Blog entries, commentaries, and statements from WOLA’s Colombia team

Peace Coalition Rebukes OAS Secretary General’s Praise for Duque on Peace Accord Implementation

June 28, 2019

In the preamble to the 49th General Assembly of the OAS in Medellin, the Defend the Peace (DTP) coalition, a legion of peace accord negotiators, politicians, journalists, academics, civil society leaders and activists, of which WOLA is a part of, addressed a letter to Secretary General Luis Almagro challenging his plaudits on peace implementation in Colombia.

A few months after President Duque nominated Almagro for a new term as Secretary General, Alamgro returned the favor by celebrating the government’s “redoubled efforts to maintain peace” in a May 24 statement.The broad and diverse DTP categorized the statement as “not only ignorant and contradictory to the factual reality of what occurs in our country, but not consistent with reports and statements made by OAS agencies like the IAHRC and the MAPP-OAS regarding peace accord implementation.” 

The letter continues rebuffing Almagro’s statement piece by piece. His praise of Duque “doing everything to deepen peace with justice” is met by the DTP pointing out the administration’s staunch opposition and objection to the statutory law of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. A law which the president was forced to sign following a congressional vote and further ratification by the Constitutional Court. The reduced funding to the transitional justice system in the National Development Plan also reflects the unwillingness of the government to support transitional justice. 

Almagro then deems the peace process as “characterized by a significant increase in the cultivation and trafficking of drugs,” an issue the Duque administration has risen up to. In response, the DTP mentions the National Plan for Integral Substitution (PNIS) as the accord’s mechanism to reduce coca crops. This plan was discontinued by the Duque administration, preventing new families from signing up and only honoring those who had done so during the past administration.

The letter denounces the government’s return to repressive forms of forced eradication. Efforts like attempting to resume glyphosate fumigation, proven harmful to farmers, fauna, and flora, are highlighted by their ineffective 34% re-cultivation rate while voluntary substitution stands at 0.6%. 

On the protection of social leaders and FARC members, the Secretary General details the government’s wide array of security plans and protection measures without including their results. To which the letter contributes by noting the 155 murdered demobilized ex-FARC combatants and the hundreds (around 500) of social leaders murdered since the signing of the accord. 

Find the full Defend the Peace letter in Spanish below:

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International Civil Society Organizations Warn of Human Rights Crisis Jeopardizing Peace Accords

June 7, 2019

Alarmed by the deteriorating human rights situation and the return of violence to rural Colombia, 23 International Civil Society Organizations released a public statement demanding action from the Colombian government. With over 40 years of experience working on peace-building in Colombia, the organizations condemn the government’s delays and reneging on peace accord implementation, attacks to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), and violence against social leaders and human rights defenders. The article makes reference to the recent New York Times’ article exposing military directives demanding increased body counts, the murder of former FARC combatant Dimar Torres on April 22, and the 62 social leaders murdered so far in 2019.

The May 30 statement demands Duque sign the JEP’s statutory law and abstain from promoting members of the military who have links to extrajudicial killings. On June 6, the president signed the law as asked and the Senate voted in favor of promoting General Nicasio Martínez despite the objections of human rights organizations. The statement also calls for the investigation of the murders and attacks on social leaders, the extended presence of the UN Verification Mission and renewal of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights among other requests.

Here is the full statement translated into English:

Public Statement

International Civil Society Organizations Express their Serious Concern for the Grave Humanitarian and Human Rights Crisis in Colombia Jeopardizing the Sustainability of the Peace Accord

The International Civil Society Organizations signatory of this statement, in reference to our mandates, have been committed to the respect for human dignity, the guarantee of rights, the construction of peace, and the negotiated termination of the Colombian armed conflict for over 40 years.

                We recognize the importance of the agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerilla signed on November 2016, as well as the dialogues with the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), now sadly stagnant due to lack of political will.

                The reneging and delays on the commitments made in the Final Agreement (FA), the permanent attacks against the Integral System for Truth, Justice, Reparations, and no Repetition (Sistema Integral de Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y no Repetición, SIVJR) – particularly towards the decisions of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), place the lives and lawfulness of those participating under this jurisdiction at risk, including members of the FARC.

                This along with the murders, threats, intimidations, and stigmatizations against human rights defenders, environmentalists, and persons participating in voluntary illicit-use crop substitution, place the possibility to consolidate peace under serious threat.

