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.
Here’s an English translation of a column WOLA’s Adam Isacson wrote for the Colombian political analysis website Razón Pública, which it posted today. It voices strong concerns about Colombia’s military, especially its army, which has been showing signs of institutional backsliding all year.
The Colombian Army’s Very Bad Year
Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America
The ties between the U.S. government and Colombia’s armed forces “are like the heart of this [bilateral] relationship,” said outgoing U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker, in his last interview with the Colombian daily El Tiempo. “They are very dear to us and very professional. There are elements of the Police and the Armed Forces that have a 21st-century character and are among the best in the world.”
Let’s leave aside how troubling it is that an ambassador in any country might say that the military relationship is more central than the diplomatic, commercial, or cultural relationships. Is the latter part of Whitaker’s statement true? Have Colombia’s armed forces—especially its army, which makes up 84 percent of all military personnel—become a professional twenty-first century force, among the world’s elite?
For much of this decade, Colombia’s military seemed to be headed in that direction. Accusations of extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations plummeted after 2008. High-ranking officers participated honorably in the peace talks with the FARC, and about 2,000 current and former soldiers agreed to participate in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The armed forces developed a forward-looking new doctrine as they sought to adapt to a future, for the first time in decades, without a large-scale national-level insurgency. NATO agreed to include Colombia as a “global partner.” A new, post-“false positives” generation of mid-level officers, with years of training in much-improved military colleges, appeared to place a much higher value on human rights, international humanitarian law, and measuring results through territorial legitimacy. While some concerns persisted, especially allegations of espionage against participants in the peace process, the overall trajectory had been positive.
Then came 2019, which has been an annus horribilis for Colombia’s Army. The high command that new President Iván Duque put into place came under immediate attack from human rights groups for their past proximity to “false positive” killings a decade earlier. The ultraconservative new defense minister made repeated statements minimizing the severity of killings of social leaders and calling for crackdowns on social protests. And then, scandals started to hit.
On May 18, the New York Times revealed that, at the beginning of the year, the Army’s new high command had taken a leap backward in time, bringing back “body counts” as a principal measure of commanders’ effectiveness. After years of seeking to measure progress by measures of security and state presence in territories from which government had long been absent, the new commanders decided to seek something simpler. Unit commanders were instead required to sign forms committing themselves to a doubling of “afectaciones”—armed-group members killed or captured—in their areas of operations. While this signaled a return to a long-discredited territorial stabilization strategy, it also raised major human rights concerns about creating incentives for “false positives.” Already, Colombian media had been gathering reports about increased abuses, and abusive behavior, at the hands of military personnel in 2019.
July saw the Army buffeted by corruption scandals, including selling permits to carry weapons and misuse of funds meant for fuel and other needs. The scandals, mostly revealed by Semana magazine, have so far led to the firing of five Army generals, one of them imprisoned, and the jailing of nine more soldiers. One of the generals fired under a cloud of corruption allegations was the Army’s number-two commander, Gen. Adelmo Fajardo. Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán, meanwhile, revealed that Gen. Fajardo allegedly arranged to have his favored staff sergeants approved for officer training, even though they were not the most qualified candidates.
Non-commissioned officers, “the base of the Army, are furious,” Duzán reported. “There is a sense that too many generals are occupied more with benefiting from the perks of power than with serving the country, and that good soldiers and good officers are being left without power in the hierarchy, defeated not by a strategic enemy, but because they don’t want to participate in the feast of corruption.”
Duzán reveals something important here. The scandals that have buffeted Colombia’s Army this year have not originated from the work of human rights defenders or reporters. In all cases, the source of the information has been outraged members of the Army. That is new. Fifteen or twenty years ago, when the Army stood accused of working with paramilitary groups or committing extrajudicial executions, the sources were almost always victims, witnesses, or prosecutorial investigators. Now, the chief source is whistleblowers from within the institution: officers and soldiers who love the Army, believe that it has made important progress, and are deeply worried about the direction it is taking under current leadership.
On the other side is the “old guard,” at times allied with powerful retired officers, who opposed peace negotiations, resisted recent reforms, and who apparently believe that the key to victory is to lift commanders from the apparent burdens of accountability. Emblematic of that attitude is a January quote, revealed by Semana, and attributed to Gen. Diego Villegas, the commander of the military task force responsible for the conflictive Catatumbo region:
The Army of speaking English, of protocols, of human rights is over. What we have to do here is takedowns. And if we have to ally ourselves with the Pelusos [the EPL guerrillas] we will ally with them—we already talk to them—in order to fight the ELN. If we need to carry out hits, we’ll be hitmen, and if the problem is money, then there’s money for that.
