Today is the start of a new round of negotiations between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The peace talks open in Oslo and are scheduled to continue in Havana. The agreement signed August 26 of this year in Havana setting the peace talk agenda puts forth the goal to achieve “economic development with social justice” for the great majority of Colombians. It prioritizes access to fertile land for the rural poor, full political participation, and the end of rebel participation in the illegal narcotics trade.

The FARC is the largest and longest-fighting insurgency in Latin America. It was formed in 1964 with a mission to overthrow the government and install a Marxist regime through armed struggle. In the 1990s, the FARC became involved in the drug trade in order to raise money for its campaign. Between 50,000 and 200,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict between the FARC, the Colombian Government and other Colombia paramilitary groups since 1964. Today the FARC is believed to have some 9,000 fighters, most of them hiding out in mountainous and jungle areas

The FARC renounced the practice of kidnappings for ransom in February of this year but has stepped up attacks on Colombian security forces over this same period mostly in remote parts of the country. The group released its last 10 military and police hostages in April, but is believed to still be holding dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians.

The agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government to participate in peace talks is the first in Colombia in a decade.   According to Daniel Garcia-Pena, who was Colombia’s peace commissioner from 1995-1998 under ex-president Ernesto Samper: “[t]he rebels have known for some time now that they are not going to take power in a war, and that they are going to have to become a (legal) political force if they are going to survive in a postwar atmosphere.”  He also stated that, the government “knows ending the conflict is central to its success in being able to make Colombia part of the world of major democracies.”

These talks are considered to be mutually beneficial for the FARC and the Colombian government. Protesters in Bogota and other parts of Colombia, mostly family members of victims of the FARC, have demanded justice for civilians allegedly “disappeared” by the rebels and request a voice in the peace negotiations. The protesters see these talks not only as a way to achieve justice for the victims, but as a way for the Colombian government to become more popular, and for the FARC to achieve some of their goals before they are forced to become extinct.

It is important that we seriously consider the protesters claims and their demand for justice for the victims. However, if the peace talks accomplish the stated goals, should we consider lasting peace in Colombia a more important goal than retributive justice for the victims?

On the other hand, if we do not give justice the importance it deserves in the international arena, what is to stop other terrorist groups believing that they can harm innocent people with impunity?

Would it be appropriate for the victims to have a voice in the peace negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government; and, if so, to what extent should they be allowed to participate?

These are all difficult questions that highlight the complexity of international law and politics. Even though the answers might not be as straight forward as we would like, I believe thinking about them makes us better citizens of the world.

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