An October 27 gathering of FARC victims in Bogotá.
On October 30 Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group made its clearest recognition that it owes something to its victims. It came in a statement issued during the 30th round of peace talks between the FARC and Colombia’s government in Havana, Cuba. These talks are on their fourth agenda topic, “Victims.” The statement came on the eve of a fourth of five planned visits to Havana of conflict victims.
“It is evident that we have intervened actively and we have impacted our adversary, and in some way affected the population that has lived immersed in the war,” read guerrilla negotiator Pablo Atrato.
“We make ourselves expressly responsible for each and every one of the acts of war executed by our units in conformance with the orders and instructions imparted by our command, and we assume its derivations. We are conscious that the results of our actions have not always been foreseen or expected by the FARC-EP, and we assume the consequences, as could not be otherwise. The FARC-EP will assume responsibility for what concerns us.”
Pablo Atrato reads the FARC statement about victims on October 30.
This sounds sensible, but still modest given the FARC’s treatment of civilians in Colombia’s long conflict. Though pro-government paramilitary groups committed a majority of massacres, extrajudicial killings, and forced displacement, the FARC is responsible for a significant share of these. For their part, the guerrillas dominate categories like kidnapping, child recruitment, use of landmines, indiscriminate bombings of civilian populations, and attacks on civilian infrastructure.
When confronted with the group’s victimizer status, FARC leaders’ usual response has been defiant: to avoid the issue, to insist that the government recognize its own victims, or even to say that FARC members themselves are victims.
Some observers applauded the latest FARC statement’s acceptance of reality. “The 30th round of peace dialogues between the government and the FARC produced the event that the country has most been expecting in the two years of negotiations in Havana: the recognition of responsibilities on the guerrillas’ part,” read an analysis in the Colombian daily El Espectador. “For the first time in its history,” read the newsweekly Semana, “the FARC guerrilla group admitted… that its actions have affected the civilian population throughout the armed conflict.”
Others noted that FARC negotiators had said similar things in the past. “Without a doubt there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces,“ FARC Secretariat member Pablo Catatumbo had said in August 2013. ”We must all recognize the need to take on the issue of victims, their identity and reparation with total loyalty to the cause of peace and reconciliation.” Before a group of visiting conflict victims in Havana three months ago, chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez had asked for forgiveness and signaled an intention to make amends.
The October 30 communique was “a first step,” Congresswoman Clara Rojas, who spent six years as a FARC hostage, wrote on Twitter. Though it was “an important step toward full satisfaction of victims’ rights,” chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said, the FARC statement wasn’t enough.