Gauck advocates reconciliation | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.05.2013
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Gauck advocates reconciliation

German President Joachim Gauck has advocated a national reconciliation in Colombia during a visit to the violence-wracked South American country. The goal should be a culture of remembrance, Gauck said.

Picture of a badge on the arm of member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, taken while he guards the mountainous region of the department of Cauca, around Montealagre, Colombia, on February 15, 2013 after they released Colombian police officers Victor Alfonso Gonzalez and Cristian Camilo Yate. Leftist Colombian guerrillas on Friday released two police officers they had held for three weeks, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. The men were released in a rural area in Cauca department in southwestern Colombia and were in good health, the ICRC said in a statement. (Photo: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

FARC Soldat Symbolbild

Right at the beginning of his stay, German President Joachim Gauck reined in expectations about his visit. He wasn't there to tell Colombians how to organize their peace, the German head of state said in the capital Bogota.

But in his speech at the University de los Andes on Friday (10.05.2013), Gauck still touched on the two central issues that have been weighing on conflict-ridden Colombia for decades. "How to return dignity to the victims, how to acknowledge what they went through and make it up to them?", Gauck said to his listeners. And: "How can the guilty ones, the blind followers, the innocent bystanders and the victims achieve a fresh start in a democratic society?"

"No reconciliation without truth"

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and President of the Federal Republic of Germany Joachim Gauck (R) greet the media during an official ceremony at the presidential palace in Bogota May 10, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (l) greeted his German counterpart

Those are the same questions that confronted many Germans after reunification in 1990. "Pushing these thoughts away and keeping quiet was not an option for civil rights activists and most East German citizens," Gauck recalled.

The German president, however, also clarified that dealing with the State Security apparatus - the Stasi -in former East Germany after 1990 could not be compared to the situation in Colombia: "Here, people come face-to-face as different kind of mortal enemy. That makes for a very complicated process." But one thing is sure, the German president said: "There will be no inner reconciliation without truth." Public documentation of the acts of violence could lead to alleged offenders being viewed as guilty even without a court decision, according to Gauck.

Victims need access to information

One path to reconciliation could be a culture of remembrance. "The German solution back then was: reconciliation instead of vengeance. Amnesty with truth," Gauck said. In light of the large number of victims in Colombia, it would not be possible to "take everybody to court who should be taken there, but then it's important to at least open the archives, and create programs for contemporary witnesses to present the real truth to everyone."

The German president said the acts of violence should be documented openly and be made accessible to the public. That would be the only way to reach sustainable reconciliation, because then the victims would realize that they were on the right side, and the perpetrators would realize they had done wrong, Gauck said.

Peace talks since October

Ingrid Betancourt, author of Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle, pauses as she is interviewed Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010 in New York. (Photo: AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

Ingrid Betancourt was held captive in the Colombian jungle by the FARC

The armed conflict in Colombia between leftist guerilla groups, right-wing paramilitary troops and the regular army has been going on for decades and led to millions of internal refugees and hundreds of thousands of deaths. The peace talks between the Colombian government and the leftist guerilla organization Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which have been going on for months, could become a milestone in the country's history - if they can be successfully completed.

Closely followed by the international community, the peace talks began in October 2012 in Oslo, and have since been continued in stages in Havana, Cuba. Colombia's negotiators have announced they might recognize the FARC as a political party. Founded in 1964. FARC has more than 9,000 fighters and is the largest Latin American rebel organization. They have frequently been accused of serious human rights violations. One of the best known FARC victims was Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian-French politician who was held hostage by the guerrilla group for more than six years before her rescue by Colombian security forces in July 2008. The European Union has classified FARC as a terrorist organization.

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