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LatinNews Daily Report - 26 July 2013

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Colombia’s Santos admits State violations

Development: On 25 July Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos admitted that the State had been guilty of "serious human rights violations" during its five decades-old battle with left-wing insurgent groups including the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc).

Significance: This is the first time that the State has recognised responsibility for human rights violations committed during the armed conflict, although President Santos was clear that the rebels must also take responsibility for their actions. He made his comments during an audience convened by the constitutional court, which yesterday began examining the constitutionality of the so-called ‘legal framework for peace’ Approved by congress in June 2012, this modified the constitution and created a legal framework to deal with war crimes perpetrated by both sides and reparations for victims. It also provides the legal basis for the peace process between the government and the Farc.

An NGO, Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, took a case against it to the constitutional court, arguing that it could provide “a backdoor amnesty” for many war crimes and force victims to seek redress in international courts. Gustavo Gallon, a lawyer with the NGO, filed a legal challenge to three phrases in the text of the law that he says would allow lawmakers to select which cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes could be investigated and punished, leading to impunity for many.

The hearing comes at a particularly testing time for the Santos government and the peace process, after a deadly attack by the Farc killed 19 soldiers and the group kidnapped a US national and offered to arm rural peasant farmers protesting against the government.

Key points:

  • The president said the State "has been responsible, in some cases by default, in other cases by [the] direct action of some state agents, of serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law". "Our role, as agents of the state, is to guarantee and protect the rights of all citizens. For that reason, our responsibility is that much greater”.
  • In its recently submitted report on the armed conflict – the most comprehensive to date -  the Historical Memory Group (Grupo de Memoria Histórica, GMH) attributed 10.1% of the 220,000 deaths resulting from conflict between 1958-2012 to the state security forces; 38.4% to paramilitary groups; 27.7% to non-identified armed groups and 16.8% to guerrillas, with “others” accounting for the remainder.
  • Judge rapporteur, Jorge Ignacio Pretelt, told reporters that the court was expecting to issue a ruling next month on the package which has aroused strong opposition from figures like Colombia’s attorney general, Alejandro Ordóñez.
  • Local media yesterday reported that three soldiers were killed and another injured in clashes with the the Farc’s 36th front in a rural municipality of Anorí, in the northwest region of Antioquia.