The head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias Timochenko, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Havana Wednesday to sign an agreement regarding transitional justice and the rights of victims of the internal conflict.
The signing of the partial agreement marks an important step forward for the peace process in Colombia and the historic meeting marked the first occasion the two leaders were pictured together.
Representatives from Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor nations, along with representatives from observer nations Chile and Venezuela, also signed the document.
After the ceremony, Timochenko extended his hand to President Santos who shook his hand and the pair were joined by Cuban President Raul Castro.
The Cuban president congratulated both FARC and Santos, saying “Peace in Colombia is not only possible, it is crucial,” adding that there are “still huge difficulties to overcome but now we know they will be overcome.”
Santos added that before the ceremony he spoke personally with Timochenko and the two agreed the conclude negotiations within 6 months. The FARC also said they would lay down their weapons no more than 60 days from the signing on the final agreement.
“The negotiations will be definitely over within the six next months and a final agreement will be signed,” Colombian President Santos said.
The topic of transitional justice was considered to be the most sensitive and contentious topic during negotiations. The FARC maintained that they would not be the first guerrilla movement to lay down their arms only to go to jail.
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Timochenko also expressed his “great satisfaction” about the partial agreements. “This special jurisdiction has been designed for all actors of the conflict, fighters or non-fighters of the conflict,” he said, adding that the agreement will mark an example for other future peace processes around the world.
Cuban mediator Rodolfo Benitez said the aim of the jurisdiction was to “obtain truth, contribute to justice of victims, impose sanctions on the people responsible for crimes,” while ensuring that they are never repeated.
Colombian President Santos emphasized that there would be no amnesty or pardons for war crimes or crimes against humanity like forced disappearances, sexual violence, kidnapping and torture.
The agreement will create a special peace tribunal, mainly composed of Colombians with a minority of foreign experts, that will consider cases to ensure that Colombian victims of the decades-long conflict receive justice.
This judicial system will be applied both to the guerrilla members and the military officials who committed crimes in direct relation with the armed conflict, as well as those who provided funding to the armed actors, according to Caracol Radio.
If the accused collaborate with the newly-created jurisdiction, the agreement stipulates that the Superior Tribunal of Peace will mandate the “effective restriction of their freedom” but that it would be an alternative to prison sentences.
The Superior Tribunal of Peace, a two-courtroom tribunal, will function as part of Colombian institutions such as the Attorney General's Office.
Several prominent politicians, such as Colombian Senator Ivan Cepeda traveled together with President Santos. Timochenko arrived in Havana during the early morning and met with the FARC peace delegation ahead of the ceremony.
Colombian President Santos announced Wednesday morning via his Twitter account that he would make a stopover in Cuba before heading to the United States to participate in the U.N. General Assembly. Santos was originally scheduled to travel to the United States on Thursday and changed his schedule to participate in the signing of this partial agreement.
The deal regarding transitional justice is the fourth point of agreement in peace talks that started in November, 2012. The negotiating parties will now discuss the end of the armed conflict, which will include an agreement on a bi-lateral cease-fire.
The FARC's unilateral cease-fire and the government’s cessation of bombings of rebel camps has been credited with greatly reducing violence in the South American country.
Numerous Colombian politicians, such as human rights defender Piedad Cordoba and leftist Bogota mayoral candidate Clara Lopez, celebrated the news of the development in the peace process.
During his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis reiterated his support for the ongoing peace process saying that failure was not an option.
The final deal will be subject to a referendum in Colombia.