[JURIST] The Congress of Colombia [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday approved [press release] a new law to provide a “Legal Framework for Peace” by a vote of 63-3. It is expected that the proposed law, backed by President Juan Manuel Santos [official website, in Spanish], will assist the government in engaging in peace negotiations with Leftist rebel groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) [BBC backgrounders] and stop the violence in the country. The bill allows Congress to suspend sentences against rebel group leaders, including those who are deemed to be most responsible for the crimes. It also limits persecution to only those who played crucial roles for crimes, allowing others to escape punishment. The bill, however, does not apply to other paramilitary groups or criminals involved in drug cartels. The bill was heavily criticized by the international community because it allows perpetrators of the gravest crimes go free. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] identified problems [text] with the new law Tuesday, calling it “essentially an amnesty in disguise” and summarizing it as too lenient against criminals. HRW called on the government to change the law to comply with international standards of protecting victims’ basic human rights. Despite the Colombian governments past refusal to engage in peace negotiations, after Santos became president the government shifted more towards finding a peaceful resolution to end the armed conflict in the country.
Colombia has been facing armed conflict for decades without any sight of resolution. In December, the representative to Colombia for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] Christian Salazar called [JURIST report] for a peaceful solution to the country’s ongoing violence. In June of last year, Santos signed legislation to compensate victims of the country’s armed conflict after the country’s senate passed [JURIST reports] it a month earlier. International entities were also involved in the country’s violence. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] revived a wrongful death lawsuit [JURIST report] brought against Drummond Company [corporate website] for hiring Colombian paramilitaries to assassinate plaintiffs’ fathers. In 2010, victims of paramilitary violence filed suit against Chiquita Brand International [corporate website] in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] for funding a right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia that was accused of mass killings during the Colombia guerrilla warfare movement before disarmament in 2003.