A legitimate court in an unjust system: the case of the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace

The Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace is part of a new comprehensive system to satisfy victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition. Its creation was agreed upon by the Colombian Government and the main guerrilla group in the country, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), after five decades of armed confrontation. This arrangement is innovative but challenging, particularly with respect to the accountability for and sanctioning of conflict-related crimes. In post-conflict settings, judicial authorities must act differently from ordinary judges in order to be and to be perceived as just. Using Colombia as a case study, and focusing on the newly created Special Jurisdiction for Peace, this paper analyses the challenges that courts face when operating on the above-mentioned “legitimacy deficit” and proposes that criminal courts can make a significant contribution to peace and reconciliation even if not meting out traditional punishments.