We must hope that this quote is false, or at least that the number of “old guard” officers who really think this way is small. We must also hope that the high command—Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez—is not inclined toward the “old guard.” If they are, and if this faction is large, then Ambassador Whitaker’s sunny portrayal of today’s Colombian military is a sad caricature.
The high command’s handling of these scandals gives us even greater reason for worry. Instead of pledging to clean house, protect whistleblowers, and demand the most honorable behavior of all officers, the Army’s counter-intelligence apparatus has been deployed on an internal campaign of polygraphs, surveillance, and interrogations to identify those who have leaked to the press. Gen. Martínez, the army chief, has denied knowledge of what Semana calls “Operación Silencio,” but the Procuraduría has unearthed evidence that his denials are false: that the General in fact ordered the witch hunt. The Army’s botched damage control effort has done harm to the institution’s credibility at a critical moment.
And this is a critical moment. The number of armed groups, and armed group members, continues to proliferate in regions of former FARC influence. Homicides increased for the first time in six years in 2018, and if they are slightly down in 2019, as a new report from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation points out, it is only because criminal groups have secured dominance in some zones, or made accords with competitors in other zones. If Colombia’s security forces were achieving important security gains, it is likely that public opinion would overlook some of these scandals. But they are not making gains. “We see a paralysis of the military forces with regard to security at the territorial level,” the Foundation’s Ariel Ávila noted, citing ongoing scandals and strategic drift under President Duque and Defense Minister Botero.
Much can be done about this, immediately. While the Duque/Uribe government will always have a conservative high command, it is possible for that high command to be simultaneously conservative, competent, and institutionally forward-looking. Such officers must be identified and promoted.
It is meanwhile imperative that whistleblowers within the armed forces be given maximum protections. They are our best source of “early warning” about the institution’s direction. Colombia’s Congress, courts, and Public Ministry must maintain their protection from retaliation as a high priority.
And finally, the U.S. government, the Colombian Army’s most important international counterpart, must do more than just sing the Army’s praises. It must keep its eyes wide open and voice concerns about backsliding, whether publicly or privately, in strong terms. The U.S. Congress must maintain conditions in foreign aid law that freeze some assistance pending progress on human rights. These are the best ways to ensure that Colombia’s armed forces can once again move toward Ambassador Whitaker’s idealistic description of them.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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+ communityand 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
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.
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:
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The New York Times recently exposed
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.
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
and photographer to leave the country.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 relayingreports 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.
A very good New York Timesanalysis by Nick Casey, which ran on May 17, looked at the Colombian government’s failures to honor commitments made in the 2016 FARC peace accord. It included this troubling finding:
Experts estimate that as many as 3,000 militants have taken up arms again — a figure equal to more than 40 percent of those who initially demobilized. It includes new recruits.
That’s correct, as written. However, more than one reader probably saw that and came away with the notion that “40% of the FARC have already rearmed.”
Some rearmament happens after nearly all peace accords, as dissident or residual groups form. But a recidivism rate of 40 percent would be disastrous. It would make it very hard to defend the notion that the government should honor its accord commitments.
Colombia’s past demobilizations saw much recidivism—but not 40 percent. Between 2002 and 2013, about 55,000 guerrillas and paramilitaries demobilized. About 20 percent went on to commit crimes, according to the official estimate.
How does the FARC process compare so far?
Let’s accept that figure of 3,000 members of FARC dissident groups, large and small, scattered around the country. That sounds right, even though the commander of Colombia’s army reported 2,000 members in March. The dissidences are growing fast, attracting some disillusioned fighters and recruiting from a large pool of underemployed rural youth.
Let’s say that 2,000 of them were once FARC members who demobilized. I think this estimate is a bit high, but we have no way to know: it’s impossible to do a survey of dissident fighters.
6,804 FARC fighters reported to demobilization sites in 2017, where they turned in a larger number of weapons to a UN mission, and remained for several months.
But that is not the entire universe of demobilized FARC fighters. One must add FARC members who were released from prison, and FARC militia members: part time, mostly urban guerrillas who had only to report to the demobilization zones for a few days.
That yields an entire universe of 13,061 former FARC members, the number that had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace as of late March, according to the UN Verification Mission.
2,000 recidivist fighters out of a universe of 13,061 would be 15 percent of all who demobilized. That’s bad, but not unusually high for a peace process, especially one in which the accord has been implemented so slowly and partially.
Because of that slow, partial implementation, and the evident lack of political support the accord has from Colombia’s current government, this percentage is bound to get worse. Every day right now, ex-guerrillas, tired of uncertainty and poor economic prospects, may be accepting the dissidents’ offers.
On March 11 Colombian President Iván Duque threw the country’s peace process into semi-paralysis. He formally “objected” to parts of the law underlying the transitional justice system that the accords had set up for judging ex-combatants’ human rights crimes. The “objections,” essentially a line-item veto, sent back to Colombia’s Congress a law that originally passed in November 2017. Today, Colombia’s Senate is to vote on the objections, a major milestone in this labyrinthine process.
Without an underlying “Statutory Law,” the transitional-justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), can function but is badly hobbled. The JEP is a special tribunal, developed after 19 months of contentious negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana, to judge those on both sides who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. In exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims, the JEP sentences war criminals to up to eight years of “restricted liberty,” not quite prison. This was enough to convince 13,000 FARC guerrillas to demobilize, making the JEP the backbone of the 2016 peace accord. But the perception of leniency has made it unpopular and vulnerable to political attack.
For the 11,000 ex-guerrillas and 1,950 military personnel who have signed up to be tried in the JEP, President Duque’s “objections” cause more delay and more uncertainty. And more uncertainty—even the possibility that the JEP Statutory Law could collapse—raises concern among ex-combatants that they could be imprisoned or even extradited to the United States. That possibility could cause hundreds, or even thousands, of ex-combatants to take up arms again. This is serious.
For readers coming to this story late, a bit of chronology is in order.
The government-FARC peace accord went into effect on December 1, 2016. That set in motion a 12-month countdown in which Colombia’s Congress had “fast track” authority to quickly pass legislation needed to implement the accord. Just before the “fast track” deadline, at the very end of November 2017, Congress finally passed the Statutory Law for the JEP. Legislators added some problematic provisions, but at least the JEP had a legal underpinning.
The law then passed to Colombia’s highest judicial review body, the Constitutional Court, to assess its constitutionality. In August 2018, the Court signed off on most of the law. In December 2018, the Constitutional Court published its 980-page decision.
That set off a three-month countdown for President Duque, who took office in August 2018, to sign the bill into law. Just before that deadline, on March 11, Duque sent the Statutory Law back to Congress with objections to six of its 159 articles. They mainly had to do with reparations, the definition of “maximum responsible” war criminals, and extradition procedures.
Duque’s objections drew an outcry from peace accord supporters, both within Colombia and in the international community. Opposition legislators, led by former government peace negotiator Juanita Goebertus, used a newly won “right of rebuttal” to broadcast a video laying out the dangers posed by Duque’s move.
The only international government to support Duque’s actions was the Trump administration, in the person of Ambassador Kevin Whitaker, who went on national radio and met with members of Congress to argue for the objections that would ease extradition to the United States.
What happens now?
The JEP Statutory Law went to Colombia’s Congress, which is charged with voting to accept or reject President Duque’s objections. Colombia’s House and Senate vote separately. As we understand it, there are three possible outcomes:
If both houses of Congress uphold Duque’s objections, they go back to the Constitutional Court for review. That Court already approved the law’s provisions after exhaustive review in 2018, so it would be likely to overturn the objections again.
If both houses reject the objections, Duque must sign the bill into law as is, which would be a huge political defeat for him.
If the two houses of Congress split, it’s not clear what might happen, as this situation has never come up under Colombia’s 1991 constitution. Probably, the six objections would be “archived,” and the law would go to the Court’s review without them. But it’s possible that the whole JEP law could get “archived,” or shut down, which would be disastrous. The Constitutional Court will have to decide.
On April 8, Colombia’s House of Representatives dealt President Duque a blistering defeat, voting 110-44 against his objections, with moderate and centrist parties joining the left. (This owed partly to concern about torpedoing the peace process, and partly to an unwillingness to hand Duque’s party a big political victory six months before nationwide gubernatorial and mayoral elections.) That eliminated option 1 above.
It is now up to the Senate to decide whether option 2 or option 3 will prevail. The vote will probably be closer there, not least because a senator from Duque’s party currently holds the body’s presidency. Analyses in Colombia’s media, though, indicate a majority of senators is likely to reject Duque’s objections, which would preserve the Statutory Law as is and deal an embarrassing blow to Iván Duque.
Duque’s supporters know this, and they have used gambits and delaying tactics to delay the Senate vote. Opposition observers worry that the governing party has been using the extra time making promises of patronage, like party positions in ministries, in order to turn the votes of enough moderate senators to gain a majority.
The vote is scheduled for today, Monday, April 29. Unless there are further delays, by Tuesday we should know whether President Duque’s objections have succeeded in keeping the JEP, and the peace process, in a state of semi-paralysis. This is an important vote.
The below post features a letter from several members of Colombia’s Congress who support full implementation of the peace accord. They emphatically reject views that U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker expressed in some unusual early April meetings with Colombian legislators. An account of these meetings was first reported in the Bogotá daily El Espectador. That report showed Whitaker, a career diplomat now completing his fifth year as ambassador, hinting that
All U.S. aid to Colombia may be cut if Congress rejects President Iván Duque’s objections to the law underlying the transitional justice system. Colombia’s House overwhelmingly rejected those objections on April 8
President Trump may “decertify” Colombia in September for being a poor partner in the drug war.
The extradition of former FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich is a “point of honor” for the U.S. government.
The letter continues:
Denouncing the Ambassador of the United States in Colombia’s Intrusion
We, the undersigned Members of Congress, affirm the following:
We reject the U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker’s open intrusion into Colombia’s domestic politics. We do not consider the intervention into the legislative debate a legitimate exercise of his diplomatic privileges in Colombia, especially in regard to the transitional justice system and the peace process. Thus, any form of political pressure on members of the Legislative or Judicial branches, even in the form of statements or suggestions in a public forum, are inadmissible. The role of diplomacy is to cultivate and maintain good relations between countries, people, and governments and not to get involved in the country’s own political issues and democratic functions.
We express our solidarity with John Jairo Cárdenas, representative of the Chamber of Representatives and member of the U Party on the Chamber’s Peace Commission, in light of the announcement from the U.S. Embassy suspending his visa. We consider this action to be an unwarranted conflict in our normally cordial bilateral relations. We are willing to respond proportionately to express our dissatisfaction with the treatment given to our fellow Representative Cárdenas.
We additionally establish that the position taken by the U.S. ambassador regarding the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and its legality contradicts the statements and positioned that the U.S. government has adopted in its capacity as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council. Jonathan Cohen, the previous ambassador from the United States, issued the following statement in the name of his government: “We reaffirm the importance of Colombia’s enforcement of the Statutory Law of the JEP, as it empowers the judicial body to act in an independent and effective manner.
We ask that President Iván Duque Márquez, acting through the offices of Chancellor Carlos Holmes Trujillo, communicates this position from the National Government of Colombia rejecting this act violating our national sovereignty.
Erlendy Cuero Bravo was honored by Johns Hopkins University on February 18 in a ceremony in Baltimore for her tireless defense of Afro-Colombian human rights despite repeated threats to her life.
While global attention has concentrated on the grave humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, Cuero Bravo focused her Washington D.C. on sounding the alarm about neighboring Colombia’s protracted civil conflict and the fragility of the 2016 peace deal that faces daily threats from the Colombian government.
Cuero Bravo is the vice president of AFRODES, an organization fighting for the rights of Afro-Colombians displaced by armed conflict. AFRODES was founded in 1999 and represents a coalition of 96 organizations with over 90,000 members. Cuero Bravo accepted the Anne Smedinghoff Award and presented her work before Johns Hopkins students and faculty.
“I am originally from a small village in Buenaventura,” she said. “But I fled to Cali after my father was murdered.”
Beginning with the loss of her father, Cuero Bravo has endured a succession of threats and tragedies from her activism. One of AFRODES’s most visible leaders, she represents a default target for armed groups. Though finally granted state protection after a series of bureaucratic delays, she now lives in hiding in a situation she compares to a drug trafficker evading the law.
Armed groups have gone so far as to threaten Cuero-Bravo’s children. “I thought that if I am going to die defending the work I do, that’s one thing, but I will not stand to allow anything to happen to my child,” she said.
Cuero Bravo dismissed many state protection measures as completely ineffective. She described one protection protocol as simply a daily visit from police to see if the social leader is still alive. In another, a social leader is taken to a hotel for five days before moving back to the threatened area.
“The only weapon we have is our words,” she said.
In a separate meeting with WOLA and other human rights organizations, Cuero Bravo detailed disproportionate impact of both poverty and violence on Afro-Colombian women. Threats of physical violence come from criminal gangs, paramilitaries, small-scale drug traffickers, and false accusations from the police that target human rights defenders.
The circumstances of deprivation that displaced Afro-Colombians and others are enduring have recently become obscured by the Venezuelan refugee crisis.
“We want to help our Venezuelan sisters and brothers,” Cuero Bravo said during the event with WOLA. “But it’s hard to see President Duque promising immediate aid to them while we [the displaced population in Colombia] still don’t have access to education, housing, or schools for our children.”
Cuero Bravo expressed her concern that the influx of Venezuelan refugees will present Colombia’s internally displaced population with a competition for resources and exacerbate the unemployment that feeds the country’s cycle of violence.
The high unemployment and economic stress afflicting displaced communities and ethnic minorities creates an environment that enhances the vulnerability for young people to be recruited into illegal trafficking or gang-related groups. Many armed groups focus on recruiting children due to the reduced legal penalties for children under the age of 18.
What worries Cuero Bravo most is the lack of hope she sees in her community’s youth. “The young people see the toll it takes to fight for our rights, and now they don’t want to be social leaders anymore.”
Still, Cuero Bravo pointed to several positive signs of progress in the Afro-Colombian community. Youth programs, like one in Cali that supports 1300 young people with access to education and job training, have the potential to significantly decrease the violence in the region.
“There are so many resources in Colombia,” Cuero Bravo said. “There’s no reason why Colombia shouldn’t be a rich country.”
Written by Julia Friedmann, Colombia Program Intern
Indigenous and Afro-Colombian civil society leaders denounced the assassination crisis which has claimed the lives of 58 minority social leaders during a historic hearing before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) on February 15.
The hearing, jointly requested by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the National Association of Displaced Afro-descendants (AFRODES), the Consultancy for Human Rights (CODHES), WOLA, and the Center for Justice and International Law, allowed indigenous leaders to raise their concerns about enhanced environments of violence in their communities.
Indigenous civil society representatives from the departments of Amazonas, Putumayo, and others called on the Colombian government to enhance security in their communities. Andro Pieguaje, a representative of the Siona people in the Putumayo Department, reminded IACHR that indigenous and Afro-Colombian security has only worsened after the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC.
“The post-conflict situation has left [indigenous] territories abandoned,” Pieguaje said. “We’re left with paramilitaries and narco-paramilitaries who fight to control our territories and their resources, as well as the illicit crops.”
Identifying the Problem Becomes Difficult with Two Stories and Two Sets of Facts
Civil society and Colombian government representatives disputed the number of social leaders assassinated and threatened since 2016.
According to ONIC data presented by Patricia Suárez, 206 indigenous people have been murdered and 6,580 displaced since 2016. Twenty minutes later, the Colombian General Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General) identified just 38 murders during the same period. During questioning, the Colombian state justified their statistics by noting that they came from the United Nations.
Both civil society and the government agreed on the location of the crisis. The regions registering the greatest threats to indigenous leaders were listed as Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Chocó, La Guajira, Nariño, Antioquia, Putumayo, and Norte del Santander.
“The map of the affected areas and damage directly corresponds to an ethnic map [of Colombia],” said one of the lawyers representing civil society.
The humanitarian crisis in Colombia’s indigenous communities extends beyond the assassination of social leaders. “I’m here to bring the voice ofthe 102 indigenous nations of Colombia,” said one representative of the Naza people in Cauca. “The majority of us are living through the disappearance and extermination of our cultural identity.”
The Government’s Response
Government representatives rejected the accusations from civil society that their protection efforts were insufficient.
Referring to a government report, one Colombian state representative identified five factors that correlated with the assassinations. Four of the five factors blamed competition between armed extra-governmental actors, while one pointed to the “slow stabilization” of former FARC territory.
Pablo Elías González defended the government’s protection record. As the head of the National Protection Unit (UNP), he stated that 441 Afro-Colombian and 536 indigenous leaders had received protection. He also described the UNP practice as a dialogue with each individual in order to maximize their applicability to each culture.
Indigenous civil society representatives consistently cited the government’s slow response to protection as the deciding factor behind the violence. They also noted that the National Protection Unit (UNP) process was slowed by excessive bureaucratic hurdles and, when it was granted at all, often worsened the surrounding community’s security.
“The state lacks political will, because the process is slow enough that many leaders are killed before receiving protection,” Suárez said.
Súarez also pushed back against the government’s claim that it was implementing consultation-based policies. “We’ve showed up, and we’ve added our voices, but in practice there aren’t any advances [in indigenous security,” she said.
Indigenous leaders proposed 10 mandates for both the IACHR and the Colombian government.
The recommendations focused on rapid investigations and response to murders and threats, prior consultation with indigenous communities about their protection, implementation of the Ethnic Chapters of both the 2016 peace accord and the 2018 National Development Plan, and a request that the CIDH visit the affected territories and hold the Colombian government accountable for implementing enhanced protection.
The hearing was intended to bring international pressure to bear on a Colombian government that has historically neglected ethnic minorities. The alarming number of social leaders killed in Colombia represents, as Súarez noted, a “lack of political will.”
Written by Julia Friedmann, Colombia Program Intern