“No Accountability, No Dignity:” Colombia Celebrates International Justice Day


As Colombia marked International Justice Day, the importance of accountability for violations committed during the decades of conflict was underscored in the number of victims awaiting justice—376,000 registered in the Attorney General’s Office, more than 4 million in total. And while July 17 is celebrated as the date of adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, serving to remind states of commitment to end impunity for international crimes, it is clear that in countries like Colombia accountability extends beyond criminal trials.

Investigating and punishing individuals responsible for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law has ethical, legal, political, and institutional importance. By punishing high-level perpetrators of serious crimes, a society firmly rejects the practice of granting impunity to power. At the same time, transitional justice efforts in Colombia have recognized the impossibility of directly punishing each perpetrator involved in the 50 years of civil armed conflict.

Legal reforms and initiatives such as the Justice and Peace Law (JPL) of 2005 have attempted to target individual members of paramilitary groups through demobilization, truth-telling and reparations. But the shortcomings of the JPL have left victims feeling frustrated over the de facto impunity that still remains.

There is a strong hope that JPL will be reformed to make the criminal justice effort more effective. However, the efforts to guarantee justice and uphold the dignity of victims cannot be limited to criminal trials. As a complement to criminal justice, ICTJ supports a holistic, integrated approach in which states and societies can implement non-judicial mechanisms to achieve a variety of forms of justice. These include accountability, clarification of the truth and construction of historical memory, institutional reforms and purges designed to remove state agents responsible for human rights violations, and a fair judicial system.

Colombia must guarantee effective access to comprehensive reparations.
    Reparations are especially important to victims of the conflict in Colombia. In the 2011 Victims’ Law (Law 1448), Colombia established a broad framework to provide consistency for institutional efforts providing reparations to victims. Ideally, this framework should facilitate efforts to acknowledge the harm and consequences of victimization, give voice to the millions of victims silenced by the war, and guarantee victims
better living conditions in the present and the future. Colombia must guarantee effective access to comprehensive reparations including compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, and satisfaction of guarantees of non-recurrence.

Together, these form a comprehensive approach to Colombian society’s right to justice, and encompass the potential for real transformation. On International Justice Day, the transitional justice challenges faced by Colombia serve as a reminder of the importance of non-judicial mechanisms and reforms that should work in tandem with criminal proceedings.

Photo: "Peace and Dignified Life" Ciudad Bolívar, Bogotá. Photo courtesy of GUACHE.