The Power of Granting Forgiveness
April 9th marked the seventeenth anniversary of the killing of Manuel Cepeda Vargas, a Colombian Senator with the left-wing political party Union Patriotica (UP). For the first time, this year there was formal recognition of the wrong that occurred nearly two decades ago. This is a result of a 2010 ruling by the Inter American Human Rights Court that found the Colombian state responsible for the killing of Cepeda Vargas, and which ordered it to “organize a public act of acknowledgment of international responsibility for the facts”.
The April 9th solemn act, held in Congress and presided over by the Colombian Interior Minister, was quite remarkable. In a country where 98% of human rights crimes pass without a conviction, on behalf of the State, the Minister accepted responsibility and asked forgiveness.
The most remarkable aspect of the April 9th solemn act, however, were the terms under which forgiveness was granted. The son of the leader and now Congressman, Iván Cepeda, on behalf of his family delivered a moving speech in which he discussed authenticity and requests for pardon, and the meaning of granting forgiveness:
“A petition of pardon in situations in which crimes against humanity have been committed is a solemn act. To be authentic, it requires unambiguously admitting the facts, showing willingness to investigate them, naming to whom the request is addressed, publicly acknowledging the damaged caused, and expressing a commitment not to repeat similar actions in the future.”
Iván Cepeda accepted the Colombian state’s recognition of its responsibility as “an act of hope that we will together build a peace in Colombia, based on democracy and justice”. He concluded by saying “It is important to ask forgiveness and to forgive, but it is even more important to ensure that in our homeland no more crimes are committed for which the Colombian state must ask for forgiveness and for which the victims must forgive.”
The Union Patriotica, a political party established in 1985, was the result of a 1984 peace negotiation process between the FARC guerillas and the Colombian government, in which former guerillas and their supporters came into peaceful politics. Its supporters saw it as an engine to create the economic, social and political transformations required for peace with social justice. Despite success in the polls, the UP became the target of a systematic assassination campaign, primarily led by the Colombian armed forces in alliance with paramilitary groups. Over 5,000 Union Patriotica members were killed, tortured, or forcibly disappeared over the past twenty-five years. Manuel Cepeda Vargas was the party’s last member of Congress.
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