According to the Center for Research and Education’s Program for Peace (Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular, CINEP), their 2018 category for political violence reports 648 murders, 1151 death threats, 304 injured, 48 attacks, 22 forced disappearances, three cases of sexual assaults, and 243 arbitrary detentions. So far, 62 social leaders have been murdered in 2019[1].

The annual report of the We Are Defenders Program (Programa Somos Defensores), published this year on April, states that in 2018 there were 16 women human rights defenders murdered, surpassing the murder rate of male human rights defenders[2].

The New York Times recently exposed[3] a military directive that could bring back the infamous “false positives” within the Colombian Armed Forces, as seen in the case of demobilized FARC-EP member Dimar Torres, who was murdered by an active member of the military on April 22, 2019. Dimar’s murder in the Colombian northeast was confirmed as a military killing by general Diego Luis Villegas[4].

The government’s response to these reports is worrying. Among these are the Defense Minister’s recent statement denying the existence of said directive, and the inflammatory remarks made by a government party congresswoman, which forced the article’s author[5] and photographer to leave the country[6].

The Colombian government has the obligation to guarantee Human Rights, honor the commitments made in the peace accords with the FARC-EP, and respond effectively to protect the life and dignity of those who are put at great risk for advancing peace and Human Rights.

Thus, we demand the Colombian government to:

  • Order government officials to abstain from making speeches that stigmatize those who defend peace and Human Rights, as well as civilians.
  • Order the respective authorities to carry out investigations and sanctions towards the material and intellectual authors of the murders, attacks, and threats against Human Rights defenders and FARC-EP leaders who seek reintegration into civilian life.
  • Ratify the statutory law of the JEP and comply with its decisions. In this regard, investigate the facts surrounding the recapture of Mr. Seuxis Paucias Hernández, establish its legality, the truth about his situation, and guarantee him his right to due process.
  • Abstain from promoting high ranking members of the military that have been admitted to the JEP, or have open judicial cases, as a measure to guarantee non-repetition to the victims of conflict[7].
  • To the President, as commander in chief of the military, that he ensure that all orders, manuals, and operational documents of the military comply with national and international law as well as Human Rights and International Human Rights Law.
  • Extend the presence of the UN Verification Mission and renew the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as recognition to the work of the international community on Human Rights.
  • Guarantee the right to information by protecting free and independent journalism.

We request that the diplomatic apparatus, international community, and guarantor countries of the peace process demand the Colombian government honors the Final Agreement and takes the necessary measures so that its implementation is not bloodier than the conflict it aims to overcome. 

As civil society organizations, we reiterate our compromise to the construction of complete peace in Colombia and we will keep on working alongside victims, rural communities, persons on transit to civilian life, and the Colombian civil society at large.

Bogotá, May 30, 2019


[1] https://www.cinep.org.co/Home2/component/k2/690-informe-ddhh-violencia-camuflada-labase-social-en-riesgo.html

[2] https://somosdefensores.org/2019/04/23/la-naranja-mecanica/

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/es/2019/05/18/colombia-ejercito-falsos-positivos/

[4] https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/homicidio-de-dimar-torres-fue-una-ejecucionextrajudicial-comision-de-paz-articulo-852708

[5] https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/periodista-del-new-york-times-abandona-el-pais-poracusaciones-del-maria-fernan-cabal/616115

[6] https://www.elpais.com.co/colombia/otro-periodista-sale-de-por-senalamientos-contrapublicacion-the-new-york-times-nicholas-casey.html

[7] https://www.france24.com/es/20190302-human-rights-watch-colombia-ejecuciones-extrajudiciale

Tags: Colombia Peace, FARC, Human Rights Defenders, JEP

Peace Coalition Thanks United Nations after Anti-Peace Camp Criticizes Its Role

June 7, 2019

The Defend the Peace movement, a coalition of peace negotiators, members of Colombia’s Congress, and prominent non-governmental organizations that WOLA forms part of, released a statement on June 7 thanking the United Nations for helping solidify peace in Colombia. The coalition released this statement in response to recent statements made by President Duque and Senator Uribe against this international body.

