Key Changes to the New Peace Accord

In a display of political discipline and maturity unlike anything we’ve seen in Washington lately, Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group have produced a new peace accord [PDF]. It took them only 41 days to get from the original version’s narrow (50.2 to 49.7 percent) rejection in an October 2 plebiscite, to this new document announced on November 12 and published on November 14.

These 41 days included extensive consultations between government negotiators and representatives of sectors that supported the “No” vote in the October 2 plebiscite, among them former president Álvaro Uribe. The government and “No” supporters came up with a document outlining more than 500 proposed changes to the original 297-page peace accord. Government negotiators then took this package of proposals to FARC leaders in Havana, where they spent about two weeks negotiating around the clock.

The changes to the accord are numerous: see this side-by-side comparison of the old and new accords that somebody helpfully posted to draftable.com. They reveal that the FARC leadership gave ground on several key points. The main ones are the following.

Penalties for those found guilty of committing war crimes are specified more clearly. The original accord stated that guerrillas and others convicted of war crimes, who fully confess their deeds and make reparations to victims, may serve five to eight years in conditions of “effective restriction of liberty.” While the accord stated that this term “will not be understood as jail or prison,” it left the definition up to the judge in each case.

The new accord tightens this. (Page 164-5) The zones of “restriction of liberty” now cannot be larger than the size of a rural hamlet, or vereda. (More specifically, the size of the 20 veredas chosen to serve as sites for the FARC membership’s 6-month disarmament process.)

Some “No” campaigners wanted ex-guerrillas to serve their sentences in actual prisons, a demand that was never likely to be met by an armed group that had not surrendered on the battlefield, and was not close to doing so. In their counter-proposal [PDF], the political party of ex-president Uribe held out the possibility of “alternative conditions of reclusion, like agricultural colonies.” (Colombia’s La Silla Vacía journalism website recently profiled a facility in Acacías, Meta, that appears to be what the Uribistas had in mind.) The village-sized “restricted liberty” standard is not quite as austere as that, but it is much more restrictive than what the original accord might have allowed.

The Special Peace Jurisdiction, the justice system set up to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, will see its scope reduced somewhat. It will now have 10 years to operate, with the possibility of adding 5 more (page 145). It will have no foreign judges among its 38 magistrates and 13 auxiliaries, as the original accord contemplated, though 10 foreign legal experts will be able to serve as observers (pages 167-9). Proponents of the “no” vote had urged that this “special jurisdiction” be fully subordinate to Colombia’s existing legal system, and not separate from it. They did not quite get that, but the tribunal judges’ rulings can now be appealed to Colombia’s Constitutional Court (pages 160-1).

The new accord tightens up the concept of command responsibility for war crimes (pages 151-2). The earlier text had controversially stated that “in no case can command responsibility base itself exclusively on rank, position in hierarchy, or area of jurisdiction.” This meant that a commander might invoke this language to avoid prosecution for atrocities committed by subordinates. The new language holds responsible for war crimes all commanders who “should have known,” given his or her position, what those under his or her command were doing. (Edit as of November 17: Colleagues at Human Rights Watch have conveyed concern that this interpretation may not be accurate; we’re looking into it.)

The new accord specifically excludes from transitional justice any who committed war crimes for “personal enrichment” (page 149) This should mean that military personnel involved in “false positive” killings will not be entitled to shorter “restricted liberty” sentences. Any who killed innocent people in order to boost body counts, thus benefiting from bonuses and other material rewards, should have to stay in Colombia’s regular justice system, where penalties run as high as 40 years in prison. (That is the hoped-for outcome, at least.)

The entire accord will not become a de facto part of Colombia’s constitution (pages 277-8). The original accord contemplated its gaining constitutional status via an international-law maneuver: making it a “Special Accord of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, deposited before the Swiss Federal Council in Berne.” (This was originally proposed by Álvaro Leyva, a politician from the moderate wing of Colombia’s Conservative Party who has long had FARC leaders’ ear.) Proponents of the “No” vote objected strenuously to what they viewed as a 297-page back-door constitutional amendment. The revised accord only gives constitutional status to the parts of the accord that have to do with human rights and international humanitarian law.

