Author: Juan Sebastian Cordoba Carreño (Vienna Master of Human Rights)
“Truth is painful but necessary for reconciliation”
In 2016, the Colombian Government and the FARC rebel guerrilla decided to end a 50-year armed conflict and produce a peace agreement. The peace agreement tackled many structural issues, like justice or a solution for the illicit drug problem that has haunted the country for many years. Nevertheless, one of the main matters that Colombian society has to deal with is historical truth for the millions of victims and their families and society in general.
For this matter, the Peace agreement established a Truth Commission (CEV) that started working on January 2017 and is expected to finish in November 2021. The CEV is an extra-judicial institution, a fully autonomous body, independent of the State’s three branches, with its own legal personality, composed of 11 male and 11 female commissioners. The CEV has four objectives. The first is clarification. The second is to contribute to the victims’ recognition of their dignity and their suffering and the collective responsibilities of those who participated in the conflict itself. The third is to promote reconciliation in the territories. And the fourth is to formulate recommendations to guarantee non-repetition. The CEV aims for society to make a very profound decision to no longer tolerate the intolerable.
Nevertheless, the Commission has had a series of problems to accomplish its mandate. For that reason, on December 8th, 2020, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights held a public hearing with the CEV members; however, the Government representatives did not attend, which shows the State’s lack of interest in the truth being exposed, especially when the truth commission’s problems have been caused by the Government’s, alongside with its negligence towards its responsibility.
During the hearing, CEV commissioners outlined several problems they have been experiencing, of which the following stand out: 1. The truth commission has received smear claims that have put the team and the victims at risk. 2. Attempts of legal reforms to obstruct the functioning of the CEV in 2018 a draft legislative act was presented that sought to limit access to information from the CEV and sought to prohibit access to confidential information, the bill was withdrawn however attempts of reform have continued, and 3. There is a State’s refusal to contribute with information for the exercise of the CEV’s mandate.
In addition, the main difficulties encountered by the CEV regarding the access to information are 1. Omission to the requests for access to information, and illegal opposition to granting access to this information under confidentiality claims by bodies that hold this information, 2. Lack of consistency between the information required by the CEV and the information it receives, since the Commission requests precise information and receives general, contextual and publicly available information. 3. The CEV receives evasive or incomplete answers, delays responding to the CEV’s requests due to a lack of organisation. It has been reported that the Colombian Army has destroyed some human rights-related information.
With less than a year before the end of the Truth Commission’s mandate, the Colombian Government mustn’t obstruct the CEV’s work in such a blatant manner. The Truth Commission must have unrestricted access to classified information related to human rights violations to present a report that tells the truth about what happened in the armed conflict and so that Colombian society can finally achieve reconciliation.
I started my internship at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in September 2020 and ended in December 2020. I was part of the cases section more significantly in the merit area. My tasks were to help in the redaction of the merit reports on individual cases where a State member’s international responsibility was being analysed; during my internship, I worked on three cases. I also helped draft the records of some of the public hearings that took place during the internship.
Am currently doing a second Internship in a small Colombian NGO called IusDigna which does strategic litigation on some cases related to human rights and produces some opinion articles related to human rights issues in Colombia published in a local newspaper.