After a 50-year-long civil war, the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP guerrillas have signed a Peace Agreement that inaugurates a transitional period in the country. This comprehensive and unprecedented agreement includes a great variety of challenges and initiatives concerning land redistribution, rural development, the participation of members of the guerrilla in national politics and the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms designed to clarify the truth about the conflict and satisfy the rights of the victims.
This process of transitional truth and justice has been structured through Point 5 of the Agreement, which devises a Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and No Repetition (SIVJRNR, Spanish acronym) to allow the country to come to terms with its history of violence and lay the foundations for the construction of a lasting peace. Among the institutions conforming the SIVJRNR, the agreement envisioned the establishment of a Truth Commission (the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition), a Unit to Search Disappeared Persons, and an accountability mechanism, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, comprised by several judicial and investigative bodies, including the Tribunal for Peace.
In Colombia, Guernica is leading a project to investigate international crimes that are considered emblematic for both communities and victims. Our investigations seek to collect enough evidence and information and identify systematic patterns of violence and specific criminal responsibilities to build legal cases to be filed before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. In the Colombian context, where violence has been grave and constant during such a long period of time, the methodology of emblematic cases allows us to focus on those crimes whose prosecution is necessary to ensure reconciliation.
Given the disparities in the level of violence experienced by the different regions in Colombia, it is essential that the process of transitional justice is undertaken with a territorial focus, which guarantees the participation and rights of rural communities, which have historically been overlooked in official processes. Consequently, we have focused our work on the territories of Buenaventura and Northern Cauca, where the intensity of the armed conflict, the significant social gaps that undermine the effective exercise of rights, the presence of illegal crops, and a history of institutional weakness, makes it a priority.
Alongside our partner in Colombia—the Institute of Intercultural Studies of the University Javeriana of Cali— our team has engaged in an intercultural dialogue with Afro-descendent and indigenous communities from these two regions to set legally relevant and community-based criteria for the identification of emblematic cases and make a legal analysis their experiences of violence in order to help them build a victim-led narrative of the conflict. In this process, the participation of members of the Afro-descendent and indigenous communities with legal background or knowledge is essential not only to understand the real scope and impact of the crimes but also to create local capacity for future criminal investigations and allow communities to assume territorial ownership for the process.