On June 6, former President Alvaro Uribe Velez criticized the United Nations and spread false information about its role in Colombia. Uribe’s defensive attack on the UN was a direct response to a statement issued by UN experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Agnes Callamard, concerning the recent murder of former FARC combatant Dilmar Torres at the hands of Colombian soldiers on April 22 in Northern Santander.  In that statement Colombia is asked to “stop inciting violence against the demobilized FARC” and to “implement the peace accords.” President Duque publicly stated that the UN report was premature and ill-intentioned.

Uribe’s statement comes the same day that President Ivan Duque advance the Special Jurisdiction for Peace’s (JEP) statutory law after having attempted to alter it by presenting the Congress with objections. While Duque, Uribe and others who wish to undermine the transitional justice system are likely to propose new ways to undo the hard won gains of the peace accords, President Duque signing the statutory law is a signal that their efforts are failing. 

Here is the full text translated into English:

Recognition of the Immense Contribution of the United Nations to Peace in Colombia

A Declaration of the Defend the Peace Movement

The Defend the Peace movement rejects the attacks against the United Nations Organization, and in particular the UN Security Council’s Verification Mission of thepeace process in Colombia. At the same time, we acknowledge and appreciate the immense support that this world organization has made to the dialogues that led to the signing of the Final Agreement for the termination of the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting peace, to the implementation of diverse aspects of that agreement, and the reincorporation of the individuals who were part of the FARC. 

The Secretary General, the member states of the Security Council, and the UN General Assembly, all have consistently encouraged the Colombian people, the National Government and those who laid down their weapons—to persevere, regardless of the difficulties in the peace process.  They have also made it clear that Colombia’s example in this endeavor “is an inspiration for all those who fight to put an end to armed conflicts throughout the world through negotiations”.  Likewise, the United Nations system and each of its agencies have called for the respect of the lives of the social leaders, the peace activists, the human rights advocates, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the comprehensive system that guarantees the rights of the victims.

In our globalized world, the collaboration of international organizations in the construction of peace and their observance of the respect for human rights cannot be misunderstood as a challenge or as an affront to governments.  Such positions are characteristic of authoritarian and narrow nationalist ideological conceptions. With more reason, these conceptions must be rejected if, in order to discredit legitimate international collaboration, the method of systematic misinformation and lies is used.

On the contrary, Defend the Peace considers it necessary to maintain and strengthen the presence of the UN in Colombia and welcomes the upcoming visit to our country of representatives of the Security Council.

Tags: United Nations

Colombia’s return to the discredited “body count” strategy

June 2, 2019

Leer en español

This is the form that Colombia’s army chief required officers to fill out in January, asking them how many members of each armed group the officer planned to take out in the coming year. From El Tiempo.

A May 18 New York Times article revealed an alarming shift in how Colombia’s army, under leadership that took over last December, is measuring “success” in its operations.

The article got a lot of attention because of the human rights angle, especially the possibility of a return to “false positive” extrajudicial killings. And indeed, in the runup to the Times piece, Colombian media outlets had begun relaying reports of military personnel being more aggressive with civilians.

But the danger, and the counterproductivity, of this new policy go beyond human rights. The changes at the top indicate a return to “body counts” as the Colombian military’s main measure of success.

That’s a failed and discredited approach, which most of us thought had long been buried. But the right-wing government of President Iván Duque has dug it up. With a new cohort of commanders who rose during the “false positives” period, the old ways have come roaring back. Times reporter Nick Casey relayed what he heard from military officers who came forward to voice concern:

[A] major shift took place, they say, when [Army Commander] General [Nicacio] Martínez called a meeting of his top officers in January, a month after assuming command of the army.

… After a break, the commanders returned to tables where they found a form waiting for each one of them, the officers said. The form had the title “Goal Setting 2019” at the top and a place for each commander to sign at the bottom.

The form asked commanders to list the “arithmetic sum of surrenders, captures and deaths” of various armed groups for the previous year in one column, and then provide a goal for the following year.

Some of the commanders seemed confused — until they were instructed to double their numbers this year, the officers said.

In the post-peace accord period, Colombia’s military has identified several internal enemies as national security threats: the ELN guerrillas, FARC dissidents, the “Gulf Clan” paramilitary network, and smaller, regional groups. Together, they total over 10,000 fighters, plus support networks.

But when Colombia’s forces take out a leader, kill several fighters in combat, or convince some to demobilize, nothing really happens. The territories where these groups operate continue to be ungoverned.

