Guerrilla and government negotiators in Havana agreed Thursday to form a truth commission that will investigate the origins of Colombia’s bloody half-century conflict and try to shed light on the hidden atrocities that have fueled the violence.
The commission will only spring to life if an overall peace deal is reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, but the announcement —which comes at the end of the 37th round of talks — is seen as progress at a time when there hasn’t been much good news.
“The end of the conflict creates a unique opportunity to satisfy one of the greatest desires of Colombian society and of victims: to clarify and reveal the truth about what has happened during the conflict,” the negotiators said in a joint statement.
The United Nations called the news “a significant advance” for victims that might allow “future generations to live in a country that’s at peace with itself.”
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The commission will focus on three main areas: It aims to offer an explanation for the conflict that “promotes a shared understanding” of the issues; to create an environment where both victims and their victimizers are acknowledged; and to promote reconciliation and tolerance in some of the country’s hardest-hit areas.
“For these reasons it is necessary to understand that the construction of the truth is also part of building peace,” the negotiators said.
The commission is likely to pry into ugly moments that this Andean nation is trying to move past. Along with establishing the “collective responsibility” of the FARC and the government, the commission will also look into paramilitary organizations “along with any other group, organization or institution — either national or international — that has had any role in the conflict.”
The confessions it extracts will have no judicial weight and cannot be turned over to the courts. The 11-person commission, which will be comprised of government, FARC and civil-society appointees, will function for three years and culminate with a report.
FARC and government negotiators have been meeting in Havana since November 2012 to try to find a solution to the hemisphere’s oldest conflict.
The two sides have reached tentative agreements on land and agricultural reform, the FARC’s future in politics and how to unlink the group from the drug trade. But little news has emerged from the talks in recent months.
The peace negotiations are taking place without a cease-fire, and violence has escalated in recent weeks.