Colombia took another historic step toward peace on Tuesday.

Government officials and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the world’s oldest active armed rebel group, announced an agreement on reparations for victims of the conflict and punishment for rebels guilty of various crimes.

The deal creates three special judicial bodies: a Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Cohabitation and No Repetition, a Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons and a Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

It also sets up a framework for reparations for victims of the conflict and specifies that FARC rebels must help locate and recover the remains of those killed or disappeared during the conflict.

“Never before have we been so close to a definitive agreement,” tweeted President Juan Manuel Santos.

Tuesday’s agreement addressed 10 primary concerns:

  1. Recognition of victims
  2. Recognition of responsibility
  3. Satisfaction of victims’ rights
  4. Participation of victims
  5. Uncovering of the truth
  6. Reparations for victims
  7. Guarantees of protection and security
  8. Guarantees of no repetition
  9. A start to reconciliation
  10. A focus on rights

Representatives from Colombia, the FARC and other countries participating in the peace process signed the agreement in a solemn ceremony followed by handshakes and applause.

“The end of the conflict should help guarantee the cessation of violations,” said Cuba’s representative in the peace process Rodolfo Benítez in a press conference Wednesday. “It is an opportunity to guarantee that victims’ rights are satisfied.”

Voices of victims

Sixty victims of Colombia’s armed conflict arrived in Havana prior to a press conference on Tuesday morning. They recounted their stories and offered recommendations for the peace agreement.

“Today, we have come to Cuba as victims of the armed conflict to be live witnesses,” said Yineth Bedoya, a member of the delegation of victims in attendance in Havana on Wednesday.

“Our support of the peace process does not mean that we have rejected a right to justice and peace,” she continued. “The country should understand that only through dialogue and reconciliation will we be able to achieve the word that so many of us speak but so few of us truly understand: Peace.”

An agreement on victims had been one of the touchiest subjects of the peace talks, stretching for more than a year in discussion. It will likely remain a critical component in shaping public opinion regarding the final peace accord.

Public opinion polls show a slim majority of Colombians believe the peace process will be successful, but there is widespread disagreement about the extent to which FARC rebels should be held legally accountable for their actions and whether or not former rebels should be allowed to participate in politics.

Another step in a long process

In September, the Colombian government and FARC rebels reached a preliminary agreement on the first three points of a final peace accord. President Santos announced the details of the deal from Havana, where he shared a historic handshake with FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez, alias “Timochenko.”

Part of that breakthrough involved a preliminary framework for how FARC rebels would be tried for crimes they committed as members of that guerrilla group. Tuesday’s announcement further clarifies the arrangement.

Under the peace agreement, a special Peace Jurisdiction would operate autonomously to judge cases related to the armed conflict.

“At the end of the conflict, in agreement with international human rights and Colombian law, the broadest amnesty possible will be offered,” said Dag Nylander, Norway’s representative in the peace process.

He clarified that amnesty would not apply to the most serious offenses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Those found guilty of serious crimes could face up to eight years of special arrest and restricted travel.

In roughly 50 years, Colombia’s conflict has claimed well over 200,000 lives and displaced as many as 6 million people. Peace talks formally began in 2012.

Letting the people decide on peace

Ultimately, more than three years of work will likely to come down to a simple “yes” or “no.”

On Monday, Colombia’s Congress approved legislation that would allow the public to vote whether or not to approve the final peace agreement.

The bill sets a threshold requiring 13 percent of the Colombian voting population to participate in order for the plebiscite to be valid. It also makes it illegal to use government resources to campaign for one side or the other.

The measure will now pass through the Constitutional Court before reaching President Santos’ desk for his signature.

The last remaining component of the peace agreement left to be decided deals with how the conflict will end. Both parties must determine when and how to initiate a bilateral ceasefire and smooth out the path for the FARC’s dissolution and its members’ reintegration into society.

President Santos has said that he expects a final agreement to be signed by March 23.


Read the complete text of the victims agreement here (in Spanish)