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Students in the Human Rights Study Project at the University of Virginia School of Law recently traveled to Bogota, Colombia, to examine the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest guerrilla group in the South American country.

Second-year UVA Law student Lena Al-Marzoog and third-years Joshua Burk, Ryan Lindsay, Michelle Synhorst, Mac Teng and Jean Zhuang spent 15 days of their winter break conducting the field research. Known as Cowan Fellows, the students chose Colombia because of the opportunity to study a country attempting to create peace. If the negotiations are successful, the final agreement could end a 50-year armed conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people and internally displaced more than six million Colombians. 

As part of their research, the students met with government and local officials, professors, legal scholars and think-tank directors. Their final report will compare other international cases to Colombia’s situation and could act as a resource for the Colombian government.

Project members will present their research and share their experiences April 4 at 12:30 p.m. in WB103.

Burk said the transition to a lasting peace will not be simple. 

“Colombia is attempting to create an innovative system in order to obtain peace within its borders, and some of the results of the negotiations have led to controversial elements of the transitional justice system,” Burk said. "Questions of implementation and international acceptance remain unanswered."

Al-Marzoog said the goal of the trip was to provide an outside perspective to the transitional justice system, and that the group hopes to create a proposal for other transitional governments based on Colombia’s peace agreement.

“We certainly learned an enormous amount about transitional justice, including the sequencing between a tribunal and a truth commission, permissible and impermissible amnesties, and alternative forms of sentencing,” Al-Marzoog said. “We hope that our proposal and insights can be useful to those interested or involved in the peace process in Colombia." 

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.