Criminal Justice in Transitional Contexts: What Lessons can Colombia Learn from International Experiences?


“Transitional justice” is a term in common usage in Colombia. It floods media headlines, public forums, and political speeches. For nearly a decade, the country has been reflecting on a model for accountability to address the crimes committed during the conflict, including approaches to criminal justice, truth-seeking, and reparations measures.

Public discussion on what accountability measures should be implemented is now at its peak, with the government and the FARC guerrilla conducting peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba. One of the most sensitive negotiating points of the agenda is designing a model for criminal accountability.

Colombia can draw some lessons from its own experience, mainly the demobilization of paramilitary groups under the Justice and Peace process, which offered alternative and reduced sentences to demobilized former combatants if they contributed to the truth by confessing and providing information about their crimes.

At the same time, many in Colombia are also interested in learning from international experiences where criminal accountability measures were applied to pursue justice after massive human rights violations.Criminal justice efforts of countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor, challenges and limitations of models they used and of the international engagement in these processes, may hold important lessons as Colombia looks for its own way forward.

With the aim of promoting an exchange of ideas on what lessons could be useful for Colombia, the ICTJ will be holding a conference in Bogotá on November 24th. The conference, which is open to the public, will gather renowned international experts who were directly involved in these criminal justice efforts.

“ICTJ looks forward to a robust discussion of a wide array of international experiences in pursuing criminal accountability in post-conflict societies. This debate will help inform the parties to better understand possible avenues for criminal justice in the context of the peace process,” said David Tolbert, president of ICTJ.

Representatives of the Colombian government, policy makers, the justice system, civil society organizations, and academia will also be present.

“We hope that the conference will provide Colombians with a useful insight into international experiences to build on the practice and lessons learned from the efforts of its own judiciary,” said Maria Camila Moreno, director of ICTJ’s program in Colombia. “Colombia should not underestimate the ability of its own judicial institutions to prosecute massive crimes; judges, prosecutors and investigators have acquired considerable experience throughout the recent years.”

At the one-day conference, experts will discuss and analyze the experiences of five international and hybrid tribunals: the War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia and Herzegovina (WCC), the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the Special Panels of the Dili District Court (East Timor), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

The conference will be livestreamed on our Spanish website and we will be covering it live on social media. To learn more about the conference and how to attend, visit the conference blog (in Spanish).

PHOTO: Sculpture of Lady Justice in Dublin, Ireland. (Ze Valdi/Flickr)