Peace on track in Colombia

Updated - December 30, 2016 01:34 am IST

Published - December 30, 2016 12:03 am IST

Colombia’s government now knows only too well that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. In October, a referendum to ratify a painstakingly negotiated peace deal it had signed with the long-time insurgent organisation, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was narrowly defeated. A more piecemeal, less ambitious and sequenced process since then has helped Bogota notch its first significant victory in effecting the peace deal with the rebels. Now, Colombia’s Congress has unanimously approved an amnesty law granting immunity to FARC fighters from prosecution for committing minor crimes, clearing a major hurdle in effecting the revised peace accord. Those accused of major crimes will be tried by a special tribunal. The main difficulty in passing this measure was the intransigence of the leading opposition, the right-wing Centro Democratico led by former President Alvaro Uribe, who had led a vigorous campaign first against talks between the government and the rebels, later during the referendum and also when a revised accord was eventually signed and ratified by Congress on December 1. The party abstained during voting both during the ratification and when the amnesty law was introduced. The law helps overcome a key sticking point for those who voted “No” in the October referendum and who felt that the government was being too lenient with those among the FARC commanders accused of severe crimes. The law will reassure the rebels, who are moving to special demobilisation zones, marking a breakthrough in the five-decade-long civil war that has taken more than 2,20,000 lives.

Without doubt, the Nobel Peace Prize given to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gave him the necessary ballast and international support to carry out these steps. But there are other laws to be passed, including those addressing FARC’s demands for agrarian reform and compensation to victims of the civil war. There is still some distance to go before FARC converts itself into a political party to participate in the contested polity. Amendments to the peace accord include requirements from FARC to share details about any involvement in drug production and declaration of assets. But there is a clear commitment towards peace shown by both the government and FARC, especially after the initial accord was signed. If things go as per the government’s plan, the rebels should become civilians by May 2017, culminating in the end of a process that began with negotiations four years ago.

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