Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia president hails Farc war victims reparation deal

The head of the Colombian government delegation to the peace talks, Humberto de la Calle (L) and the head of the FARC-EP delegation Ivan Marquez (R) shake hands after the signing of the agreement on victims of the conflict at Convention Palace in Havana, on 15 December 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The two sides said the agreement was an important step on the road to peace

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos has said an agreement signed with Farc rebels on reparations and justice for victims of the country's civil war is an "important step" towards peace.

Mr Santos said Colombia was on track to meet a deadline set for 23 March next year for ending the conflict.

The deal offers an amnesty for all but the most serious crimes.

An estimated 220,000 people have been killed as a result of the five-decades long war.

The Colombian leader said the two sides had tackled "one of the most sensitive and complex points of the peace talks" in the latest agreement.

Under the deal, special tribunals will be created to try former combatants, once a final peace deal is signed.

"2016 will be the year that Colombia sees a new dawn," said Mr Santos.

"The dawning of a country without war, in hopefully a united country that can move towards its maximum potential... The hour of peace has arrived in Colombia."

Key points of the agreement

  • Victims have a right to compensation for damages caused by the conflict
  • Creation of a truth commission
  • Creation of a unit dedicated to searching for those who disappeared as a result of the armed conflict
  • Creation of special tribunals to try those suspected of having committed conflict-related crimes
  • Victims to be offered protection and guarantees for their safety

Chief Farc negotiator Ivan Marquez said the agreement showed reconciliation was possible.

"If you don't put adverse obstructions in the way of common sense, we can get closer to our higher purpose of reconciliation," he said.

Over the past 18 months, 60 victims of the conflict travelled to the talks in the Cuban capital Havana to give testimony.

Ten attended Tuesday's ceremony. Jineth Bedoya, spokesperson for the victims, said they were "celebrating that after so many decades of impunity a way has been found to recognise" what they went through.

Tuesday's agreement fleshed out the details of the transitional justice system which had been agreed by both sides in September.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A group of victims travelled to Havana to attend the ceremony

In a joint statement, the two sides said that they hoped that "the implementation of these and all of the accords will ensure dignity for the victims, do justice, and lay the foundation for ending the violence of the conflict in our country once and for all".

Official peace negotiations between the Farc and government have been going on for more than three years.

The two sides have now reached agreement on four key issues that they had laid out in an agenda at the start of the process: victims' rights, land rights, the political participation of the rebels, and how to deal with the problem of drug trafficking.

They have yet to agree on how the rebels will disarm once a final agreement is signed.

The Farc is the largest of Colombia's left-wing rebel groups, founded in 1964 to overthrow the government and install a Marxist regime.

The justice deal at a glance

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Farc leadership has been fighting the government from the mountains of Colombia for decades

Who will mete out justice?

Special courts and a peace tribunal will be set up to deal with alleged crimes related to the conflict and will try all participants in the conflict, including members of the security forces.

Will there be an amnesty?

Yes and no. Combatants will be covered by an amnesty, but war crimes and crimes against humanity will not fall under it.

Will Farc leaders be sent to jail?

That depends. Those who confess to the most serious crimes will see their "freedom restricted" and be confined, but not in ordinary jails. It is not yet clear where they would serve their sentence instead. Those who confess past a certain deadline or refuse to admit their crimes altogether will go to prison for up to 20 years.

Will the guilty pay for their crimes?

Even those who are not sent to prison will have to carry out work aimed at repairing some of the damage caused in more than 50 years of conflict, such as helping to clear landmines and plant alternative crops where coca was grown.

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