Colombia’s Senate approved Thursday the bill regulating the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, or JEP, a post-conflict transitional justice system that is considered the backbone of the peace agreement.
With a majority of 52 votes in favor, the senators gave the green light for a mechanism that will set the tone for prosecution cases for the multitude of human rights crimes committed during the country’s decades-long civil war.
Now the bill awaits the approval of the Constitutional Court.
“With the JEP, the victims win,” commented Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera after the vote. “The decision you made is paving the way for the recognition of victims' rights.”
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas welcomed the vote, highlighting that it will “guarantee that over a thousand men get to spend Christmas in liberty after they fulfill the requirements” — referring to the former guerrilla members who have judicial procedures pending in the regular jurisdiction.
The bill presents an alternative judicial process for former guerrilla militants, effectively erasing the stain of war crimes and offering significantly lighter sentences provided they do not repeat their offenses in the future.
However, since the signing of the peace accord in November 2016, the constitutional court has introduced various changes.
Among the changes are that the participation in elections of former FARC members will be conditional, now that they've demobilized and have become a political party called the Alternative Revolutionary Force of the Commons: any former guerrilla can run for a public office, but if elected and sanctioned by the JEP, he or she will lose their position.
Another major change involves extradition agreements, in which former guerrillas who fail to comply with the JEP may be extradited. Also, judges can't compel third parties or civilians investigated for crimes during the armed conflict to appear before the JEP, but those people can do so voluntarily. Additionally, those guilty of sexual crimes against minors will be tried according to the normal criminal justice process.
Senators, however, failed to reach a majority for the approval of the 16 Special Peace Zones — a governmental initiative.
“A group of senators refused to commit to peace in Colombia, to make possible that the victims could reach the Congress of the Republic, to give the poorest the opportunity to have their legitimate interests represented,” lamented Rivera.