Colombia will allow FARC rebels to run for public office

Justices ban criminals convicted of genocides and crimes against humanity from public office

President Santos and former vice-minister of defense, Rafael Guarín.
President Santos and former vice-minister of defense, Rafael Guarín. J. VIZCAINO (REUTERS)

Colombia’s Constitutional Court approved a key measure in the peace process between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), granting former guerilla members the right to stand for public office. The law, however, denies participation to those convicted of genocides and crimes against humanity. The Santos administration and FARC leaders have been holding talks in Havana for the last 20 months.

Rafael Guarín, former vice-minister of defense and strong Uribe ally, challenged the legislative measure known as the “Framework for Peace,” asking the justices to ban all former guerilla members from running for public office.

The Court, however, struck down the appeal in a 6-3 vote. The judges found that measure, which will establish the rules for eventual disarmament and reintegration of former rebel fighters into civil society, adheres to the Constitution. Former FARC members who committed “minor” crimes - as the author of the proposal, Martha Sáchica, calls them - will be able to participate in politics. This point was of vital importance in negotiations with the country’s largest guerrilla group.

Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, the Court’s president, told the press that the justices reviewed the measure and made sure it was in line with 11 international agreements Colombia has signed.

Next, Congress must specify which crimes may be exonerated - a discussion that is sure to fuel controversial debates. The third article of the proposal - which Guarín expressly challenged - gave Congress explicit authority to define “which crimes will be considered political and therefore may affect participation in politics.”

The Court’s ruling prohibits rebel soldiers who have been convicted of genocide or crimes against humanity - such as kidnapping and the use of arms against civilian populations - from running for public office. FARC’s highest ranking members are not exempt from this injunction.

The Court also determined that Congress is responsible for establishing sentences for these “minor” crimes, reparations to be made to victims, and how former rebels might show their commitment to refrain from future armed conflicts.

The new administration eagerly awaited the court’s decision, which came on the eve of Juan Manuel Santos’s investiture for his second term as president.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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