BOGOT Colombia - A Truth Commission presented its final report on Colombia's armed conflict Tuesday, calling on government, military and rebel groups that are still fighting in the countryside to recognize the suffering victims and ensure political disputes are no longer solved through violence.
The commission is made of academics and representatives of civil society groups and was set up as part of a peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2016 that ended five decades of conflict in which at least 450,000 people were killed.
It was tasked with documenting war crimes and publishing its findings in a digital format that will be available to the public. The commission also released a series of recommendations to stop future conflicts from taking root in Colombia, including changes to drug policy and changes to the nation's military forces.
The commission's final report is based on interviews with 30,000 war victims, military leaders, former guerrilla fighters and five former Colombian presidents.
Between 1990 and 2018, a report said that 50,000 people were kidnapped because of the armed conflict in Colombia, often by rebel groups who kept hostages for ransom. It also said more than 7 million people were forced to flee their homes and that more than 56,000 civilians were killed by Colombia's armed forces, including 6,300 people who were murdered in remote areas and presented to authorities as rebel fighters killed in action.
The report called for major changes to Colombia's military and police forces, which received more than $8 billion from the U.S. over the past two decades.
It said that the military's objectives should be re-evaluated and that all human rights violations committed by security forces should be tried by civilian courts.
The truth commission's report also discussed drug related violence in Colombia and called for the nation's government to regulate the drug trade so that its profits go to government agencies and not drug traffickers. It suggests that Colombia restarts peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army, Colombia's largest remaining rebel groups.
The recommendations of the Truth Commission aren't legally binding. Some will likely be implemented by Colombia's new government which will take over in August. Gustavo Petro, the president-elect, attended the ceremony where the report was presented to the public and said its recommendations would become part of Colombia's history. The leftist senator, who was once a member of a rebel group, said during his campaign that he will re-establish diplomatic relations with neighboring Venezuela whose socialist government is not recognized by the United States. Petro has also called for reforms to Colombia's defense forces, suggesting that he police should stop being used for military operations and be placed under greater civilian oversight.
President Ivan Duque, who was in Portugal for the UN Ocean Conference, did not attend the presentation ceremony. The Truth Commission's president, Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux, handed the report and its recommendations to Petro instead.
We are confident that President Petro will incorporate the recommendations into institutional spaces of dialogue and debate so that we can make the changes that are needed, according to De Roux.
A special justice tribunal called the Special Jurisdiction for Peace is investigating crimes that happened during the armed conflict.