Indigenous Leader’s Message: Help Colombia Solidify Peace

Marcia Mejía Chirimia, of the Sia indigenous community in the southwestern Pacific region of Colombia, is visiting the U.S. on a mission to garner support for Colombia’s peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). She forms part of CONPAZ (Communities Building Peace in their Territories), a coalition of 150 war affected communities throughout Colombia that advocate non-violence and peaceful resolution to conflict. Marcia and her CONPAZ colleagues argue that for the victims of the conflict peace is essential. She asks that the international community to increase its efforts to guarantee that the accord is implemented without changes and without any further delays.

According to Ms. Chirimia, victims’ voices were integrated into the accords. The final accord reflects what CONPAZ and many other victims recommended to the negotiating parties. The accord prioritizes truth and reconciliation over extended jail time. For victims, like herself, jail time would just lead to further suffering of not knowing the full truth of the dynamics that generated horrific massacres in the communities. She believes that victims can only begin to heal when they know the full truth and the perpetrators ask for forgiveness.

Ms. Chirimia debunks the notion perpetrated by former President Alvaro Uribe that the accord would foster impunity because prison time is not expressed. She thinks that jail time for perpetrators of abuses would only breed more resentment and vengeance towards the victims by the prisoners. Also that by placing them in jail it would guarantee that they would continue their criminal activities. CONPAZ argues that persons who committed crimes should be rehabilitated so they can become productive members of society. She adds that the FARC are not the sole causes of distress in ethnic communities. Paramilitaries, ELN, businessmen with economic megaprojects, and even some politicians, were also involved in abuses in these territories, and they should be held accountable. The accord would guarantee that all perpetrators are held to account.

She notes that many of the “No” voters did not suffer the worst consequences of the war and that many made a decision based on misinformation. As such, she thinks that all efforts to end this situation must include victims’ representatives especially indigenous and afro descendants who are hardest hit by violence. As victims, what comes next will affect their lives more than the lives of those voicing their distant opinions from cities like Bogotá. Areas with the largest numbers of victims voted a booming “Yes” for peace in the October 2 plebiscite.

Ms. Chirimia is also proud of the inclusion of an Ethnic Chapter in the final accord. She explains that this chapter was written by the Ethnic Commission that represents a good number of ethnic communities. It reflects their proposals constructed by the communities themselves– not the opinions of the government or the FARC. By denying advancement of the peace accord, the No proponents are ignoring the pressing needs of rural women, indigenous and Afro-Colombians peoples.

In sum, Ms. Chirimia is advocating for continued international support for Colombia’s peace process. The U.S. should redirect its military aid to Colombia towards social programs that help to construct peace on the ground. In her view, money should go towards effective crop substitution programs, the construction of viable roads to markets, demining project and land restitution. Any further negotiations between the government and the FARC and ELN guerrillas must guarantee victims’ rights to the truth, reparations, and peace. Beyond international authorities, she thinks that NGOs play a critical role in guaranteeing inclusion of ethnic communities’ minorities’ rights by pressuring the U.S. and Colombian authorities to monitor the process.

Ms. Chirimia, who has suffered death threats due to her activism in favor of her community, emphasizes that “the voices of those on the ground are strong, but often not loud enough to reach the right people. It is difficult, and often dangerous, to be a leader in this context – which is why they need international support.”

Despite new obstacles in the way, the triumph of the “No” has certainly not defeated her. She promised to continue fighting for the peace they dream of.

—Cristina Camacho, WOLA Colombia Program intern

Tags: Indigenous Communities, Plebiscite, Transitional Justice

October 21, 2016

Post-Plebiscite Process Is on the “Best-Case Scenario” Track

Pro-peace demonstration in central Bogotá. Photo from La Silla Vacía.

On October 3, after the FARC peace accord’s narrow rejection in a plebiscite vote, our analysis listed several negative consequences that Colombia will face if the peace accord impasse is not resolved quickly.

Since then, the parties have taken steps to stave off some of those consequences.

