Justice vs impunity, from Burkina to Colombia

Justice vs impunity, from Burkina to Colombia©AFP PHOTO / Luis Acosta
Santos (L) and the head of the FARC guerrilla Timoleon Jimenez, aka Timochenko (R), shake hands as Cuban President Raul Castro (C) holds their hands during a meeting in Havana on September 23, 2015
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Whether in Colombia, Burkina Faso, Mali or the Central African Republic, transitional justice, democracy and reconciliation advanced in fits and starts. The agreement reached between FARC rebels and the Colombian president, symbolized by a photo of the former enemies shaking hands, represents real hope of an end to the longest war on the South American continent, which has left more than 200,000 dead in 50 years. Peace has a chance. The negotiations had stalled on the debate around justice and impunity. The parties have now drawn up a complex deal under which a special jurisdiction will allow Colombia to “put an end to impunity, obtain the truth, contribute to reparations for victims and bring to justice” those presumed responsible for the most serious crimes, in coordination with the Truth Commission set up last June. Perpetrators who cooperate will get sentences of five to eight years under special provisions, while those who make belated confessions are liable to the same sentences, but under a classic prison regime. All the others are liable to get sentences of up to 20 years.

Among the crimes to be dealt with are "crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes such as hostage taking, torture, forced displacement of people, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and sexual violence". On the other hand an amnesty is envisaged for crimes that are “political or politically linked”. Another important point in the agreement is the obligation put on FARC to start disarming within 60 days after the signature of a final peace accord. All Colombian families were affected by the war which has left nearly 8 million registered victims. As Turkish author Hakan Gunday said on France Culture, “everyone will one day o have to live alongside their victims”. That is one of the key questions of transitional justice.

And in Burkina Faso it is a burning question. The country has seen a failed coup, with power then returned to a civilian transition government, but will the putschists who crushed demonstrations violently be judged and punished? As rapper and civil society activist Smockey told JusticeInfo.Net, “the people of Burkina Faso cannot accept an amnesty for assassins of their people. And they will also not accept that the assassins’ accomplices be allowed to participate in elections that the people have fought for”. It is nevertheless impunity that ECOWAS heads of State are promising the putschists, notably their leader, General Diendéré, author of the now historic statement that: “The biggest wrongdoing was to stage this coup, because today when we are talking about democracy, we cannot allow ourselves actions of this kind.” The rebel regiment has been dissolved, but the general and the other officers are still free.

Another obstacle to transition is security, without which no judicial or democratic process can take place. Thus Mali has postponed local elections and the government has changed several ministers in key Justice and Security posts, accusing them of not having returned the country to peace. There are similar concerns in the Central African Republic where the election process is due to start on October 4, but postponement now looks inevitable given insecurity on the ground, as seen in violent clashes in Bangui. Another event of note this week was the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant issued against a Malian national transferred to the ICC by Niger. Charges against the suspect include destruction of mosques in Timbuktu as a war crime. It is the first time a “cultural crime” has thus been recognized by the ICC. Could its next target be Islamic State?