|Pres. Juan Manuel Santos|
Colombia is processing a peace deal quickly. On Dec. 28, the country's lower house and senate approved a law that would grant amnesty for members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) not accused of major crimes. The amnesty would also extend to military personnel and civilians involved in the decadeslong armed conflict. President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to ratify the law Dec. 29. Lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Center party led by former President Alvaro Uribe protested by not casting votes on the issue. The opposition condemned the government for completing the peace deal in the legislature instead of respecting the result of an Oct. 2 nationwide plebiscite in which voters rejected the agreement.
The amnesty law represents the first step in implementing the controversial deal. The precise list of FARC members who will benefit from the law will likely be ready by Jan. 30. This will follow the Jan. 10 deadline for all FARC militants to relocate to 26 specially designated transition zones. FARC leaders made the amnesty law a precondition for beginning the demobilization process, which will take a total of 150 days.
Once in place, the law would grant amnesty to militants, soldiers and civilians who were involved in the conflict but not in systematic crimes against humanity. The ambiguity of the word "systematic" has led to controversy and Human Rights Watch criticized the law for being too soft on those involved in crimes like torture. They fear that the law could allow those who were involved in crimes against humanity once but not systematically to walk free.
The amnesty law is expected to benefit 6,000 active FARC members and result in the release of over 4,000 militants currently in detention. FARC leaders have said they expect the number released to total as many at 15,000. A further 1,000 activists accused of being members of armed groups are also expected to be released. The law would also apply to 1,200 military and law enforcement personnel imprisoned on accusations of crimes related to the conflict.
The next aspect of the peace agreement is set to go before Congress on Jan. 16 and would create a special peace jurisdiction court where those involved in serious crimes during the armed conflict would have to testify and provide compensation to the victims and their families. The court will also be in charge of handing down sentences.
The amnesty law's approval was key for the government to begin the demobilization process. Without approval, the implementation of the peace agreements as a whole would suffer a significant setback. It also showed that the government has enough support in Congress to pass other important peace agreements that are key to conclude the FARC demobilization process by the middle of next year.