Thousands of Colombians demonstrated in favour of the country’s peace process with the former Farc guerrillas, warning that President Ivan Duque’s policies could undermine it and lead to a flare-up of violence.
Protesters filled Bogota’s central Bolivar square, waving national flags and chanting that Colombians wanted peace.
Gustavo Petro, Duque’s leftist challenger in the 2018 presidential elections, former ministers and other opposition politicians participated in the rally. Demonstrations were also held in other cities.
“As a Colombian, I invite us to unite, to turn the page of hatred, of pain, of the past and of the conflict,” Green Alliance politician Claudia Lopez said. Demonstrators displayed the slogan: “No more war.”
The protests were prompted by Duque’s recent announcement that he was objecting to six out of a total of 159 articles in legislation regulating the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
The transitional justice system was created to help implement a 2016 peace deal with Farc following 52 years of conflict.
The arrangement foresees milder punishments for ex-guerrillas and soldiers who agree to co-operate with the JEP, and Duque has criticised it as being too lenient on the rebels.
The president announced he would send legislation on the JEP back to Congress, asking it to clarify that Farc must compensate its victims financially and to clarify rules on the eventual extradition of Farc members.
He also wants to toughen the rules on the sentencing of war crimes, to allow the ordinary judiciary to investigate people who are under the jurisdiction of the JEP, and to exclude sexual crimes against minors from being judged by the JEP.
The legislation regulating the JEP had already been ratified by Congress and the Constitutional Court, and the overhaul proposed by Duque would require a constitutional reform.
Opposition parties say the president is raising questions that had already been solved by the Constitutional Court and accuse him of not respecting the independence of the judiciary.
Critics allege that Duque wants to prevent the JEP from looking into illegal acquisitions of land from displaced people.
They also say Duque’s conservative Democratic Centre party does not want the JEP to investigate the “false positives” scandal, in which up to 10,000 civilians were killed and dressed as guerrillas by soldiers trying to earn bonuses.
“The JEP is the way to truth and peace, that is why it is feared by political sectors which enriched themselves with the pain of others,” Farc senator Pablo Catatumbo tweeted.
Demonstrators called on Congress to reject Duque’s proposals, a possibility that many analysts regard as the likely outcome.
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