Santos Recognises Existence of an Internal Armed Conflict

News from Colombia | on: Friday, 20 May 2011

President Santos’ 4th May recognition of the existence of an internal armed conflict has been welcomed by human rights organisations and peace campaigners in Colombia marking a difference from former President Uribe’s insistence that there was no conflict in Colombia.

The admission came as part of the government’s efforts to pass a Land and Victims Law. Without the recognition of victims of an internal armed conflict there was a danger that paramilitaries and other perpetrators of abuses could also gain victim status. The statement by President Santos caused a heated debate with former President Uribe, since according to Uribe “there is no legal reason to link the reparation of victims to recognition of terrorists.” However, Santos has denied that the admission changes his position on the war, and he has said that he will continue to pursue the war with as much effort as before.

Interestingly, in a later statement on the 14th of May, President Santos, in response to further criticism from Uribe, said that “if we say there is no internal armed conflict, we’ll go to prison, to La Picota [a prison in Bogota], ex-president Uribe, the commanders [of the armed forces], and this public servant [referring to himself], because international humanitarian law also applies to the armed forces.” Since there was no recognition of an internal armed conflict under President Uribe, this must lead to questions concerning the legality of some military actions, such as the bombings of guerrilla camps, which, as Santos himself has stated are legal under international humanitarian law, but illegal under human rights law.

Although Uribe has rejected recategorising the war, possibly seeking to protect himself from a potential trip to The Hague for war crimes or crimes against humanity, other commentators have been far more positive. Former Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has worked tirelessly for peace for many years, said that the recognition admits that the guerrillas are not terrorists. The Director of the New Rainbow Foundation, an NGO that covers the civil war, echoing this has said that the statement “is to recognise that there are insurgents who have taken up arms with political motives and with whom there ought to be a negotiation.”

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