The UN monitoring and verification mechanism remains. On October 3, we wrote, “Now, with no accord to implement, the UN mission’s present role and immediate future are unclear.” An October 7 communiqué from the Colombian government and the FARC clears this up somewhat:

“The tripartite monitoring and verification mechanism, with the participation of the government and the FARC-EP and the coordination of the United Nations mission, will be in charge of monitoring and verifying compliance with the protocol, particularly compliance with the rules for the ceasefire.
“With this purpose, we ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and through him the Security Council, to authorize the UN Mission in Colombia to exercise the functions of monitoring, verification, resolution of differences, recommendations, reports, and coordination with the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism foreseen in Resolution 2261 (2016) with reference to the mentioned Protocol.
“At the same time, we invite the countries that contribute to the Mission with unarmed observers to continue deploying their men and women, who will continue to count with all necessary security guarantees.”

UN-led monitoring of the ceasefire will be more difficult without guerrillas concentrated into zones around the country, as originally planned in the accord. Nonetheless, it decreases the chances of the ceasefire breaking down, at least over the next few months. Though President Santos announced an October 31 deadline for the ceasefire, its extension past that date is widely seen as probable.

The pilot coca substitution program continues. On October 3 we wrote, “Efforts to implement a new strategy for reducing coca cultivation, as foreseen in the accord, will be delayed, while coca planting continues expanding rapidly around the country.” While this remains a risk, the government-FARC pilot program to help coca growers abandon the crop in the town of Briceño, Antioquia, will continue its work without interruption. The October 7 communique reads:

“We will continue advancing in the launching of humanitarian confidence-building measures, such as the search for disappeared persons, pilot plans for humanitarian demining, voluntary substitution of illicit-use crops, commitments with respect to the exit of minors from encampments, and on the situation of people deprived of liberty.”

Peace talks with the ELN. On October 3, we wrote, “Peace talks with the smaller ELN guerrilla group, which were already adrift, are not likely to see a formal start in the near future.” This prediction was dead wrong: on October 10, government and ELN negotiators announced that formal talks will begin in Quito, Ecuador, on October 27.

Our October 3 analysis laid out a “best-case scenario” in which “the parties… agree quickly on a new agenda, taking into account the concerns of Colombia’s political right, with a clear timetable,” then “move determinedly in a process that revises the accords in a matter of weeks.” So far, that best-case scenario is playing out.

All sides—the government, the FARC, and the “no” vote opposition, led by Ex-President Álvaro Uribe—continue to insist on maintaining the peace talks. Friday’s awarding of President Juan Manuel Santos with the Nobel Peace Prize lent great weight to the government’s position and increased pressure on Uribe to avoid being viewed as the culprit for a possible collapse of the process. Revelations of deceptions employed by, and large donations to, the “no” side further decreased its room for political maneuver. And a growing series of public demonstrations in favor of peace has helped tip the political balance.

Today (October 13), Ex-President Uribe published his side’s demands for changes to the accords [PDF]. The FARC is certain to reject some of these proposed adjustments. Still, the list is surprisingly moderate—more realistic than ideological. Rather than dig in their heels for a radical renegotiation of an accord, Uribe and his party:

  • Ask for “effective privation of liberty” for fully confessed war crimes: not necessarily prison (the document mentions “agricultural colonies”), but more austere than the vague “effective restriction of liberty” foreseen by the peace accord.
  • Allow FARC representatives to have 10 automatic congressional seats for 8 years, but exclude from those seats those accused of war crimes.
  • Recommend, but do not insist on, a return to aerial herbicide fumigation.

A new accord may be several weeks or even a few months away. Nonetheless, the Uribe proposal’s general lack of overreach, combined with commitments to preserve the ceasefire and good news from other quarters, offers hope that post-plebiscite Colombia remains, for now, on the “best-case scenario” track.

Tags: Crises, Plebiscite

October 13, 2016

Ten analyses to guide reflection on a tumultuous week

Today marks a week since Colombians’ narrow “No” vote in a national plebiscite plunged into uncertainty a peace accord with the FARC guerrillas that took four years to negotiate. A week marked by guerrillas pulling back to jungle safe zones, a newly ascendant Ex-President Álvaro Uribe meeting with his nemesis, President Juan Manuel Santos, for the first time in more than five years, and finally with Santos winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

A week like that doesn’t lend itself to calm reflection. But today is Sunday, most of us don’t have to work, and it’s a good time to step back, seek some solitude, and think a bit more deeply about how this crisis can be overcome without loss of life, and without throwing away all that has been gained since 2012.

A mountain of analysis has been produced over the past seven days. Of the portion that I’ve seen, here are ten that I think would be most useful in guiding that reflection. Most are in Spanish, but Google Translate should give the gist.

—Adam Isacson

  • Explicar el fracaso (“Explaining the failure”), Héctor Abad Faciolince, El País (Spain)

“In Colombia, as in the whole world, the democratic struggle plays out between an old and tired political class (somewhat reasonable, as corrupt as always, and discredited by decades of ferocious criticism from us, the ‘intellectuals’) against another political class that is less reasonable, more corrupt than what is traditional, but charged up with populist slogans and foolishness. Populism, the vulgar demagogy, has triumphed around the world. Berlusconi was the prologue, because Italians are the magicians of ‘trending topics’ and invent everything first. Later came Chávez, Putin, Uribe, Ortega. Will Trump and Le Pen come next? Perhaps. They are all perfect demagogues, kleptocrats who denounce the old kleptocracy. The people prefer to vote for them in the name of ‘change.’ A leap into the unknown? Yes. A leap into the unknown is preferable to the boredom of reasonableness. Reasonableness doesn’t provide votes: it produces yawns. And what the voters fear most is to be bored.”

“The forces that oppose a liberal modernization have won again this time, with the plebiscite. What has been defeated isn’t a model of justice, but a bet on building a true nation through politics, as the great democracies of the world have done, instead of doing so through war, as many nations have done under fascist or communist models. This bet has been thrown in the garbage can by the majority.… So our future could possibly be a peace accord that arrives late, surely irrelevant, that manages to end the war but not to build a stable and lasting peace.”

“The realization of this social and political pact for peace and its implementation can be achieved via different legal channels, compatible with the constitution and the already signed accord. Without trying to be exhaustive, it is possible to mention the following, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages, which we must evaluate: i) an extra-juridical pact that has no legal value but that would be implemented through ordinary legal channels; ii) an adjustment to the accord that could be submitted to a new plebiscite, which is possible because it would be a new accord, and would be backed by the social and political agreement, which would guarantee its triumph and allow the setting in motion of the special implementation mechanisms…; iii) a constitutional convention of limited scope and mixed tasks: to debate and incorporate, without possibility of modification, the consensus topics in the Havana accord (a sort of constitutional fast track), and to discuss the topics of disagreement. I prefer the second option…”

“So far, all declarations have been politically correct and a way forward appears to have opened up. The government would listen to the proposals to modify the accord formulated by those who received majority support at the polls, and later it would bring them to the table in Havana to negotiate the changes. However, the reality is very different and the panorama is darker. For this option to be successful, the proposals from uribismo would need to be moderate, the FARC would need to be willing to renegotiate, and the President would need to adjust the aspirations of one side and the other. And the truth is that none of these three conditions appears to be being met.”

“Which of these scenarios will take shape? Four factors are going to influence heavily the way things turn out. They are the armed forces, citizen mobilization, the international community, especially the United States, and the ELN.”

“In Uribe’s deployment of social media, in his reactionary populism, and in the angry slogans and feelings on display at his noisy rallies, there are uncanny parallels to Donald Trump—and, for that matter, to the anti-E.U., anti-immigrant demonstrations that were held across United Kingdom in the lead-up to the Brexit vote, last June. And, as with Brexit, the No campaign had no realistic alternative at the ready—no better peace deal.”

“I see three possible paths: he [Álvaro Uribe] can dedicate himself to delaying and slowing this process as he has been doing, until he arrives—through a figurehead—back in the presidential palace; he can keep his word and not move one iota, obligating all of us to return to war; or he could take this third option which is what I want to suggest to him: change a couple of things in the accord, approve what you can, and appear in the photo as the great redeemer who saved us from castro-chavismo. Today, Senator Uribe, another lie from you is the only thing that can save us.”

  • Así es el país que votó No (“This is the nation that voted No”), Juan Esteban Lewin, Daniel Morelo, Daniela Garzón, Camilo A. Quiroga G., La Silla Vacía

A series of interactive maps, including this one:

“Here, as always, the people aren’t called to build peace, but to approve the peace that the experts design far away from the village and the barrio. Who told Santos that the solemn signing of a peace accord in a tattered country should happen in a VIP ceremony designed only for the international grandstand, in the most elitist city in the country, leaving aside not just the humble people of that same city, but even the national media?”

  • Mentiras (“Lies”), Juan Gabriel Vásquez, El Espectador

“It’s evident: what went on here was a conspiracy in full force, and its objective was to fool the people. Nothing will happen, of course, because those who fooled so many are now—thanks to the same deceit—part of the negotiation, and they now have the power conceded to them by the superstition and the credulity of millions of Colombians. But one day we will have to undergo a test of conscience and define whether the fact that so many uribistas are in jail or fugitives from justice is a persecution, as they monotonously allege, or the natural result of Ex-President Uribe surrounding himself so often with people whose sense of decency is—to say it gently—turned down to a low volume.”

Tags: Crises, Plebiscite

October 9, 2016

A Post-“No” Recovery Requires Quick Action and Realism About What is Achievable

“The horrible night has ceased,” a tearful Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on September 26, quoting a line from his country’s national anthem. He was speaking before an audience of world leaders—the UN Secretary General, several Latin American presidents, the U.S. Secretary of State—at a joyful ceremony in the Caribbean port of Cartagena, where he and leaders of the FARC guerrilla group signed an accord to end a 52-year-old war.

A week later, it looks like the “horrible night” will go on for at least a bit longer. By a razor-thin margin, Colombians voted October 2 to reject the peace accord. The result confounded pollsters’ predictions and leaves the South American country wondering what comes next.

That is impossible to predict: during the plebiscite campaign, the government made clear that it had no “Plan B” if the accord was rejected. President Santos’s brief concession speech the evening of October 2 made clear that no plan exists.

A return to war is not inevitable. The FARC’s leadership says it will continue to seek peace. The leading proponents of the “no” vote, especially former President Álvaro Uribe, say they want dialogue with the Santos government on a “better” accord. Still, in the new post-plebiscite reality, those who seek war are more likely to get it.

In the best-case scenario, the parties will agree quickly on a new agenda, taking into account the concerns of Colombia’s political right, with a clear timetable. They will move determinedly in a process that revises the accords in a matter of weeks.

A Sobering List of Consequences

If this does not happen, however—in even a “medium-case” scenario in which the negotiations don’t collapse but suffer delays or a sense of drift—Colombia faces a grim list of negative outcomes.

  • The FARC is not going to spend this week concentrating its forces into 26 zones around the country to start an agreed-upon 6-month, UN-verified disarmament process. This plan was just getting underway, with the FARC declaring its troop strength, its weapons stockpiles, and its assets. However, with the accord laying out that procedure now invalidated, the disarmament timetable is frozen.
  • Even if the FARC wishes to undergo this process anyway, it cannot do so, as its members are all technically fugitives. A ceasefire between the government and the FARC, which is still in force, suspends arrest warrants for guerrillas. However, it can be lifted at any time, so the FARC’s members do not have legal guarantees.
  • Without verification or concentration, and without a clear direction for the talks’ future, the ceasefire—which has reduced armed conflict-related violence to mid-1960s levels— may become unstable, especially if efforts to arrive at a new accord drag on.
  • The UN, following two Security Council resolutions, has set up a monitoring and verification mechanism, with over 200 international observers ready to begin work immediately. Now, with no accord to implement, the UN mission’s present role and immediate future are unclear.
  • Peace talks with the smaller ELN guerrilla group, which were already adrift, are not likely to see a formal start in the near future. The Colombian electorate’s delegitimization of the FARC agreement strengthens hardliners within the ELN leadership who are wary of peace talks.
  • A prolonged state of “limbo” may cause a deterioration of FARC command and control over guerrillas in the field. Even if commanders in Havana remain committed to renegotiating, the number of fighters whom they can “deliver” for demobilization may drop as time passes. Fighters who would have demobilized may begin carrying out hostilities on their own, or forming or joining new criminal groups.
  • Efforts to implement a new strategy for reducing coca cultivation, as foreseen in the accord, will be delayed, while coca planting continues expanding rapidly around the country.
  • The White House’s proposed “Peace Colombia” aid package may suffer a deep cut. It was approved by both houses of Congress, but the 2017 foreign assistance budget law has not yet been reconciled, and may be rewritten after the U.S. presidential elections. The lack of a peace accord to implement may cause the US$450 million appropriation for Colombia to fall back to its 2016 level of about US$320 million. Meanwhile, other international donors may similarly redirect foreign aid funds to urgent needs elsewhere in the world, such as the Syrian refugee crisis.