Roads are scarce, and paved roads are unheard of. So are land titles. There is probably no connection to the electrical grid. Post-primary schools are distant. Residents report going months or years without seeing a non-uniformed representative of national or local government. The idea of going to the judicial system to resolve a dispute is beyond laughable: many municipalities (counties) have neither judges nor prosecutors.

In that environment, a military unit that comes in seeking high body counts comes away with two results. First, a terrorized population whose distrust of government is greater than before. And second, new armed groups—or other elements of the same armed groups—filling in the vacuum and taking over the territory’s illicit economy. Within weeks, a new commander, a new group or groups, or several warring factions are profiting the same as before from drug production and transshipment, illegal mining, fuel trafficking, extortion, and other income streams. A high “body count” changes little on the ground.

Militaries have known this for a while. For situations like rural Colombia’s, they’ve discarded “body counts” some time ago, and developed a whole field called “stability operations.” Here’s what the U.S. Army’s Stability Operations manual says about how security forces should measure “success”:

Throughout U.S. history, the Army has learned that military force alone cannot secure sustainable peace. A comprehensive approach is required, as well as in-depth understanding of an operational environment. Stability ultimately aims to establish conditions the local populace regards as legitimate, acceptable, and predictable. Stabilization is a process in which personnel identify and mitigate underlying sources of instability to establish the conditions for long-term stability. Therefore, stability tasks focus on identifying and targeting the root causes of instability and building the capacity of local institutions.

Instead of asking “how many enemies did we take out,” then, the question is more like “can the government do what a government is supposed to do in the territory, and does the population feel that this is a good thing that is making their lives better?”

For too long, Colombia’s military measured its success with body counts. This culminated, most tragically, in the “false positives” scandal that broke in 2008. It turned out that soldiers, seeking to earn rewards and be viewed as successful in a “body count” climate, ended up killing thousands of innocent civilians, at times buying the cadavers from paramilitaries and criminals.

The measures of success started changing in the late ‘00s, near the end of then-President Álvaro Uribe’s second term. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Vice-Minister Sergio Jaramillo, working with David Petraeus-era U.S. military officers who’d been burned by the failures of the Iraq war, moved toward the second way of measuring success. They developed “territorial consolidation” metrics based on violence indicators, government presence, and the population’s access to basic goods. “Consolidation of territorial control,” read a 2007 Defense Ministry document,

shall be understood as a scenario in which the security provided by the security forces guarantees that the state may make public order prevail, and allow all institutions to function freely and permanently, so that citizens may fully exercise their rights.

They didn’t quite succeed at that: after some notable initial gains, the “Consolidation” effort petered out by 2013 or so for lack of political support, and the civilian part of the government usually failed to show up behind the soldiers. Still, as president, Santos named armed forces chief Gen. Alberto Mejía, who developed a new military doctrine putting many of these new success measures at its core, including in the Army’s 2017 “stabilization” manual:

The objective of stability is to reduce the level of violence; toward that goal the military forces carry out operations mainly characterized by supporting the functioning of government, economic, and social institutions, and general adherence to local law as, rules, and norms of behavior.

Then, together with Jaramillo as peace commissioner, Santos negotiated a peace accord committing the government, once again, to try to “enter” the countryside, often for the first time. This comes through most strongly in the 2016 FARC peace accords’ first chapter on “rural reform.”

[N]ational plans financed and promoted by the state must be set up with a view to achieving the comprehensive rural development that will provide public services and goods, such as for education, health, recreation, infrastructure, technical assistance, food and nutrition, inter alia, which promote well-being and a dignified way of life for the rural population – girls, boys, men and women.

A military commander seeking success metrics like these would be measuring miles of road paved, children able to attend school, hectares of land titled, and poll data showing perceptions that the government has become more responsive and accountable. The commander would NOT be asked to fill in forms indicating how many fighters the unit would kill or otherwise “neutralize” in the coming year.

It’s not at all clear why Colombia’s Defense Ministry would want to take such a big step backward. A partial explanation could be Colombia now having a right-populist government that, because it represents large landholders’ interests, doesn’t place a priority on reforming rural areas. Perhaps, too, the Colombian military’s Southern Command counterparts have stopped communicating the “stability operations” vision, as the U.S. Defense Department’s current strategy now emphasizes great-power conflict over “small wars.”

But that’s not enough to explain this misstep. It could be something much simpler. Maybe the new high command just lacks imagination, and wants to go back to doing what they know—whether it works or not.

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights