U.S. Fails Colombia’s Children: Aronson backs impunity for Child Soldiering
While Mr. Aronson and hundreds of “distinguished citizens” wine and dine at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington D.C., thousands of children will be languishing, as they have been for years, in the mountains and jungles of Colombia – proving just how out-of-sync the Obama Administration is with the reality of Colombia and its people.
By Lia Fowler*
October 29 /2015
On November 17, Bernard Aronson will be honored at the Inter-American Dialogue’s Leadership of the Americas Awards Gala for his role as US Special Envoy to the Colombian “peace” negotiations between President Santos’ administration and the narco-terrorist group FARC. While Mr. Aronson and hundreds of “distinguished citizens” wine and dine at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington D.C., thousands of children will be languishing, as they have been for years, in the mountains and jungles of Colombia – proving just how out-of-sync the Obama Administration is with the reality of Colombia and its people.
Appointed by President Obama as the envoy to the dialogues in Havana in February, Mr. Aronson was uniquely positioned to advocate for the FARC’s most vulnerable victims. Two of the four countries serving as guarantors or advisors to the dialogues are Cuba and Venezuela, both dictatorships notorious for human rights violations. And the socialist government of Chile, also “advising” on the peace talks, is aligned with that country’s communist party, which has proven ties to the FARC. It was up to Mr. Aronson to advocate for American ideals: first among these, the rights of children. Yet, despite promises to end child recruitment, the FARC continue taking minors by force and not one child has been returned. Mr. Aronson’s “leadership” has achieved nothing on their behalf.
In a conflict that has included massacres, kidnappings, and assassinations that have claimed more than 220,000 lives, according to the National Center of Historic Memory, the recruitment of minors could be the most heinous of the FARC’s war crimes. The horror of child recruitment goes beyond using adolescents in combat. In 2012, Paul Martin, representative of UNICEF in Colombia at that time, said in a televised interview that the average age of children recruited by terrorists groups was between 12.8 and 13.5 years of age. A Police Intelligence report published in 2011, revealed that each FARC front had to fulfill recruitment quotas of girls between the ages of 13 and 15, for sexual exploitation.
Roberto De Bernardi, the current UNICEF representative in Colombia wrote in a 2014 report: “It is important to understand that sexual violence is not limited only to rape, but also includes forced abortions, sexual exploitation and sexual slavery.” The evidence that supports these assertions is overwhelming.
Yet Mr. Aronson endorsed a Transitional Justice agreement that would allow FARC leaders to avoid jail time for this crime. Instead, they would receive sentences of five to eight years of community service for any crimes the government could not out-and-out pardon – including child soldiering. FARC leader “Timochenko” has callously suggested the beaches of Varadero, Cuba, to carry out their community service. That seems to be enough of a consequence for Mr. Aronson, who said in an interview with Colombian daily El Tiempo: “I don’t think anyone is getting off free in this process.”
The International Criminal Court might see things differently. The Rome Statute of 1998, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, recognizes child soldiering – which includes the active participation of minors under the age of 15 in armed conflicts – to be a war crime. It was created precisely to end impunity in cases of child recruitment.
According to Mark Drumbl, Director of the Transnational Law Institute at Washington and Lee University, and
author of Reimagining Child Soldiers In International Law and Policy, Colombian courts could stave off ICC jurisdiction only if they indicted the FARC leadership on child soldiering charges and if the prosecutorial process were similar to what the ICC delivers. “The ICC would not respect a domestic pardon or amnesty for those charges,” he stated.
Regarding suspended sentences and penalties of community service for child soldering, “things would come to a head if a senior FARC member, for example, received a very modest sentence and certainly so if a pardon were given,” Mr. Drumbl explained.
So, if the FARC leadership were not charged with child soldiering by the State, the ICC would have jurisdiction. If they were, but the legal process did not meet ICC standards, the ICC would have jurisdiction. And if those found guilty were pardoned or eluded prison, the ICC would have jurisdiction.
The case of Thomas Lubanga of the Democratic Republic of Congo, serves as a blueprint of what the appropriate penalties for this war crime would be: convicted of child soldiering by the ICC, Lubanga was sentenced to a 14-year prison term.
Still, when asked in the interview with El Tiempo to comment on whether the penalties for the FARC leadership under the peace agreement would be too light, Mr. Aronson said, “Look… this is not a process to punish the guerrillas.” When asked to comment on his “important” role in the achievement of the peace deal, he demurred, saying, “It’s better to ask the President [Santos] what my role was.”
Mr. Aronson needs to answer the question. The peace deal, as announced, runs afoul of international law and American ideals. Americans should know how Mr. Aronson, as the Obama Administration’s envoy, contributed to it.
* Lia Fowler is a Colombian born journalist and former FBI Special Agent