(Washington, DC) – United States President Barack Obama should press President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia to address serious shortcomings in the recently announced agreement between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Human Rights Watch said today. Obama will host Santos at the White House on February 4, 2016.

The head of the Colombian government delegation to the peace talks, Humberto de la Calle, left, and the head of the FARC-EP delegation Ivan Marquez, right, shake hands after the signing of the agreement on victims of the conflict at Convention Palace in Havana, on December 15, 2015.

© 2015 AFP

Human Rights Watch has concluded that the Agreement on the Victims of the Conflict contains a web of ambiguities, omissions, and loopholes that could be used to ensure that those most responsible for atrocities on both sides of the conflict escape meaningful punishment.

“The failure to ensure proper accountability and punishment would undermine efforts for a sustainable peace in Colombia by perpetuating the country’s cycles of impunity,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “If Obama is seriously committed to promoting peace in Colombia, he should call on Santos to ensure meaningful accountability for atrocities.”

A major source of concern is ensuring that those responsible for the systematic execution of as many as 3,000 civilians – known as “false positive” cases – committed by army brigades across Colombia between 2002 and 2008 are brought to justice. Under pressure from superiors to show “positive” results and boost body counts in their war against guerrillas, soldiers, and officers abducted victims or lured them to remote locations under false pretenses. The soldiers killed them, placed weapons on their lifeless bodies, and then reported them as enemy combatants killed in action.

The US government is a key supporter of Colombia’s peace negotiations with FARC over its long insurgency, and provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid every year, mostly for military and police training.

If Obama is seriously committed to promoting peace in Colombia, he should call on Santos to ensure meaningful accountability for atrocities

Jose Miguel Vivanco

Under the agreement, those responsible for crimes against humanity and serious war crimes who cooperate with the new judicial system and confess their crimes would spend a maximum of eight years under “special conditions” that would not entail prison or any “equivalent” form of detention.

Other features of the agreement that cause concern include a definition of “command responsibility” that could be wrongfully interpreted to allow military commanders within the Colombian armed forces and the FARC to avoid responsibility for crimes carried out by their subordinates. The agreement also fails to provide guarantees to ensure the independence of the new Peace Tribunal and the Judicial Panels that will be created to try abuses.
 
The Colombian government expects to reach a final peace agreement with FARC by March 23.