An Open Letter to the FARC in Havana, Cuba
In your haste and desire to push for a bilateral ceasefire, smelling blood in the water within President Santos’ government, you have done yourselves irreversible damage in the eyes of the long-suffering Colombian public. It may be that the international mainstream media has not covered the oil spills and widespread savage crimes against the natural environment that is deserved, but, those who read the news and those who are informed on Colombian issues will feel a disgust from the very pit of their stomach regarding the recent atrocities committed by the rank and file of your number of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
It would be wrong to focus on your actions, it is clear that you care not for public opinion, not least 48 million opinions currently in your contra.
There are some analysts who contend that you are deliberately seeking to anger Colombians, in the belief that President Santos might agree to a bilateral ceasefire to save the peace process.
This is a miscalculation: public fatigue with the peace process makes it more likely that the Colombian government might walk away from the talks completely.
What you have done by spilling more than 410,000 gallons of oil into the Mira River, depriving the persistently tormented and marginalized communities of the city of Tumaco and the surrounding areas of drinking water, vital food supplies and work, is to have drawn attention to the region. And yet, this is justified in your cause and effect reasoning in that you are the original victims of the conflict.
“We will not accept unilateral recognition as perpetrators, because we [the FARC], as [FARC founder Manuel] Marulanda said, were the first victims.”
So, I wanted to address the issues which I see as being pertinent to the ongoing debate regarding justice and victims of the armed conflict which has both sides walking over glass in a hurting stalemate and looks set to damage the dialogues permanently.
- Customary International Law
- Truth Commission
- Transitional Justice
- Rome Statute
- Matias Aldecoa
Causation: The FARC represents the first victims of the conflict
It’s true; you may indeed represent the first victims of the conflict. But, this is not a point you can argue with much authority or sincerity any more. The “Marquetalia Republic” is representative to the conflict as a whole as it was a huge error of judgment by the government of President Guillermo León Valencia in 1964. It is a stretch to continue to claim this as the cornerstone of your arguments now in 2015.
Writing on July 4, does the United States still blame the British Empire? It’s time to mature and move on from this idealized memory since the battlefield has evolved and so have the nature of your demands and the origins of your funding.
Customary International Law
The Statute of the International Court of Justice describes Customary international law as a general practice accepted as law. As far as I can tell, the FARC would prefer this rather than being subject to anything proposed by the International Criminal Court (ICC). But then to be tried under Customary International Law there is the need for the existence of a state. This presents all sorts of problems for you since you (the FARC) don’t recognize the Colombian state. So, it becomes even trickier for either side to proceed with the issue of justice. What is it you want? It has not gone unnoticed that members amongst the Secretariat and negotiating team have quoted issues pertinent to the ICC and international criminal law when it has suited them and then refused to recognize other issues. The continued contradictions reflect on you as duplicitous reasoning and raise more questions about whether indeed you are taking the negotiations seriously.
We know that you would prefer a blanket amnesty such as in the good old days but, I think we both know this is not going to happen. How can an amnesty for all sides right the wrongs and guarantee no repetition? Also, if we just look at Argentina as an example, President Menem may have pardoned everyone back in the day but now, 30 something years later, geriatric criminals are being tried for their crimes. No one escapes.
Is this an insurgency or is the FARC a belligerent force?
Both terms are used by your spokespeople in Havana. You need to get on the same page. International law treats insurgencies and civil wars in the internal affairs falling within the domestic jurisdiction of the State concerned and it is up to municipal law enforcement to deal with it. Furthermore belligerence has a formal status that implies rights and duties. However, if the rebels are granted the status of belligerents, they shall become subjects of international law and may be responsible for their actions. Therefore it becomes the duty of the international law to recognize belligerency once the conditions are met. Do you see my point?
The Necessity of a Truth Commission in Colombia
I too see the need for this and the Commission must have a strong mandate but no judicial authority. The truth commission will clarify a great deal and history may well absolve the FARC for some of their behavior. We know that the state has been involved and it’s no secret that the paramilitary forces committed heinous acts all of which are gradually coming to light. A truth commission would go hand in hand with the need for military reform. Without military reform, or Security Sector Reform (SSR) there can be no progress. However, the military is acting under orders from a central – democratically elected – command. The military must be tried in regular courts and not impartial military courts, just as the FARC should also be brought to trial in this fashion. You’ll well understand that any reform to the military needs to be done ever so delicately so as not to damage morale to a point where fighting breaks out in the high streets of every town and city in Colombia.
Admit your Errors
Just as the state will have to come forward for its crimes and indeed for the false positives and other extra judicial actions, so will you. Guerrilla attacks on oil infrastructure have, since 1986 until June 2014 (so not including the barbarities of 2015), according to the Colombian Association for Petroleum, led to more than 4,1 million barrels spilled. Think of the damage that you have meted out.
You will not be able to hide behind the farce of calling your actions “political crimes”. The guerrilla offensive has dangerously drained support for the talks and I believe that both sides are worried. Show some humility, show some humanity.
There has to be a minimum uniform standard of law for everyone, that’s why there’ll be no amnesty and that’s why a good number of you will spend time in prison. Albeit reduced time, and possibly so due to an admission of guilt and therefore a guarantee of no repetition.
Don’t worry; the punishment will never fit the crime. Both sides are victims and victimizers. You are looking for the reallocation of power within a state that is notoriously, obviously and uniformly corrupt and elitist. But don’t think that waging war from the jungles is going to change this. Your time has passed. You may feel closer to the revolution being in Cuba right now, but, the winds of change are buffeting through the Caribbean. To oversee change in Colombia is to work from within the system and lead by example. You want political representation, but you’ll have to start from the ground floor and work your way up.
You are demanding a seat at the top table when you don’t belong there. You are not the voice of the people; you don’t represent the campesinos, or the poor or the downtrodden. The reality is that you represent only yourselves and it is becoming clearer as each day passes that the Secretariat does not have control over each of their Frentes. The failure to condemn the massacre of 11 soldiers in Cauca, which led to the lifting of a suspension in bombing raids by the airforce and then in turn your suspension of a flimsy unilateral ceasefire was proof enough of the regional fragmentation in your ranks.
“We are the people’s army, so all people have the right to participate: children, women and adults.”
Article 8 of the Statute of Rome of the International Criminal Court
No doubt you are well versed in Article 8, but for the benefit of those out there who do not trawl through the ether looking for such documents, here it is.
For the purpose of this Statute, “war crimes” means:
(a) Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention:
(i) Willful killing;
(ii) Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments;
(iii) Willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health;
(iv) Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly;
(v) Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power;
(vi) Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial;
(vii) Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement;
(viii) Taking of hostages.
As far as I can tell, the FARC in some way shape and form have checked off everyone single one of these aforementioned points. Therefore, under international law you will be found guilty of war crimes and not political crimes.
I watched and read a series of articles written by your number bleating about the lack of coverage you receive regarding your message and rebellion. You need to understand the press; they’re not interested in your message which is precisely a rehashed version of the Cold War. Matias Aldecoa was not misquoted; he said what he said to Bloomberg. That you want to strike out at the economy is shortsighted, after all, where are the tax dollars going to come from if an agreement is signed and there is an effort made towards your reintegration into society?
You may have the upper hand, albeit partially, due to the government of President Santos having staked everything on peace. The government and the negotiating team will have only so much patience remaining. It has been said before, in these pages, this is your last chance for negotiated peace. President Santos cannot hold on to this perilous grip forever, neither can he order his negotiating team to keep thinking creatively on how to formulate alternative sentences for you and your troupe. This is your chance, take it.