President of the Truth Commission, Francisco de Roux, holds the final report of the Truth Commission during its presentation at the Jorge Eliecer Gaitan theater in Bogotá. (Source: Al Jazeera)

Colombia’s Truth Commission has presented its final report on the country’s long-running civil conflict, announcing that at least 450,664 people were killed over nearly six decades of fighting. The commission was set up as part of the 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). It was tasked with documenting abuses and explaining what caused the conflict to persist for so long.

The long-awaited report from the Truth Commission said the effect of the conflict between the Colombian military and rebel groups has been “massive and intolerable”. It also called for substantial reforms in Colombia’s approach to drug policy, which it said helped prolong the civil war, and urged redress for the victims of the conflict.

Based on interviews with more than 14,000 victims of the conflict, as well as military leaders and former fighters, the report gave an updated toll of the violence. In addition to the 450,664 people who were killed between 1985 and 2018, it said at least 121,768 people were also disappeared. Some 55,770 were kidnapped between 1990 and 2018, while at least 7.7 million people were displaced between 1985 and 2019.

“The list of victims is unending and the accumulated pain is unbearable. […] Why did we watch the massacres on television, day after day, as if they were a cheap soap opera?” (Francisco de Roux, President of the Truth Commission)

The report also criticized entrenched impunity in Colombia, saying there has been a lack of justice in cases related to the armed conflict. It said that the Attorney General’s Office had reported filing cases for 185,000 victims in 2018, a fraction of the 9 million victims registered in the official figures. Addressing impunity will be crucial to ending the cycles of violence, the report argued, while also calling for the full implementation of the 2016 peace deal and continuing talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s largest remaining rebel group.

Launching the report in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, Truth Commission President Francisco de Roux called for the construction of a “great peace” and expressed confidence in President-elect Gustavo Petro’s commitment to implement the commission’s recommendations. Outgoing president Ivan Duque, a conservative who campaigned against the peace deal and who is known for an unwavering defense of the military, did not attend the ceremony or comment publicly on the report. His party, the Democratic Center, released a statement referring to the report as an “interpretive truth”.

People in the streets of Bogotá celebrating the release of the report. (Source: New York Times)

The Truth Commission is Highly Critical of U.S. Policy

In its report, the Truth Commission urged the Colombian government to end its militarized approach to drug policy that for decades has prioritised prohibition over regulation. The report showed that the local drug economy boosted armed groups and exacerbated the violence. While the United States flushed the Colombian government with millions of dollars to help combat a twin war against drug trafficking and armed rebels, the cultivation of coca, the base crop used in the production of cocaine, has continued unabated. Under the peace deal thousands of farmers were supposed to substitute coca with legal plants such as cacao or coffee, but when the government subsidies to support the transition never arrived, farmers resorted once again to coca crops.

The report delivered a sharp rebuke of United States policy in Colombia, saying that mounting a war against drug trafficking had disastrous social and environmental effects, turning poor farmers into enemies of the state and poisoning once fertile landscapes. “The consequences of this concerted and largely U.S.-driven approach,” the report said, led to a “hardening of the conflict in which the civilian population has been the main victim.”

Declassified documents used to compile the report show that Washington believed for years that the Colombian military was engaged in extrajudicial killings and was working with right-wing paramilitaries, and yet continued to deepen its relationship with the armed forces.

FOR Peace Presence conributed to the work of the Truth Commission with a report on the influence of the United States on the Colombian conflict. You can find it here (in Spanish).

We joined international civil society organizations in a joint press release recoginzing the work of the Truth Commission and expressing gratitude for the final report. Read our joint press release below.

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