Peace and Justice: The Case of Colombia

Sergio Jaramillo Caro, Colombia’s Former High Commissioner for Peace
Friday, October 26, 2018

Sergio Jaramillo Caro, Colombia’s Former High Commissioner for Peace and who is known for negotiating the historic peace accord that ended a decades-long armed conflict in his country, gave the Coca-Cola World Fund Lecture at Yale on October 24. His talk, titled “Peace and Justice: The Case of Colombia,” was sponsored by the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. (view lecture)

Jaramillo served as High Commissioner of Peace under the Santos administration, during which he led a four year peace negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The Final Agreement was reached in November 2016, ending one of the world’s longest running conflicts. Jaramillo has also served as advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of the Diplomacy for Peace Program and Executive Director of Ideas for the Peace Foundation. Currently, he acts as Colombian Ambassador to the EU and Belgium.

Jaramillo began his lecture by discussing transitional justice, a doctrine used to redress the legacies of human rights abuses and other violent crimes. He noted that although the transitional justice framework proved invaluable in the peace process by “providing a shared vision of a future,” transitional justice was “only one side of the coin in the peace process.” In other words, transitional justice is “unfinished business,” failing to address the often ambiguous distinction between victim and perpetrator as well as the importance of socioeconomic rights. Jaramillo advocated for policies that are “both backwards looking (justice measures) and forward looking (peace measures).”

Jaramillo then outlined seven strategies used in the Colombia peace process to help maximize justice. First, he pointed to the importance of the “right framework,” which includes presidential recognition of the armed conflict in Colombia. This recognition helped both “confer the necessary dignity on the other side” and establish a horizontal structure in which the government accepted responsibility for “violations and infractions committed by state agents.” The framework opened up the opportunity to establish the right narrative of ending the conflict and ensuring its non-repetition. 

The second strategy was “to put the victims at the center of the talks.” Jaramillo noted that doing so “made it easier for the FARC to discuss justice issues,” ensured the victims’ participation, and provided “an adequate response to victims’ rights to choose justice reparations.” If standard perceptions of justice are held, there is an “impunity gap” between “ordinary sentences under peacetime conditions” and the reluctance of perpetrators to enter into a peace process knowing that they will be severely punished. However, if the standard of justice is the achievement of previous peace agreements and to consider the actual needs of the victims, then “we will probably achieve more than had ever been done before.” To ensure that victims’ voices were heard, some victims were invited to tell their story at the negotiations, which “reminded us of why we were sitting there negotiating with the FARC and in many ways, I think became the moral center of the peace process.”

Another strategy focused on “turning constraints into neighbors.” Jaramillo described how pressures from the International Criminal Court (ICC) made it easier for the FARC to accept that blanket amnesty was not a feasible option. He believes that the ICC has played a positive role in Colombia “by exerting this kind of close supervision of the process and making everyone, including us, aware that they are watching.” Next, the strategy of establishing “a comprehensive system of justice, truth, and non-repetition” saw the formation of a truth commission, tribunal, special unit tasked with searching for the missing and disappeared, and a number of different reparation measures.

Also vital to the success of the negotiations was the establishment of a system of “incentives and conditions.” This fifth strategy gave perpetrators an opportunity to obtain “special treatment” if they agreed to tell the truth, fully participate in the peace process, and perform reparative works. In Jaramillo’s opinion, the justice delivered by these forward-looking acts can be considered comparable if not greater than purely punitive sentences.

The sixth strategy focused on territorial integration of regions that were hardest hit by the conflict. It includes the establishment of 16 regional development programs, in which more than 150,000 people have participated. Jaramillo noted that in his view, it is far more effective for a former combatant to be reintegrated into a community than to give him a long prison sentence. Because all the measures in the agreement are rights based, “the transitional justice program is in the end embedded, or nested, in a larger program to address and activate citizen’s rights.”

The final strategy was to make transitional justice compatible with political participation. “Here is where tensions were and are greatest,” Jaramillo said. He noted that the FARC disarmed quickly “precisely because they wanted to participate in politics.” In a way, their shift to politics gave them a justification for throwing down their arms. Jaramillo pointed out that almost all of the stable peace processes in the past few decades have included political participation of former combatant. To ensure their participation in democracy through politics rather than violent acts, the FARC were given five seats in the Senate and in the Chamber even if they did not win those seats. This agreement was based on the condition of their continued participation and engagement in reparation projects.

Jaramillo ended the talk by saying, “It’s not a perfect solution, but it is the best you can do if you want a transition to peace to succeed.”


Written by Julia Ding, Yale College Class of 2019.