Colombia began peace talks with the FARC to reach an end to the armed conflict, and has also been implementing mechanisms to establish the responsibility of demobilized paramilitaries since 2005 and provide reparations. Other proceedings have taken place in respect of both military and politicians. ICTJ works with government and civil society groups in Colombia to pursue truth and justice.

An elderly lady mourns at the funeral of an assassinated public figure in Bogota. (Scott Dalton)

Background: Demobilization of paramilitary groups, Justice and Peace Law, Victims’ Law, and peace talks with the FARC

Colombia continues to endure the longest internal armed conflict in the Western hemisphere. The conflict involves many actors and interests, and is a product of political ambitions, social and economic tensions, and competition for resources.

In their efforts to reduce the military capacity of their adversaries and impose control over the civilian population, the mass violence of the armed groups—including paramilitary, military and rebel forces— has produced more than 5.5 million victims over the past 50 years, roughly 13% of the country’s population.

The conflict has generated the forced displacement of millions of people, more than 200,000 killed, thousands of cases of forced disappearances, sexual crimes and gender-based violence, and the forced recruitment of minors.

Efforts seeking to demobilize fighters and seek truth, justice, and reparations for victims have been going on for over 10 years.

Between 2003 and 2006, a political pact initiated by former President Alvaro Uribe led to the demobilization of more than 35,000 members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) (according to Government figures), but many of the same structures have re-emerged as new criminal gangs.

In 2005, Law 975 was enacted to facilitate the reincorporation of these demobilized former combatants into civilian life, giving rise to the Justice and Peace process. This law contemplates a special prosecution model that includes alternative sentencing for those demobilized former AUC that contribute to clarification of the truth and reparations to victims. By June 2013, approximately 2,000 former paramilitaries had passed through the Justice and Peace tribunals, but only 14 had been sentenced.

In 2010, Congress enacted Law 1424, which established a non-judicial truth-seeking mechanism that provides legal benefits to members of illegal organized armed groups in exchange for agreeing to contribute to clarification of the truth about the conflict. The offer is not extended to those accused of crimes against humanity.

In response to the growing demands of the victims, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos promoted the passing of Law 1448, or Victims’ Law, which established a comprehensive reparations program and land restitution procedure. The government created new institutions to implement these programs, namely the Victims’ Unit, the Land Restitution Unit, and the Historical Memory Center.

After taking office in August 2010, President Santos began discrete exploratory contacts with the FARC aimed at finding a negotiated solution to the armed conflict. This was a significant shift from the previous government’s position, which had focused on confrontation and efforts to gain a military victory over the guerrilla forces. In the course of this rapprochement, Congress approved a constitutional amendment known as the Legal Framework for Peace, which sets forth a series of integrated transitional justice mechanisms to facilitate the negotiation and achievement of a stable and lasting peace. This has motivated a debate in Colombia on the development of truth-seeking mechanisms and on the need to create comprehensive and complementary judicial accountability models.

The current peace process between the FARC and the government of Colombia has generated high expectations among Colombian society, as it raises the hopes of a significant reduction of the violence and the deepening and consolidation of democracy.

ICTJ's Role:

ICTJ has worked in Colombia since 2003. We focus on strengthening national mechanisms for the protection of victims’ rights to truth, justice, and reparation.

  • Building judicial capacity: We provide technical advice—based on domestic law and international comparative experiences—to key state institutions. This includes the Supreme Court of Justice, the Justice and Peace Tribunals, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Historical Memory Center, among others.
  • Advocating for victims’ rights: We advocate for policy reforms that seek to advance the protection of victims’ rights, including direct engagement with legislators and public dissemination of analytical position papers. We provide local NGOs with training and tools to enhance their representation of victims’ rights and interests, and promote spaces for reflection on transitional justice.
  • Monitoring and research: We monitor and report on Colombia’s application of transitional justice measures and make recommendations for improvement. We also follow and analyze the implementation of reparations programs and institutional reform initiatives.
  • Truth-seeking: We facilitate opportunities for government institutions and civil society organizations to jointly discuss and analyze truth-seeking and memory mechanisms.
  • Knowledge Sharing: We produce and disseminate transitional justice expertise through targeted publications on national research projects and international studies.