The breakthroughs of the Truth Commission in Colombia in 2021
Since the beginning of its mandate in November 2018, the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition (“Commission” or “CEV”) has worked to fulfil its objectives of clarification, recognition, coexistence, and non-repetition. One of its priorities has been to enable the participation of victims abroad and make visible the “Colombia outside of Colombia” in exile.
The Swedish Foundation for Human Rights (MR-Fonden) begins the fourth year of collaboration and support to the Colombian Truth Commission. A central part of this work has been the accompaniment to its Collaborative Network in Sweden, and our support for information dissemination activities, like taking testimonies, delivering reports and carrying out listening acts. Among the collaborations developed in 2021, we can highlight the meeting “Colombian Women for a Complete Truth” convened by the Internodal Gender Group, and the “First International Meeting of Colombian Students in Europe. Truth: The value of knowing“, called by the Círculo de la Palabra de Barcelona.
The Commission currently prepares for its final stage: the publication of its Final Report and the recommendations to overcome the persistence factors of the War in the country in June 2022. The latter results from the decision of the Constitutional Court to extend the Commission’s mandate for nine months due to the limitations associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
It should be noted that the Commission’s legacy includes the work carried out with the direct and indirect support of more than 2,500 civil society organisations, state institutions and international cooperation agencies. Despite the challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, the CEV made various efforts to understand the past of the Colombian armed conflict and prevent its repetition, promoting the recognition of responsibilities by multiple actors. For this, a plural listening exercise has been carried out to collect, contrast and analyse information to know what happened during the conflict, why it happened, to whom and whose responsibility it is.
In 2021, plural listening resulted in 1,749 individual and collective interviews with members of indigenous communities, Afro communities (Afro-Colombians, black communities, Raizales and Palenqueros), and organisations of victims, women, members of the Public Force, ex-combatants and farmers; adding a total of 27,268 collected testimonies. Among this universe of testimonials, 1.200 were collected abroad. Civil society organisations submitted 485 reports and 358 cases to the Commission, which add to the sum of 962 reports and 635 cases that the CEV has received since the beginning of its mandate.
The Commission also continued its work throughout the regions of Colombia to listen to those who have been most affected by the conflict. Their trips included visits to Cali, one of the most polarised cities by the National Strike and citizen mobilisations; the town of Caucasia in Bajo Cauca Antioquia; and tours around the Arauca River and the Canal del Dique, whose waters have become the cemetery for more than 2,000 people killed in the context of the armed conflict.
One of the most important milestones of 2021 was the dialogue of the Truth Commission with 5 former presidents of Colombia and their contributions on Plan Colombia, the Democratic Security Law and extrajudicial executions -known as “false positives”-. Equally important have been the contributions by Salvatore Mancuso, former leader of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), and Rodrigo Londoño, former commander of the FARC-EP. The Commission held recognition events, in which individuals involved with the conflict also apologised and reaffirmed their commitment to clarifying the truth in these spaces. Another critical development of the Commission’s work is the dialogues for non-continuity and the listening spaces. These spaces address specific issues of the armed conflict related, for example, to child recruitment, the differentiated effects on ethnic territories, women, members of the LGBT community, and the conflict’s persistence in different regions of the country.
Multiple activities are being prepared to promote social dialogue inside and outside Colombia in the face of the publication of the final report. The victims’ organizations, the Colombian civil society, the academy, the Collaborative Networks and the international organizations that support the Commission are central to make visible and follow up on the report and its recommendations.
Source: “Así fue el camino de la Comisión para esclarecer la verdad en el 2021”. Available here.
 The collaborative networks (“Nodos”) are diverse, inclusive and participatory spaces that facilitate dialogue between different actors abroad and allow the confluence of experiences of memory and truth prior to the Commission. They directly support the work of the Commission’s international office.
 Internodal groups are spaces for thematic articulation in Europe to address gender, psychosocial support, recognition of victims, relatives of victims of forced disappearance, and second and third generations in exile.