A former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) shared that at a young age, every member of his family was killed by the Colombian military. Angry and looking for revenge, this young man decided to retaliate by joining the FARC. In his mind it was a way to take matters of justice into his own hands. But after years of following orders and taking the lives of other people’s family members, he started to question what the truth about justice really was.
The young man told his story to Angelica Rincón, coordinator of historical memory and political advocacy for Justapaz. Others who tell their stories to Rincón, particularly in rural areas, convey another perspective: they see the FARC as the obstacle to peace. They can recite long lists of offenses the FARC have committed against their families and in their communities.
Rincón shared these stories with U.S. policymakers on a recent visit to Washington, D.C., as she reflected on the Colombian Mennonite Church’s work with victims of the armed conflict.
The conflict in Colombia has completely overshadowed other aspects of Colombia’s recent history and displaced millions of people within its borders. A formal peace accord may soon be agreed upon, but will leave millions of victims questioning what justice looks like when all sides have claims to reparations.
Storytelling is a powerful medium, especially when it relates to personal experience. When faced with the experience of another person, assumptions can be turned upside-down. A personal narrative can supersede even the most powerful forces of hatred and revenge.
Each victim has his or her own story to tell, and his or her own truth. For victims of FARC guerillas, their stories of pain are their truth. And in the same way, victims of other armed actors have stories of pain that are also true for them. One cannot deny their perceptions of injustice.
The challenge of addressing victims’ claims continues to surface in the analysis of the peace accord discussions. How can an agreement be reached when there are victims of all armed actors wanting reparations, justice, and truth commissions? These are important considerations because someone will ultimately be granted the power to arbitrate justice.
We easily gloss over a list of statistics when we have no personal connection to a conflict. Yet when faced with narratives of real people and their pain and suffering, we are forced to confront assumptions about who has been treated unjustly. It compels us to creatively consider paths to reconciliation for victims on all sides of the conflict.
Charissa Zehr is Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC Washington Office. Printed with permission from Third Way Cafe. Originally printed on December 26, 2014.