A Shift to Surrender Negotiations?

Did Colombian voters know about these risks before they voted “no” (or in the case of 63 percent of voters, failed to vote at all) on October 2? Some did: a minority believe that the solution lies on the battlefield, and that the negotiations were premature. But many others believed that their “no” vote was a vote for a better peace accord.

Opponents said that voting “no” would force the government and guerrillas to renegotiate a pact with stronger punishments for guerrillas and soldiers guilty of war crimes. If such talks proceed in Havana, they will push for prison time for FARC leaders (perhaps similar to the five to eight years given to paramilitary leaders after they demobilized in 2006), rather than the nebulous “restriction of liberty” punishment laid out in the accords.

Opponents of the peace accord will also push to rescind the government’s concession of 10 automatic congressional seats (5 in the 102-person Senate and 5 in the 166-person House) for FARC members between 2018 and 2026. They also wish to reduce the ambitious scope of promised investments in rural development programs, which Ex-President Uribe insists Colombia can’t afford.

A renegotiation that waters down these government concessions would result in an accord that looks more like terms of surrender. This is only possible if Colombia’s government is in a position to demand surrender. That is far from clear. For Colombians in urban areas, who have not strongly felt the conflict’s impact in years, perhaps a surrender negotiation seems like the way to go. But consider:

  • In the 12 years between Plan Colombia’s 2000 launch and the peace talks’ 2012 inauguration, the conflict killed nearly 25,000 Colombians in combat, plus a similar number of civilians. The result was a two-thirds weakening of the FARC, from about 20,000 to about 6,000-7,000 members.
  • Would it take a similar effort to weaken the FARC by another two-thirds, which would render them about as strong as the smaller ELN group is today? (Recall that peace talks with the ELN still haven’t started.)
  • Even with this correlation of forces, it took negotiators four long, uninterrupted, intense years of formal talks to achieve the accord that was rejected yesterday. Of those four years, nineteen months were spent negotiating the part of the accord that deals with war crimes.

These are not characteristics of surrender negotiations. The FARC has no chance of taking power on the battlefield. But it still has wealth and the capacity to carry out hostilities in many regions throughout Colombia. A renegotiation on tougher terms is not a certainty. (Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle, who tendered his resignation the morning of October 3, seems to recognize this.)

Needed Now: Clarity and Momentum

The way forward is not clear. But it needs to become clear soon. A situation of drift and crisis is unsustainable, and could lead to an outcome that the vast majority of Colombians do not want: either a collapse of the talks and a return to war, or a disintegration of the FARC into structures that would be impossible to demobilize.

As soon as possible, renewed talks need an agenda, possibly a timetable, and a sense of what is achievable.

The international community and the United States have a very important role to play. The administration and Congress must send clear signals that they continue to support President Santos’s negotiation effort, and that they desire a quick resumption of talks with a new and achievable agenda. It is at crucial moments like these that the flexible, supportive role of Special Envoy Bernie Aronson is most important. To the extent that diplomatic efforts can help get things back on track, Washington should spare none.

Tags: Accords, Plebiscite

October 3, 2016

A Day To Celebrate–And Many Days of Work Ahead

WOLA looks forward to witnessing the historic ceremony, scheduled for 6:00PM Eastern time in Cartagena, Colombia, at which Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group will sign a peace accord to end a bloody armed conflict that began in 1964.

This is an occasion to celebrate. It is a time to thank all who made it possible: both sides’ negotiating teams, who worked doggedly for four years; President Juan Manuel Santos, who took the initiative to open a dialogue; Norway and Cuba, the two guarantor countries; Venezuela and Chile, the two accompanying countries; U.S. Special Envoy Bernie Aronson; E.U. Special Envoy Eamon Gilmore; German Special Envoy Tom Koenigs; the UN presence in Colombia, the International Committee of the Red Cross; the civil society and victims’ organizations who worked to improve the accord’s content; and the many Colombian and international experts who gave their time to advise the dialogues.

