Colombia's peace deal with leftist rebels cleared a critical hurdle Tuesday as the country’s highest court ruled in favor of the government’s “fast-track” plan to quickly implement the agreement.
The 8-to-1 decision by Colombia’s Constitutional Court means that President Juan Manuel Santos can seek expedited congressional approval for the laws and constitutional changes he needs for the peace accord with the rebels to take effect.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has some 6,000 heavily armed fighters deployed across Colombia’s jungles and mountains, and Tuesday’s ruling clears the way for them to begin to demobilize and disarm in the coming weeks. The terms call for their 52-year war against the government, the longest-running conflict in the Americas, to end as the rebels move into camps, where the United Nations is to collect their weapons over a six-month period.
Had the judges ruled against the government’s plan, the peace deal would have had to proceed through Colombia’s Congress along a slower, traditional legislative path. Santos insisted that the cease-fire with the FARC was too fragile to wait that long and said the peace deal would be at risk of falling apart or getting bogged down in lengthy congressional debates.
Instead, the streamlined approach reduces the number of legislative sessions and allows for up-or-down votes on the key elements of the accord. It effectively prevents lawmakers from making changes to the deal signed by the government and the rebels Nov. 24.
The court’s decision comes three days after Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end a war that has killed more than 220,000 and driven at least 7 million Colombians from their homes.
After nearly four years of talks between government negotiators and FARC commanders in Havana, the two sides announced a peace deal in September and staged an elaborate signing ceremony. But Colombian voters rejected that accord less than a week later in a special referendum, sending the belligerents back to the bargaining table.
Their 2.0 agreement won new concessions from the rebels, including financial reparations to victims of the conflict. But Santos opted to bypass voters and take the revised accord straight to Colombia’s Congress, which approved it this month.
The accord’s opponents, led by former president Álvaro Uribe, abstained from the congressional voting while denouncing Santos for skipping a new referendum. They allege that the revised pact is still too soft on FARC chieftains guilty of terrorism, kidnapping and murder, and they say it creates a path for convicted war criminals to leap into electoral politics.
But Tuesday’s court ruling means opponents of the peace accord will have little or no chance to amend or alter its terms. The judges determined that Colombia’s elected lawmakers possess the requisite “democratic legitimacy” to approve the deal without the need for a new referendum.
With elections coming in 2018, Santos feared that the accord would become a political football next year.
The first item on the legislative agenda will be the “amnesty law” that FARC leaders insist should be in place so that its fighters can move into the U.N.-run camps without risk of arrest.