The Columbian-FARC Peace Deal was narrowly defeated by a lack of voter participation and a slim majority. Although the failed referendum on the adoption of the peace agreement represents another hurdle in the finale of the 1960’s-era conflict, the willingness of rebels to finalize the agreement suggests FARC members have accepted their role as a political minority and overcome their violent pursuit of forced representation. No longer motivated by the call of war, FARC leaders now only seem to be fighting for clemency. Where the Columbian government and its international partners share these goals of FARC, the Columbian People apparently do not.
It is tempting to assume “no” voters rejected the peace referendum, because they want to return to war or cannot overcome their desire for revenge. It is also tempting to dismiss the referendum outcome as a minority opinion due to the fact turnout was only one third of Columbian voters, yet voter apathy suggests many Columbians might be inclined to agree that FARC leaders should not be pardoned for their crimes and receive guaranteed representation in government. Recognizing forgiveness is a very personal and very difficult process, “no” voters were not turning away from peace. They were simply asking for accountability.
From kidnapping to rape, torture to murder, members of FARC have been accused of every crime imaginable. This is why FARC is seen as more of a terrorist organization and a criminal syndicate than a rebellious political faction. One of the most essential functions of government is to ensure justice and police criminal activity, i.e. wrongdoing against citizens. The world may struggle to accurately describe members of FARC as “militants,” “rebels,” “terrorists,” and so on, but Columbians simply see FARC members as criminals. The war with FARC has been long and bloody, yet the People of Columbia still want FARC members to face justice.
The FARC Peace Deal is, therefore, seen as the Columbian government solidifying its failure to bring FARC criminals to justice. Looking to the high-profile example of the Syrian Civil War, a similar, yet inverse, situation exists. Syrians do not want war nor do they benefit from war. In fact, the threat to regional insecurity makes the conflict costly to all factions involved in the war. They cannot, however, accept the leadership of Basher Al Assad, because he and his allies have committed crimes against his People. The same is true of terrorists and militants who have committed crimes. Like the Columbians and all the other Peoples of the world, the Syrians need justice and accountability for the wrongs committed by the weak and powerful.
Given the revolutionary forces driving change, unrest, armed conflict in the Middle East, as well as other regions of the world, there are several populations in addition to the Columbians who need to resolve past grievances and ongoing conflicts with rulers and insurgents. Although how those grievances and conflicts are addressed depends on what will satisfy the interests of the parties involved, the history of South Africa and the work of Nelson Mandela, which the concept behind the Columbian-FARC Peace Deal somewhat reflects, should be remembered when doing so. Ultimately, it may help those seeking accountability and justice find resolution in imperfect peace deals.
Apartheid was an era of South African history defined by the brutal oppression and torture of blacks, yet it ended with leaders like Nelson Mandela turning away from the impulse to seek revenge and dominance over white South Africans. Refusing to tear their nation apart along racial lines, leaders of South Africa formed Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to afford victims a channel to peacefully express their grievances, face their victimizers, and learn what had happened to their loved ones who had disappeared under apartheid rule.
Mandela recognized there was no adequate punishment, no sufficient form of restitution, and no means of prosecuting the sheer number of individuals responsible for what had been done to black South Africans, so they sought reconciliation. In doing so, Mandela and others started a healing process that has helped South Africa do well in a region plagued by poor governance. The Mandela approach to resolving conflicts is unique and rarely pursued on a national scale, yet the lesson to be learned is an essential one. When wrongdoings cannot be sufficiently undone or addressed through restitution, grievances can be addressed and conflicts resolved through the expression and public recognition of those grievances.
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