This is also an occasion to pause and reflect, to honor the armed conflict’s millions of victims. In the coming years, we hope and expect that Colombia will fulfill the accord’s commitments in a way that fully and consistently restores and upholds their dignity and holds the victimizers accountable.

The coming months and years won’t be easy. Colombia’s to-do list is long and multi-faceted. Combatants must be disarmed and reintegrated. Tens of thousands of landmines must be cleared. A complex and credible transitional justice system must be set up. Ex-combatants must be physically protected, as should human rights defenders and civil-society leaders. And most challenging of all, Colombia must quickly bring real governance to vast areas where armed groups have long reigned, and where illicit economies continue to thrive.

The peace accord being signed today offers a blueprint for achieving all of this, and for launching Colombia into a new and more prosperous phase of its history. But now comes the difficult work of turning that blueprint into a solidly constructed house, one in which all Colombians can live. This will be expensive, will yield slow results, and will meet some powerful opposition. But making the accords’ commitments into reality is the right thing to do.

For that reason, WOLA hopes that the Colombian people will vote “yes” to approve the accords in the plebiscite scheduled for October 2. And we look forward to monitoring closely Colombia’s effort to comply with its peace accord commitments, as well as the U.S. government’s contributions to that effort.

Tags: Accords

September 26, 2016

Excerpts From the August 24 Announcement of a Final Peace Accord Between the Colombian Government and the FARC

The Joint Communiqué

The end of the conflict will mean the opening of a new chapter of our history. It means beginning a transition phase that may contribute to a greater integration of our territories, a greater social inclusion—especially of those who have lived at the margins of our development and have suffered the conflict—and strengthening our democracy so that it may be deployed in all of the national territory, and that it may assure that social conflicts are mediated through institutions, with full security guarantees for those who participate in politics.

Statement of chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle

Surely the accord we’ve achieved isn’t a perfect accord. But with the same honesty and frankness with which we’ve informed public opinion, now I want to make clear that I have the certainty that it is the best possible accord. We all probably would have wanted something more. We here at the table would have wanted something more. But the accord achieved here is the viable accord, the best possible accord.

Many Colombians would want punishment for the FARC. But also, with the same fervor, we would have to ask the same punishment for all responsible. State agents who deviated from their mission, and third parties who financed serious crimes and massacres. The violence of the other cannot justify one’s own violence. With the application of transitional justice, and with the launching of mechanisms for truth and reparations, what is sought is that this society may understand that there is no such thing as “good violence.” That the only legitimate reaction against crime is the democratic power of the state. That straying beyond this path brings the unleashing of violence that feeds on itself and perpetuates the confrontation. Non-repetition is something that we demand of the FARC with firmness. But this should also be a great national commitment. Nobody in the future should encourage forms of the poorly named “private justice.”

In the regular justice system, punishment plays a dissuasive role. The sanctions foreseen in the accord have, instead, a great restorative content. …Many victims wish to heal their wounds, know the truth, and see those responsible admit their guilt. The sanctions contemplated in the Special Justice system fulfill this purpose. It is a case without precedent that, in the middle of a conflict in real time, the antagonists could achieve an accord to punish the most serious crimes.

I thank those who have expressed reservations and criticisms. This is a legitimate exercise. It has also been useful for us at the table. They are not enemies of peace. The enemies of peace are those who have filled social networks with fallacies and myths.

Statement of chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez

Regrettably, in all wars, but especially in those of long duration, errors are committed and the population is involuntarily affected. With the signing of the peace accord, which implicitly brings the commitment of non-repetition, we hope to dispel, definitively, the risk that weapons may again be used against citizens.

To the government of the United States that for so long supported the state’s war against the guerrillas and against social inconformity, we ask that it keep supporting, in a transparent way, Colombian efforts to re-establish peace, always expecting from Washington humanitarian gestures that coincide with the kindness that characterizes the majority of the American people, friends of concord and solidarity. We continue to await Simón Trinidad.

We hope that the ELN may find its own path, so that the peace that we long for may be completed fully, and in so doing involving all Colombians.

