could be for these people. Their cases are practically in impunity, there are people who have been out of Colombia for 20, 30 and 40 years.

It was an exciting meeting because there were people who had not seen each other for many years. They have come from Uruguay, Canada, Costa Rica, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Spain… and humanly it has been very comforting for them.

What differentiates the Colombian Truth Commission from other Latin American women that have also analyzed the atrocities committed during armed conflicts or dictatorships?

The one in Colombia has had the challenge of analyzing a very long armed conflict, which has lasted more than 50 years, and with the paradox that this commission did not result in a commission to close an armed conflict. Unfortunately, the situation of violence persists in Colombia and that is why the working conditions have not been the most ideal compared to other commissions. In the Southern Cone the military dictatorships fell, or in Central American countries like Guatemala and El Salvador the armed conflict ended permanently.

In addition, there are many problems to take into account here: paramilitarism, land dispossession, forced disappearances or drug trafficking, among others.

In the recent social outbreak in Colombia, the protesters precisely demanded from the government of Iván Duque a real implementation of the Peace Agreement and an end to violence …

Many of the motivations for the current social mobilization in Colombia are due to persistence factors typical of the armed conflict. We have identified a lot everything that has to do with stigmatization, persecution, criminalization of the different, as militants of opposition parties or those who belong to social movements, and we are seeing that now as well. These persistence factors are the breeding ground for part of this mobilization and, although we do not have such direct competition in this problem, we are analyzing it and we have even had to intervene at the request of the social movements.

The commission has to formulate recommendations and especially in terms of guarantee of non-repetition. We are realizing that the armed conflict is repeating itself and many structural causes as well. It is not a situation that in political terms is going to be resolved right away, it has even been said that there will be a great mobilization in Colombia in the month of July. What we are pointing to is a more comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement and this will continue.

Is there a risk that the Peace Agreement will be broken?

The agreement has been implemented very unevenly. In some aspects, more progress has been made than in others, such as in terms of victims with the implementation of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, which has been operating for a few years, like the JEP, the unit to search for missing persons and the Truth Commission. However, everything related to the verification of the demobilization of the FARC-EP leaves much to be desired: protection has been very deficient since almost 200 ex-combatants have been assassinated.

We do not feel a real commitment from some government entities regarding a much more global implementation of the agreement. Thanks to the international community, it has been given a little more attention, but we, also as the institution of the agreement, believe that if some aspects that are still halfway are developed much more, it would be a way to find more real solutions to the current problems of the country.

We knew that the peace agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP was not going to be the absolute solution, but we aspired for a more thorough, more real and effective implementation of the points reached in Havana.

What has impacted you the most in this time?

We have been able to delve into many of the problems and human rights violations, of the signs of violence that occurred during the armed conflict. One realizes that the events were more serious, with greater impact, and that is impressive. People, on the other hand, have the capacity to move forward and despite so much pain there is no lack of optimism, and that really impresses us. These are people who have had a very bad time, but are enthusiastic about moving forward.

A few months ago the JEP raised to more than 6,400 the number of victims of the so-called ‘false positives’, the extrajudicial executions of civilians perpetrated by the Army to present them as guerrillas killed in combat, when institutions such as the Prosecutor’s Office maintain that there were 2,248 victims .

Both in severity and qualitatively, violations increase. In the case of the Patriotic Union, we are jointly consolidating some figures with the JEP and, indeed, those figures are going to be a little higher than those known publicly. That is also impressive, the seriousness of the events, of the violations … If one thinks of episodes from past decades, there is not enough documentation, there we find that the horror of the war is much greater than we know.

Will Colombia finally achieve peace?

Unfortunately one sees that the situation is difficult, but hope is the last thing to be lost. There is an important sector of Colombian civil society, and also of the political class, that we plan to deal with these problems, although it is not easy due to those very strong persistence factors. Due attention and a more sustained response is needed.