Legal Issues In the News

Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace


After 52 years of conflict, the Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace (or Final Agreement) between the Colombian Government and The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (otherwise known as the FARC) is now being implemented.  According to the state Victim’s Unit, more than 8 million have been registered as victims since 1985.  This includes individuals forcibly displaced, killed, taken as hostages, raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence and/or tortured. Directly or indirectly all Colombians have been affected. 

One way the Final Agreement deals with such wrongdoing is calling for the establishment of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace (or JEP). The JEP is a set of judicial bodies that will investigate, try and, where applicable, levy penalties for the crimes that fall under its jurisdiction.  In late September, 51 Colombian judges for the JEP were selected from 2300 applicants. Importantly, 28 of the judges are women, 6 are Afro-Colombian, and another 4 indigenous.  There will also be 14 foreign judges selected to serve as observers, whose names will be announced in mid-October.     

The work of the JEP cannot begin until the Colombian Congress passes legislation to approve it.  At the moment, Congress is delaying voting on this legislation in part because of disagreement with the structure of sentencing.  Members of the military and police, the FARC and civilians are eligible to participate in the JEP.  Perpetrators of wrongs which are not war crimes or crimes against humanity and were committed for political reasons are eligible for amnesty.  To receive amnesty there must be a full confession of wrongs committed. 

There will be three tiers of penalties for perpetrators of gross human rights violations not eligible for amnesty and not committed for personal enrichment.  Those who fully and immediately confess to wrongs committed can avoid prison, instead serving 5-8 years in zones of restricted liberty and performing acts of reparation and restoration.  Those who recognize responsibility for wrongdoing late will be eligible for prison sentences of 5-8 years.  Individuals who do not confess or recognize responsibility but are found guilty by the JEP will serve prison sentences of 15-20 years.  

Congress has until November 1 to approve the JEP through a “Fast Track” process. If it does not the JEP must be approved through the regular legislative process, which could delay its establishment by years.