President Juan Manuel Santos

Mothers should not bury their children.

Our children, our campesinos, our soldiers, should not keep suffering the mutilations of antipersonnel mines.

We don’t want more young people as cannon fodder in an absurd and painful war.

We Colombians have the right to recover hope in a better future.

With this accord we will stop being viewed as a dangerous country, and more investment, more tourism, and more employment will come.

With this accord I leave in your hands the opportunity to end the war with the FARC.

The former members of the FARC—now without weapons—may gain access to the nation’s political life, in democracy. They must, just like any partisan organization, convince citizens through proposals and arguments in order to be elected.

Until 2018 they will have some spokespeople in the Congress, with voice but without a vote, to discuss only issues related to the implementation of the accords.

Starting at that moment, they will participate in elections with a minimum representation assured for two congressional terms, if they do not achieve the minimum necessary vote.

Tags: Accords

August 25, 2016

Colombia’s 52-Year-Old Conflict with the FARC Comes to an End

Negotiators from the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group are to make a historic announcement on the evening of Wednesday, August 24. After 54 months of exploratory and formal negotiations in Havana, Cuba, they have reached an agreement to end an armed conflict that began in 1964.

Both sides’ negotiators posed for a photo last night.

That conflict has killed over 220,000 Colombians, more than 80 percent of them non-combatants. The 7,000-member FARC, the largest leftist insurgency during that period, is responsible for roughly one-fifth to one-third of these killings. (Colombia’s security forces and pro-government paramilitary groups committed most of the rest.) The FARC carried out the majority of kidnappings, use of anti-personnel mines, attacks on population centers, and attacks on infrastructure, and a significant share of forced displacement, recruitment of minors, and sexual violence. It has supported itself financially through extortion and an ever deeper involvement in cocaine production.

Once this accord is implemented, for the first time in most Colombians’ lives, much of this activity will end, and Latin America’s third most-populous country will no longer face an armed group capable of generating violence on a national scale. Though regional challenges will persist, this peace accord is worthy of worldwide celebration.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization that has been closely following Colombia’s peace process since its inception congratulates both sides’ negotiators for four years of hard, disciplined work, with more than 50 rounds of formal talks. We congratulate Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for taking the audacious and politically risky step of launching the talks in 2012. We congratulate Colombia’s military for respecting civilian leaders’ decision to negotiate and for contributing constructively to the dialogues’ latter phases. We thank the “guarantor” countries, Cuba and Norway, and the “accompanying” countries, Chile and Venezuela, for their logistical support to the talks and for helping to keep the dialogues on track at their most difficult moments. We thank the special envoys sent by the governments of the United States, Germany, and the European Union, who played creative roles and contributed ideas.

The agreement to be revealed today is hundreds of pages long (it is not public yet, but earlier drafts in Spanish are here). It will include commitments on five substantive agenda points.

  • Colombia’s government has committed to making substantive investments in the rural small-landowner economy.
  • Reforms will ease the participation of political movements that have been excluded or even exterminated in the past.
  • A new approach to illicit coca cultivation will be based on governance and assistance, with forced eradication a last resort.
  • Colombia will launch a truth commission and a transitional justice arrangement that will grant alternative punishments to those who confess their involvement in war crimes.
  • Through an agreed process, guerrillas will turn over weapons to a UN mission and begin their reintegration into society.

We do not know yet how the negotiators defined some of the accord’s difficult remaining questions. It is possible that some elements, especially transitional justice, could be troubling and require revision by Colombia’s high courts.

What is happening today is just an announcement and (probably) the publication of the accords’ text. The parties will not be signing any documents yet, and it will be a while before the FARC begins turning in its weapons. Several steps remain, as WOLA described in a commentary published last week.

