Victims of Language: Language as a Pre-condition of Transitional Justice in Colombia’s Peace Agreement

  • Juan-Luis SuárezEmail author
  • Yadira Lizama-Mué
Part of the Memory Politics and Transitional Justice book series (MPTJ)


The Colombian peace agreement, signed in 2016 between the government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), claimed to put the victims in the center by building a comprehensive system of transitional justice, a Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-repetition. To evaluate the declared centrality of victims, we aim to understand the language around them used during the negotiations that took place from 2012 to 2016, by analyzing all documents published in Havana using combined natural language processing techniques and a close reading of some key documents. Our argument is that, in order for language to become an ameliorating factor of the transitional justice process, language around victims included in the peace agreement needs to pass the language test that guarantees its effectiveness even beyond the end of the conflict. However, in the case of Colombia, results show a small statistical presence of victims in the conversations that contrast with the expressed statement about making them the focus of the agreement and the attempt to expand its description including the diversity of identities underneath this condition. We recommend that peace processes use data analysis techniques to ensure that the discourse really reflects the intention of the parties. This would avoid any gap between goals and semantics, facilitating the deployment of the post-agreement legislation in a fashion that closely reflects the parties’ intentions and the victims’ rights.


  1. Angel-Botero, Carolina. “Reproduciendo diferencia: la negociación de identidades ciudadanas en el marco de la justicia transicional.” Revista de Estudios Sociales 59 (2017): 44–55.Google Scholar
  2. Bird, Steven, Ewan Klein, and Edward Loper. Natural Language Processing with Python. California: O’Reilly Media, 2009.
  3. Brubaker, Rogers and Fredrick Cooper. “Beyond ‘identity’.” Theory and Society 29, no. 1 (2000): 1–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Comisión Histórica del Conflicto y sus Víctimas. Contribución al entendimiento del conflicto armado en Colombia [Contribution to the understanding of the armed conflict in Colombia]. Bogotá: Ediciones Desde Abajo, 2016.Google Scholar
  5. de Waardt, Mijke. “Naming the Victims: The Semantics of Victimhood.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 10 (2016): 432–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Firchow, Pamina. “Do Reparations Repair Relationships? Setting the Stage for Reconciliation in Colombia.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 11, no. 2 (2017): 315–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gready, Paul and Simon Robins. “Rethinking Civil Society and Transitional Justice: Lessons from Social Movements and ‘New’ Civil Society.” The International Journal of Human Rights 21 (2017): 956–975. Scholar
  8. Huyse, Luc. “Victims,” in Reconciliation After Violent Conflict. A Handbook, edited by David Bloomfield, Teresa Barnes and Luc Huyse. Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2003.Google Scholar
  9. Jamar, Astrid. Victims Inclusion and Transitional Justice: Attending to the Exclusivity of Inclusion Politics: PA-X Report: Transitional Justice Series. Edinburgh: The University of Edinburgh, 2018.Google Scholar
  10. Jaramillo, Sergio. El tiempo de las víctimas [The moment of victims]. Bogotá: Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz, 2014. Scholar
  11. Jones, Eric, et al. SciPy: Open Source Scientific Tools for Python. Accessed December 26, 2017.
  12. Kapur, Rarna. “The Tragedy of Victimization Rhetoric: Resurrecting the ‘Native’ Subject in International/Post-Colonial Feminist Legal Politics.” Harvard Human Rights Journal 15, no. 1 (2002): 1–37.Google Scholar
  13. León, Juanita. “‘Los acuerdos de La Habana básicamente son un acuerdo de élites’: Luis Jorge Garay.” La Silla Vacía. April 14, 2016.
  14. Loyo Cabezudo. “La justicia transicional en Colombia: ¿Un instrumento para erradicar la impunidad?” Anuario Iberoamericano de Derecho Internacional Penal 5 (2017): 32–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lundy, Patricia and Mark Govern. “Whose Justice? Rethinking Transitional Justice from the Bottom Up.” Journal of Law and Society 35, no. 2 (2008): 279–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mani, Rama. Beyond Retribution: Seeking Justice in the Shadows of War. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002.Google Scholar
  17. McEvoy, Kieran and Kirstent McConnachie. “Victimology in transitional justice: Victimhood, innocence and hierarchy.” European Journal of Criminology 9, no. 5 (2012): 527–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Meertens, Donny and Margarita Zambrano. “Citizenship Deferred: The Politics of Victimhood, Land Restitution and Gender Justice in the Colombian (Post?) Conflict.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 4, no. 2 (2010): 6–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Méndez, Juan E. “Victims as Protagonists in Transitional Justice.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 10, no. 1 (2016): 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Negotiation Table. Acuerdo General para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera [General Agreement to End the Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace] Havana, 2012. Scholar
  21. Negotiation Table. Comunicado Conjunto June 7, 2014. Havana.
  22. Negotiation Table. Borrador Conjunto Acuerdo sobre las Víctimas del Conflicto [Joint Agreement on Victims of the Conflict]. Havana, 2015.
  23. Negotiation Table. Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace. Translated by British Council in Colombia. Bogota: Office of the High Peace Commissioner, 2016. Scholar
  24. Nesiah, Vasuki. Transitional Justice Practice: Looking Back, Moving Forward. Amsterdam: Impunity Watch, 2016.Google Scholar
  25. O’Rourke, Catherine. “Feminist scholarship in transitional justice: a de-politicising impulse?” Women’s Studies International Forum 51 (2015): 118–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pedregosa, Fabian et al. “Scikit-Learn: Machine Learning in Python.” Journal of Machine Learning Research 12 (2011): 2825−2830. Scholar
  27. Pehar, Drazen. “Use of Ambiguities in Peace Agreements.” In Language and Diplomacy, edited by Jovan Kurbalija and Hannah Slavik. 163–200. Malta: DiploProjects, 2001.Google Scholar
  28. Python Software Foundation, Python. Accessed December 26, 2017.
  29. Rowen, Jamie Rebecca. “‘We Don’t Believe in Transitional Justice’: Peace and the Politics of Legal Ideas in Colombia.” Law & Social Inquiry 42, no. 3 (2017): 622–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ruiz Serna, Daniel. “El territorio como víctima. Ontología política y leyes de víctimas para comunidades indígenas y negras en Colombia.” Revista Colombiana de Antropología 53, no. 2 (2017): 85–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Thompson, Mark. Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics? New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016.Google Scholar
  32. Tribunal Administrativo de Cundinamarca. No. 250002341000201701993-00, 2017. Scholar
  33. UN Security Council. UN Resolution 242. 1967.
  34. Weber, Sanne. “From Victims to Mothers to Citizens: Gender-Just Transformative Reparations and the Need for Public and Private Transitions.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 0 (2017): 88–107.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The CulturePlex LabThe University of Western OntarioLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations