Author: Jeronimo Sudarsky Restrepo

Can a Group Chat Unite a Polarized Colombia Around Peace?

In Colombia, a wide range of political and civil society actors have united under the Defend the Peace (Defendamos la Paz, DLP) movement, using social media—specifically, the WhatsApp messaging app—to connect, organize, and advocate for policies that involve the full, prompt implementation of the country’s historic 2016 peace deal. 

The DLP movement arose as a response to the government’s hostility towards the accords. It has played a key role in organizing massive protests, as well as issuing pluralistic jointly drafted letters to major decision makers that are difficult for President Iván Duque’s administration to ignore. At a time when Colombia—similarly to many countries in the Western Hemisphere— is facing stark political polarization, this WhatsApp group has emerged as a way to connect actors on both the left and right, with the common aim of protecting, building, and consolidating a peace that has eluded Colombia for the past six decades.

The rise and impact of the “Defend the Peace” movement

The first DLP meeting in February 2019 came about as a response to President Duque’s decision to reject the law that would give legal standing to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), the transitional justice mechanism envisioned in the 2016 peace accords. Although Colombia’s Congress and the country’s Constitutional Court had already passed the law, Duque proposed reforms aimed at undermining the very foundations of the peace deal. 

In light of the executive branch challenging a fundamental pillar of the peace agreement, members of Colombia’s Congress and concerned civil society leaders formally launched a movement with the stated aim of guaranteeing that the 2016 accords are fully implemented. To facilitate communication and advance discussions on possible actions, they created a WhatsApp group chat. 

“Today, the DLP group chat has more than 250 members, ranging from liberal, progressive, and conservative members of Colombia’s Congress, as well as academics, civil society, Afro-Colombian, and Indigenous leaders, journalists, demobilized leaders of the FARC, former army commanders, and local and international NGOs such as WOLA.”

Following Duque’s rejection of the JEP in February 2019, the DLP addressed their first letter— written before they had formally given the movement a name—to UN Secretary General António Guterres asking that they help ensure the JEP’s’ institutional integrity and the safety of its judges. Mr. Guterres responded in kind and urged President Duque to allow the JEP to function as established by the peace accords. 

Today, the DLP group chat has more than 250 members, ranging from liberal, progressive, and conservative members of Colombia’s Congress, as well as academics, civil society, Afro-Colombian, and Indigenous leaders, journalists, demobilized leaders of the Revolutionary Armed of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, former army commanders, and local and international NGOs such as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The group chat has sparked multiple sub-groups: several cover specific regions of the country, another is a networking space just for youth leaders.

Using WhatsApp and Twitter as an organizing tool, the DLP helped mobilize a protest in which citizens marched in favor of peace and against Duque’s rejection of the JEP law. By May, Colombia’s Congress voted against the president’s proposed reforms, and the Constitutional Court ordered Duque to put pen to paper and ratify the law. 

The DLP’s methods are as pluralistic as they are effective. Through 2019, the movement has produced several public letters, drafted jointly and democratically, addressed to major decision makers, advocating in defense of the peace accords. The chat is ruled by cordial and supportive discourse, where specific political platforms are only mentioned within the wider context of advocating effectively for peace. Members of the chat rapidly defuse arguments that stray away from the topic at hand and could cause friction by reminding each other of the greater goal of peace implementation. The DLP movement covers such a wide and pluralistic range of Colombia’s political spectrum and thought leaders that it makes the messaging tough for the government to ignore.

Other jointly drafted letters produced by the DLP include petitions to the UN, to the ELN asking for cease-fires, and to the OAS asking for consistent support for implementing peace. 

The DLP further demonstrated its power and reach in helping organize the July 26 march calling for greater protection for social leaders, spanning across 80 cities in Colombia and over 40 cities worldwide with hundreds of thousands of attendees. In Washington, 54 civil society organizations hosted their own DC march, receiving support from multiple members of the U.S. Congress.

Indeed, the July 26 march resulted in so much mobilization that even President Duque—whose government has convoluted the numbers concerning the killing of social leaders— participated in the march while in Cartagena. He was nevertheless heckled by the crowds of protestors. 

The DLP’s success in mobilizing a popular movement—both online and offline—points to their ability to bring together a wide range of political factions around the common goal of defending the peace accords. Political differences exist among DLP members, but common ground is found and concessions are made in the interest of pursuing an outcome which by necessity, the DLP argues, must be treated as above politics as usual: protect, build, and consolidate peace that has eluded Colombia for the past six decades. 

Polarization around the peace accords

How did the FARC peace agreement become one of the most polarized political issues in the country? In 2016, as the four-year negotiations process came to an end, President Juan Manuel Santos put the peace agreement to a vote in a referendum, keeping to a promise he had made to the Colombia people.

However, Santos had failed to adequately socialize the contents of the accord. This, and a rampant misinformation campaign on the part of those who opposed the accords on the basis that it was too lenient on the FARC, led to 50.2 percent votes against the agreement and 49.8 percent in favor. The vote would split the country down the middle on one of its most historic decisions.

The 2018 presidential elections further exacerbated polarization. Candidates who favored the full implementation of the 2016 agreement failed to unite around a single candidate; those who saw the agreement as overly lenient managed to consolidate around Iván Duque from the right-wing Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) party.

Duque has insisted on unity since his inaugural speech and has even stated that, contrary to his campaign rhetoric, he will not “shred the accords.” Yet a year into his presidency, it’s hard to see any real efforts to advance the accords, let alone unify Colombia. His attacks on the JEP, the lack of funding for peace initiatives in his four-year development plan, and, as stated by a DLP letter, his administration’s “progressive dismantling of verification and international accompaniment to the peace process,” all point to his intentions to subject the peace accords to a slow death

“With three years left in office, Duque should examine ways he can work alongside DLP, which offers him a space to ground his conciliatory speech, getting robust implementation back on the agenda while making concessions with a wide array of political actors.”

Nothing underscores the political cost of an unsatisfactory first year in office like the results of the 2019 regional elections, in which centrist candidates supportive of the 2016 agreement won mayorships in Colombia’s three largest cities. Both extremes of the political spectrum— including Duque’s partylost significant political ground in what was once strongholds. This was a clear sign that the electorate was not happy with the stagnant, polarized debate that has characterized Colombian politics for the past few years, and was more interested in advancing alternatives.

Neither Duque’s base nor the opposition appear to be happy with this recalcitrant implementation, leaving the president with a 29 percent approval rating. With candidates backed by former president Álvaro Uribe—leader of the Democratic Center and Duque’s mentor— suffering electoral defeat, and with Uribe’s approval ratings falling to the lowest in his career, it is clear that Colombians feel more represented under the wide umbrella of DLP than by the current anti-accord government. This has also been apparent in Colombia’s Congress, where Duque has an atrocious record of passing legislation he has supported. The president has generally been unable to work with a majority that, although more ideologically akin to his party, has sided with the pro-accord opposition organized under DLP.

But it is not too late to turn things around in Colombia. With three years left in office, Duque should examine ways he can work alongside the DLP, which offers him a space to ground his conciliatory speech, getting robust implementation back on the agenda while making concessions with a wide array of political actors. This struggling administration can turn things around by changing course and advancing the peace accord. For Colombia, this would mean implementing the prescribed systemic changes aimed to bridge its most polarizing chasms of historical inequality, sectarianism, and violence. 


November 18, 2019

Colombia Indigenous Massacre Should Push Duque Administration to Immediately Stop Neglecting Implementation of the Peace Deal’s Ethnic Chapter

Washington, D.C.—On October 29, a brazen attack by illegal armed groups in Cauca, Colombia left indigenous authority Ne’h Wesx Cristina Taquinas Bautista and four members of the Nasa Tacueyo indigenous reserve dead, with another six people wounded. The massacre took place while the indigenous guard was doing their scheduled rounds in the town of Luz. According to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC, by its Spanish acronym), a black car containing armed members of a FARC dissident group ignored signals by the indigenous guard and proceeded to shoot everyone in sight. In defiance of humanitarian international law, the armed actors also shot at the ambulance that later arrived at the scene to transport the injured to a place where their wounds could be treated.

Yesterday’s attack should serve as an alarm for the Duque administration regarding the urgent need to protect the lives and rights of indigenous and ethnic minority groups. The massacre perpetrated in Cauca is a direct consequence of the Duque administration’s failure to fully implement the 2016 Colombian peace agreement in an integral manner. In particular, it reflects his neglect of the Ethnic Chapter in the accords, which transversally safeguards the rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and enshrines autonomous self-protection measures for communities like the indigenous guard.

Colombian authorities must do everything in their power to promptly bring the perpetrators of this vicious attack to justice. Authorities should also heed calls by Colombian human rights and social organizations on the ground, who have long worked in partnership with WOLA, for an urgent investigation into this attack, alongside a high-level, internationally-backed verification mission that includes a visit to Tacueyo by President Duque’s office, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, and the Organization of American States (OAS) Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia. It is essential that President Duque forcefully condemn this attack, gather his ministers, and meet with indigenous authorities in Tacueyo to establish a strategy that protects indigenous communities by strengthening and providing support to the indigenous guard.

Critically, this massacre, along with the high number of killing of indigenous people since the start of the Duque administration, should ring alarm bells in the United States. The U.S. government must send a strong message to Colombia that these massacres are unacceptable, that Colombian authorities must act immediately to deter and prevent further atrocities of this nature from happening, and that the best mechanism to ensure the long-term safety of ethnic communities in vulnerable situations is the full implementation of the 2016 peace accords.

Tags: Indigenous Communities

November 6, 2019

‘Defend the Peace’ Coalition Rejects Rearmament and Reaffirms Commitment to Peace

On August 29, Colombians awoke to find a video of alias ‘Iván Márquez’, former peace negotiator in Havana, alongside two other commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revoluciónarias de Colombia, FARC) announcing their return to arms.

The hard-hitting yet unsurprising news reverberated across the country in the form of statements and interviews from government official, politicians, academics, and civil society actors. The ‘Defend the Peace’ Movement (Defendamos la Paz, DLP) released the most encompassing statement categorically rejecting this new call to arms and confirming their perseverant commitment to the full implementation of the peace accords.

The statement firmly rejects the dissident group’s action to abandon the peace accords, as well as any justification to a return to violence. DLP emphasizes that this in no way should overshadow the historic accomplishments of the peace accord or those who remain committed to it, like the 10,000 demobilized combatants who “require complete support and backing from the State.” To the political factions that oppose peace, DLP assures them Colombia has changed and they will not succeed in baiting them into war.

Read the full statement translated below:

The Peace Process Continues

Statement from Defend the Peace

In the face of the announcement made today by Iván Márquez, former negotiator of the Havana Accords, the Defend the Peace movement voices its position:

1. We reject the failure to comply with the Final Accords by Ivan Marquez and those who have abandoned the process. Our decision is and will continue to be the protection of peace. No justification, no excuse, no argument can be considered valid towards the creation of groups that use armed violence and want to a return us to war.

2. What has been accomplished through so much effort and sacrifice deepens our commitment with every passing day. The feats achieved after the signing of the Final Agreement have been historic and should not be denied or minimized, as the opposition to this process has wanted to do. These advancements are undisputable in the accomplishments of implementation, as much as in the humanitarian and democratic effects of the process. The more than 10,000 people that have laid down their weapons, formed a new political party, and undergone numerous processes of social and economic reintegration are part of an undeniable reality. Those complying with the accords require complete support and backing from the State.

3. This difficult time is being used by political figures interested in doing away with Peace and sending us back to the past in order to justify their political narrative of war. To them, we say that this country has changed and that the voices clamoring for peace grow louder and more numerous every day. Which is why we will continue in our determination to defend the implementation of the accord.

4. We call upon the country and the government to persevere earnestly in the development of the peace process. To reaffirm, today more than ever, the necessity to implement the Final Agreement comprehensively. To build territorial peace in the areas of the country where the absence of the Final Agreement and its social components, like the persistent absence of integral State institutions, increase the chance of violence returning.

Bogotá D.C., August 29, 2019.

Read the original Spanish statement here.


August 29, 2019

Iván Márquez Rearming is a Wake-Up Call: Efforts to Fully Implement the Colombian Peace Accords Need to be Escalated

In the early hours of August 29, Iván Márquez, a former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander and the group’s lead peace negotiator in Havana, joined two other former commanders of the guerrilla group in announcing they would be taking up arms once again, nearly three years after the historic signing of the peace accords with the Colombian government. Their decision is a wake-up call to the majority of Colombians and the international community who want peace: now is the critical moment to redouble efforts to ensure the full implementation of the peace accords.

This renewed call to arms is a reaction to the lack of political will to implement all aspects of the peace accord and a troubling rise in violence over the last year—both armed-group actions and a horrific wave of attacks on social leaders—that have undermined the transformative promises of the accord, like comprehensive rural reform, coca substitution, and political space for the peaceful opposition.

This is not the end of the fragile peace process in Colombia, it’s a wake-up call.

In particular, the Colombian government’s shortcomings in fully supporting the reintegration of ex-combatants, along with regular attacks on crucial truth and justice initiatives, have done little to bolster the faith that the FARC’s leadership and rank-and-file could place in the accords. The killing and disappearance of a reported 126 demobilized fighters have also fueled the argument by several FARC leaders that disarmament has only left them vulnerable to a campaign of violence. Also contributing to a recent rise in tensions was a new transition phase for the 24 reintegration zones where ex-FARC combatants are supposed to receive job training and other support to better transition back into civilian life: 13 reintegration zones are now supposed to be made permanent, with another 11 relocated. Compounding the situation, the United States government has recently failed to voice public support for the peace process, a dangerous signal to Colombia that U.S. support is waning.

However, a lasting peace is still within Colombia’s grasp. Crucially, the FARC political party has reaffirmed its commitment to peace and criticized the defectors’ announcement. It is also unclear how many of the over 13,000 demobilized fighters will respond to the hardline defectors’ calls to rearm.

While alias “Iván Márquez” commanded strong support within the FARC, it remains to be seen how many ex-combatants he will actually be able to rally. Notably, while Márquez has been missing from public view in Colombia for a year (and even failed to appear before Colombia’s transitional justice system when called to do so), throughout that absence he was not able to inspire many defections. Recent data compiled by the Bogotá-based Ideas for Peace Foundation find only 8 percent of demobilized FARC members currently unaccounted for—and not all of them, the Foundation emphasizes, have actually re-armed. Most ex-guerrillas have started new lives since the declaration of a final ceasefire three years ago. If this “new guerrilla” group grows, it will most likely do so by recruiting people with no past in the FARC.

Márquez and the other FARC leaders who issued the call for the new offensive are betraying the commitments they made to the Colombian people and the international community. They are also playing into the hands of the most ardent critics of Colombia’s peace process: in particular, the political movement around former President Álvaro Uribe and his allies, most of whom would not object to a return to war.

This is not the moment to return to past policies of war and military solutions to complex problems…

This is not the end of the fragile peace process in Colombia, it’s a wake-up call. The Colombian government needs to move urgently to protect and honor the demobilized combatants who remain committed to the accord and the political process. Their protection represents the assurance that those committed to working towards peace under the frame of legality will not be neglected by the state. Authorities should also show that they are serious about implementing other key components of the peace deal, including the transitional justice system (JEP, by its Spanish initials). A return to war will tragically disrupt efforts to uncover the truth of what happened during the conflict.

It is also urgent that the government implement stronger protection mechanisms for the human rights defenders, land rights activists, and Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders suffering devastating violence since the signing of the peace deal. Many attacks and assassinations are being carried out by armed groups and other shadowy actors who have long repressed efforts by community leaders to denounce and fight back against inequality in Colombia. So long as this violence against human rights and social leaders continues unabated, Colombia’s peace deal will remain unconsolidated.

The announcement by Márquez and the other FARC leaders should in no way obscure the historic accomplishments the accord afforded Colombia in the past three years. This period brought the lowest levels of violence Colombia had experienced since the mid-1970s, though indicators started going the wrong way in the past year as accord implementation lagged. This is not the moment to return to past policies of war and military solutions to complex problems, but a moment for Colombia and the international community to prioritize and escalate efforts to implement the accord in its entirety.


August 29, 2019

Civil Society Faces Deadly Threats in Colombia’s Chocó Region

When nearly 7,000 combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) disarmed and abandoned their strongholds in remote areas of Colombia, the Colombian government saw the opportunity to secure and establish themselves in communities that had not seen the rule of law in over half a century. The people of Chocó—Colombia’s most under-resourced region, with 45.1 percent of its population living under multidimensional poverty—were expectant. 

For the past four years, Chocóan civil society had undergone a transformation. Negotiations with the FARC in 2012 reduced combat operations and violence in the region, enabling leaders to organize and develop their activities with less fear of harm. This is important because during the 1990s-2000s, the civic space for these groups was decimated by violence and pressure exerted by illegal armed groups. 

During the peace accord negotiations, ethnic leaders were forced to mobilize at the national level and advocate internationally so that the rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people were integrated into the accord. In a historic effort, Afro-Colombian and indigenous grassroots organizations united to form the Ethnic Commission for Peace. On August 2015, they negotiated the historic inclusion of the Ethnic Chapter in the peace accords. This chapter recognizes that Colombia’s ethnic minorities were disproportionately victimized by the internal armed conflict, and remedies this by guaranteeing that peace is implemented in a differentiated manner that respects their rights. Concurrently, a united front of women and LGBTQ+ organizations mobilized and established the Gender Sub-commission at the Havana negotiating table in 2014, leading to an integration of women and gender rights into the accord. 

As envisioned in the first point of the peace accord, the 16 most war-stricken regions around the country would build Development Plans with Territorial Focus (Planes de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial, PDETs), which would define the communities’ needs over the next 10 years of peace implementation. The ultimate goal of these development plans is to breach the socio-economic inequalities that have plagued these regions with violence. In the case of Chocó, more than 300 leaders worked to weave the Ethnic Chapter’s differential approach into their own Ethnic Territorial Development Plan.

As a longtime partner of these strengthened organizations, WOLA was part of a humanitarian observation mission to Chocó from July 2-5, 2019. Explored in more detail in an upcoming report, what we saw was bleak: about 11,300 people unable to move freely in the territory, 7,000 of which are indigenous people, more than 2,000 displaced, mostly indigenous, and a strategic dismantling of local civil society and closure of civic space by armed actors.

“After the signing of the peace accords in 2016, we had eight months of peace and quiet,” said a representative of the Inter-ethnic Solidarity Forum of Chocó. “Then the paramilitaries came back, then the ELN.

Although the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) guerillas and the paramilitary Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) were always present in Chocó, the FARC controlled the majority of the territory with little contestation. After their disarmament, the Colombian government  saw these territories claimed by a fast advancing ELN who clashed with the AGC amongst the population. The ELN grew from 90 fighters limited to a few municipalities in the south of the region, to over 400 men in 75 percent of Chocó, all in less than two years. Within an eight-month period, communities saw themselves confined to their houses, unable to organize, fish, farm, or even escape as their territory had been littered with anti-personnel mines and sporadic firefights. 

Nevertheless, 87 civil society organizations of all stripes met to draft theChoco Now! Humanitarian Agreement proposed on September 2018 to the ELN and Colombian government negotiating in Havana. One of the organizations that led this grassroots proposal was the Inter-ethnic Solidarity Forum of Chocó (Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó). A perfect example of how Chocóan civil society remains dynamic and integrative, it is conformed by 78 organizations and community councils, both Afro-Colombian and indigenous, from all of Chocó. 

The Inter-ethnic Solidarity Forum establishes a united front, representing extremely diverse and marginalized communities. Institutional and civic spaces of their own creation gave way to communication networks amongst isolated communities that now quickly alert local and international civil society the moment any violation occurs, instead of having to endure victimization in silence. Social media and linkage with international organizations means Chocó’s ethnic communities can report and mobilize like never before. 

Unfortunately, a July 17, 2019 ELN terrorist attack on a police academy that left 21 casualties and 70 injured prompted President Ivan Duque to end negotiations with the ELN and order the immediate capture of the guerilla high command, who were negotiating in Cuba at the time. Since then, the unrestrained fighting between the government and illegal armed groups over territorial control and illicit economies has drastically deepened the humanitarian crisis in Chocó.

Chocó’s natural resource richness, inaccessibility, and connection to both oceans make it prime real estate of strategic geographical value for armed groups. The second largest producer of gold in the country, it is estimated 60 percent of Chocó’s gold leaves the Colombia illegally. By some estimates, this makes illegal gold exploitation more profitable than cocaine in Colombia’s Pacific region. An increase of coca crops, alongside the usage of  Chocó’s coasts as shipping points, have armed actors fighting viciously over control of the department. 

Armed groups have subjugated communities in places of strategic value for decades, placing them under complete social control. Nevertheless, a period of FARC hegemony over the region allowed some traditional authorities to retain their positions of leadership. Indeed, some leaders were able to negotiate effectively with the guerilla high command if FARC fighters overstepped boundaries with the community. 

Now that the FARC has left Chocó, and the State has failed to establish control, armed actors seek to subjugate these populations once again.

The difference is that the multiplicity of armed actors, the long periods of active fighting, and the lack of clear territorial boundaries makes the approach of these armed groups more vicious and in no way conciliatory, leaving little space for these newfound, highly vulnerable civil society organizations to exercise their leadership..

Since local government is corrupted, infiltrated by illegal armed groups, and incapable of controlling the territory, Chocó’s civil society is the population’s first and only line of defense against renewed victimization. Likewise, Chocó’s civil society is the only thing standing in the way of control of these widely profitable and vulnerable areas by illegal armed groups. 

However, armed groups are pursuing a strategy of confining and eroding civil society, by restricting the freedom of movement that would allow groups to meet, issuing threats and attacks against social leaders (in many cases forcing them to leave the region), and even infiltrating these same organizations and compromising their legitimacy. All of these serves to disempower the capacity of Chocó’s civil society to lobby and organize among themselves. 

There are other abhorrent effects of the ongoing conflict in Chocó. Both confined and displaced communities cannot engage in cultural practices—a fundamental basis for their resilience— that are deeply rooted in their ties to the land they have inhabited for hundreds of years. Children cannot attend school, increasing their likelihood of recruitment by armed groups and potentially foregoing the passage of ancestral knowledge to a new generation. 

During WOLA’s field trip to the region, multiple sources reported the cohabitation and collaboration of the Colombian army and the paramilitaries, positioned in the Atrato River just a few miles ahead of each other.

One particularly sinister practice of the ELN is the recruiting of indigenous teenagers to spy and report on Afro-Colombian communities, and vice versa, to sow mistrust between them. Many asserted that the army would handpick those thought to be ELN sympathizers for the paramilitaries to kill. Usually, individuals are forced to collaborate or be killed, and afterwards they are immediately branded as enemy sympathizers by the competing armed group—helplessly forced between a rock and a hard place.

Colombian ethnic civil society has increasingly become more vibrant and active, as seen when various groups came together to negotiate the historic inclusion of an Ethnic Chapter in the 2016 peace accords, or when ethnic communities organized to formulate transformative development plans for their regions, or when they helped craft a humanitarian accord based on international humanitarian law standards— these are achievements showcasing the momentum and capacity developed by Colombia’s ethnic civil society. Chocó—Colombia’s department with the highest concentration of ethnic populations— serves as an example for the rest of the country in terms of how an active, engaged civil society can bring about positive change. However, old patterns of violence seek to drag Chocóan communities back into a history of subjugation. The Ethnic Chapter, along with the totality of the peace accord, must be fully implemented now more than ever in order to prevent this.

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities, Human Rights Defenders, Indigenous Communities

August 8, 2019

Advocating for a Gender-Sensitive Implementation of the Colombian Peace Accords

One of the achievements of the 2016 Colombian peace accords with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) was the holistic integration of gender and women’s rights into the accord. In a new report by WOLA and LAWGEF that recounts the road to inclusion, battles thereafter, current state of affairs, and future recommendations for a gender-based approach to peace implementation, the case for a differential gender approach has never been stronger.

The 2016 peace accord is the first in the world to include such an extensive transversal differentiated gender approach. This was only possible after civil society organizations mobilized and advocated to include the voices of women, the LGBTQ+ community, and ethnic communities including indigenous and Afro-Colombians. As a response, the Gender Sub-Commission was installed in 2014. This commission “not only focused on women’s rights, but also on how the conflict affected individuals based on their sexual and gender identity.”

And so a gender-based approach was conceived—Intended to establish stipulations and measures to help overcome the violence and inequality that have long marked Colombian society, it would become one of eleven guiding principles of the accords.

However, much of the progress achieved toward the inclusion of women and the LGBTQ+ community in the peace process has yet to become a reality on the ground. 

After the accords were narrowly rejected in the October 2016 plebiscite, the political backlash from conservative and evangelical minorities in Colombia led to the removal of the phrase “sexual orientation” from the accord. The lack of implementation of gender-specific stipulations is a major setback to the sustainability of peace in the country. According to a 2018 Kroc Institute report, of the 130 stipulations with a gender perspective only 4 percent have been completed. Comparatively, of the 578 total stipulations in the accords, 22 percent were complete as of the same time. In other words,stipulations without a gender perspective have been completed at 5 times the rate of stipulations with a gender perspective.

The authors of the report interviewed leading civil society organizations and advocates from all stripes championing women’s rights and a gender differentiated approach to peace in order to identify these key issues impeding the advancement of a gender-sensitive peace implementation:

  • Lack of political will
  • Lack of meaningful participation of women and the LGBTQ+ community
  • Issues regarding security
  • Lack of access to justice
  • An increased vulnerability and exclusion of the LGBTQ+ community and Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Peoples.

In response to the issues threatening the lives, rights, and autonomy of these marginalized communities, this report makes necessary recommendations in order to safeguard their rights as stipulated in the peace accord as well as the peace accord itself:

1. Support the full implementation of the Colombian peace accords, including and especially the gender-based focus.

Colombian civil society representatives emphasized the immeasurable influence that the United States and the international community can have on the Colombian government. Therefore, political pressure to make the accord’s implementation a priority is crucial. A concerted action and concrete commitment to women’s rights in peace building from the U.S. government would be the creation and implementation of a National Action Plan in order to comply with both UNSCR 1325 and the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017. Hand in hand, aid for peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction must be increased despite the efforts of the Trump administration to decrease it.

Special attention must be given to supporting the implementation of racial justice mechanisms in the peace accord. A largely neglected aspect of the accord, mending historical and intersectional inequalities perpetuating conflict is unequivocally necessary for the establishment of a durable and lasting peace. Likewise, implementation of the gender-based focus of the peace accords must be seen as indispensable to achieving true peace in Colombia. Research shows that when women participate in peace processes the resulting agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years, and durable peace is more likely in countries with higher levels of gender equality that allow for women’s political participation.

2. Support Colombian civil society organizations

The work and research of organizations here consulted, along with others, has already identified the problems and outlined solutions for many of the issues raised in this report. Providing moral, political, and economic support to these organizations is crucial to ensuring the full implementation of the peace accords in general. Specifically fund women’s rights and LGBTQ+ organizations to work on peace accord implementation, implementation monitoring, and other efforts to defend women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

3. “Don’t abandon Colombia”

Peace is a process. It is a road with many necessary stops and turns and roadblocks. Although it will take time, we must not relent. The authors, therefore, urge the United States and the international community at-large to continue supporting Colombia on its path to positive peace.


July 30, 2019

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

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:


June 28, 2019