On June 13, in its final debate, the Colombian Congress passed a constitutional reform bill that will allow future peace negotiations in Colombia, a country in which two leftist guerilla groups are still active.
The bill puts forward the possibility of granting benefits such as the suspension of penalties to the leaders of armed groups who demobilize. It also establishes mechanisms for prioritizing and selecting cases of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
In addition, it would allow guerrilla leaders to have political representation, although those convicted of crimes against humanity will not be able to run for office.
The final version, which passed in the Senate with 65 votes in favor and three against, also includes the possibility of granting those benefits to members of the Military, something that has been harshly criticized by human-rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
President Juan Manuel Santos, whose administration promoted this initiative, expressed his pleasure in a message on his Twitter account, which read, “Thank you to Congress for passing legislation that could enable an end to the conflict.”
With the reform, “the most serious cases and most responsible individuals will be able to be selected for investigation and sanctions,” he added.
In public remarks during the week, Santos exhorted Military personnel to fight the guerrillas with determination and stated that if a dialogue were to open, “it will be on our terms and under our control.”
Before the bill goes into effect, it must still undergo reconciliation with the text passed by the House of Representatives and must be approved by the Constitutional Court.
For almost half a century, Colombia has suffered an internal armed conflict that has left hundreds of thousands of civilian victims.
Two guerrilla groups are still active in the country: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), with around 9,200 fighters, and the National Liberation Army (ELN), with another 2,500.
In recent months, the FARC has proposed direct dialogue with Santos in order to put an end to the conflict, and at the beginning of the year, as a gesture in that direction, announced an end to kidnapping civilians as a method of financing; nevertheless, it kidnapped French journalist Romeo Langlois in April, during a clash with the Military.
Weeks before, the FARC released the last ten police officers and Military personnel whom it had held captive for almost 14 years.