The FARC had wanted the accord to be viewed as equal to Colombia’s constitution, as a guarantee that the government would comply with its commitments (to fail to deliver would be ruled unconstitutional). They did not get that: they must rely on the government’s good faith, and on new language in the accord committing to a temporary constitutional amendment stating, “State institutions and authorities have the obligation to comply in good faith with all that is established in the Final Accord.”

The FARC and its members must provide an inventory of all their assets at the beginning of the process (page 186). These will be used to pay for reparations to conflict victims. We may soon find out whether the FARC is truly broke, as its leaders claim.

Drug-trafficking charges against ex-FARC members will be decided case by case to determine whether the proceeds truly went to the guerrilla war effort (page 190). If it paid entirely for guns, food, and similar needs, participation in the drug trade may be amnestied (as “connected” to the amnesty-able political crime of sedition). If there is evidence of personal enrichment, however, that individual’s drug-related charges will be subject to criminal prosecution. The original accord had not specified the “case by case” manner in which participation in drug trafficking would be reviewed.

All demobilizing guerrillas must now provide “exhaustive and detailed” information about the group’s relationship to the drug trade (page 101). Such confessions could be dangerous to provide if they incriminate non-guerrillas involved in the drug trade, some of whom may be dangerous criminals who deal harshly with “snitches.”

The new accord reduces campaign finance assistance to the ex-FARC political party (page 69). This party was to receive 10 percent of public campaign funding between 2018 and 2026. It will now receive the average amount given to parties and political movements.

The new accord extends from 10 to 15 years, the timetable for investments in rural development programs, due to Colombia’s tight current financial situation (page 23). It now specifies that “nothing in the accord should affect the constitutional right to private property.” It specifies that the cadaster—a nationwide mapping of landholdings foreseen in the accords—will have no effect on property valuations used to collect taxes, which was a major concern of the country’s landholders.

Without changing its fundamental meaning, the new accord tightens up language on gender equity in order to avoid further misinterpretation by social conservatives. The new text (page 192) reads,

“No content in the Final Accord will be understood or interpreted as the negation, restriction, or diminution of people’s rights, independent of their sex, age, religious beliefs, opinions, ethnic identity, belonging to the LGBTI population, or any other reason; nor of the right to free development of one’s personality and of the right to freedom of conscience.”

One area that did not change: the post-FARC political party gets to keep its 10 automatic congressional seats (5 in the 166-person House of Representatives, 5 in the 102-person Senate) between 2018 and 2026 (pages 70-1). Those found guilty of war crimes will still be able to occupy these seats. The accord also creates 16 special congressional districts for zones hit hardest by the conflict, which will exist between 2018 and 2026 (page 54). In one change to the accord, the ex-FARC may not run candidates for those seats: they are meant to be occupied by representatives of victims and social movements.

The accords’ Ethnic Chapter was not edited in any significant way (pages 205-8).

The new text incorporates many of the concerns raised by ex-president Uribe and other members of the “No” coalition. However, it neither incorporates them all nor gives them everything they wanted on what was added. This makes sense: the “No” side won 50.2 percent of the vote, not 100.

We don’t know yet whether Uribe and other politicians will redouble their opposition to the new accord: so far, Uribe has complained about not having an opportunity to weigh in on the new version. If they do oppose the new text, their side risks being viewed as unreasonably stubborn or as exploiting remaining disagreements in order to push the accord’s approval period close to the 2018 presidential and congressional campaigns. The Santos government can also argue that time is of essence: it is necessary to get the un-demobilized FARC out of their current legal limbo as soon as possible, while its members are still on board with the process.

Another area that remains unclear is how the new accord is to be approved. A second plebiscite vote hasn’t been ruled out, but it is unlikely because its preparation would take too much time. (And also because of the uncertainty resulting from 2016’s surprising worldwide election outcomes.) A more likely path is President Juan Manuel Santos submitting the accords to Colombia’s Congress for approval as a package of laws.

President Santos’s coalition has a strong majority in the Congress, so approval is likely. Still, the question remains whether it can go via a “fast track” mechanism—minimal debate, few amendments, and accords made law within weeks—or through the legislature’s standard procedures, which would probably yield significantly amended laws by mid-2017. The longer timeframe may not be workable, as many guerrillas might decline to wait in their encampments until June or July of next year to find out how the Congress resolves their situation. Too many might desert or otherwise “wander off,” and be lost to the demobilization process. We will soon find out how Colombia resolves this “fast track” issue.

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