FARC Justice: Rebel Rule of Law
49 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2017 Last revised: 19 Apr 2019
Date Written: February 24, 2017
In the more than half-century of civil strife in Colombia, there has been a constant ebb and flow in the sharing of power between the Government and rebel groups, the largest of which is the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC). The FARC is a highly structured group controlled by a designated hierarchy, said to have encompassed as much as 17,000 fighters at its peak in the early 2000s. While it has exercised total control of national territory only for quite small areas during limited periods, it has been a dominant presence in more than half of Colombian municipalities over long periods of time. In those areas of mixed control, the population has had to navigate between governance de abajo (from below, in the plains) emanating from state institutions, and governance de arriba (from above, in the hills) emanating from the FARC. The latter adopted a dual strategy of instrumentalization and neutralization, attempting to infiltrate official institutions to coopt them to follow a line dictated by the rebels or, failing that, impeding the operations of these institutions. As a result, the FARC has been involved, in a period of time extending over several decades, in the management of a wide array of social issues, including labour relations, commerce, family life, taxation, and much more. One facet of this rebel governance has been the administration of justice. It appears that FARC judicial institutions grew out of internal disciplinary mechanisms, commonly established by non-state armed groups to ensure tactical effectiveness. The paper, relying on recent ethnographic research by anthropologists and sociologists in Colombia as well as my own field work, will map out the emergence and evolution of these FARC ‘courts’ with a view to appraise the extent to which they correspond in any meaningful manner to the concept of the judicial function. This will in turn serve to interrogate, relying on the insights of legal pluralism, the concept of the rule of law that is embodied in international legal instruments in the fields of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Unpacking the idea of the rule of law applicable in situations of armed conflict, I argue that a cogent concept of the rebel rule of law can be articulated to serve as yardstick to measure and guide insurgents in their legal governance.
Keywords: Rule of Law, Rebels, Justice, Governance, Law, International, Colombia, Humanitarian Law, Human Rights
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