  • The FARC leadership will meet somewhere for its “10th Conference” to approve the accord. This is a necessary step for top leaders’ buy-in. It could also be a moment when internal dissent about the agreement manifests itself among guerrilla units. This is unlikely to be a big issue—FARC leaders have been informally discussing the accords for years, and many of them have spent time at the table in Havana—but it could be a hurdle on the way to demobilization.
  • Colombians will approve or disapprove the accord in a plebisciteto be held at least a month after President Santos sends the accord text to Congress (which could happen as soon as next week). The outcome of this vote is not certain, as the negotiations’ political opponents, like former President Álvaro Uribe, have garnered heavy news coverage. Though some pollsshow more than 60 percent of Colombians inclined to vote “Yes,” others show the two options in a virtual tie. Our guess is that, if the plebiscite is held in the afterglow of a final accord, a majority of Colombians will vote “Yes.” If Colombians should vote “No,” however, the peace accord may not go forward. President Santos and his negotiating team have said that they would not try to negotiate a new agreement.
  • Colombia’s Congress must approve a law that will amnesty guerrilla fighters accused of the political crime of “sedition” (not war crimes). The FARC have made clear that its members will not turn in weapons without a legal guarantee that they will not be arrested. Passage of an amnesty law (or a similar non-arrest guarantee) may hinge on the definition of “connected” political crimes: for instance, if guerrillas used the proceeds of drug trafficking to fund their “sedition,” can the drug trafficking be amnestied? (The answer will probably be “yes,” but some debate is likely.)
  • Once these issues are settled, we can expect a big, celebratory accord-signing ceremony, probably in Colombia. (This ceremony might occur shortly before the plebiscite.)
  • The day the final accord is formally signed is a watershed moment that the peace accords call “D-Day.” It formalizes a full, bilateral cessation of hostilities, and sets in motion a 180-day timetable for the FARC membership’s concentration in 31 gathering points around the country (23 village-sized zones and 8 encampments), at which they will gradually turn over weapons to a UN monitoring and verification mechanism. The FARC’s 7,000 members (plus an undetermined number of militia members and support personnel) will then enter into reintegration programs and convert to a political movement, while guerrillas and soldiers accused of war crimes will enter the transitional justice process.

The timetable for these steps is anyone’s guess, though sources are telling Colombian journalists that it could be completed very quickly—by early October. Deadlines and target dates have slipped before, though, so this process could take longer.

Once these steps are finished, Colombia will face serious challenges in the post-accord period. The FARC’s exit from the drug trade will not mean the end of the drug trade or the powerful, violent organized crime groups that participate in it. The 2,000-member, 52-year-old National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group remains active in some regions and has not yet begun formal peace talks. And strong doubts surround the Colombian government’s ability to fill the security vacuum and implement accords in at least 281 of the most poorly governed of the country’s 1,100 counties (the number comes from Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation).

Despite the challenges, the benefits of a peace deal are clear and compelling. As the database managed by the Colombian think-tank CERAC has shown, even the de-escalation that has accompanied the talks has probably prevented between 1,500 and 2,000 deaths. The past 13 months have seen the least political violence in Colombia since the conflict began half a century ago.

This accord is far from perfect, and huge challenges lie ahead. But the achievement being announced today is monumental, and worthy of celebration. WOLA salutes those who made it possible, and encourages the U.S. government and Congress to be as generous and patient with Colombia’s peace effort as they were during the armed conflict’s most intense years.

Tags: Accords, Plebiscite

August 24, 2016

Explaining Colombia’s Peace Plebiscite

Updated August 26, 2016

Note: this post reflects our current understanding of the plebiscite situation, which is very complex and hinges on details of Colombian law. We may revise the text; if we do, we will indicate all revisions clearly. Any revisions suggested in the comments will receive serious consideration.

Throughout the nearly four years of Colombia’s negotiations with the FARC guerrillas, President Juan Manuel Santos has promised to submit a final peace accord to a vote, so that it could enjoy the legitimacy of a public mandate. This idea is commendable, but risky: polls have usually shown a solid but not overwhelming majority of Colombians supporting the peace talks, and strongly opposing key elements like alternative punishments for human rights abusers, or allowing former guerrillas to participate in politics. The possibility that a “No” vote could undo the entire peace effort is too great to be dismissed.

Santos’s proposal for a plebiscite to approve the eventual accord became law last December. The FARC accepted the idea in principle in May. It received a formal green light on July 18, when Colombia’s Constitutional Court completed its review of the law [PDF], making modest changes.

What happens next—and what might happen next—is confusing. Here, in question-and-answer form, is our understanding of how the plebiscite is likely to move forward, based on a close reading of official documents and media coverage, and conversations with Colombian experts.

When might the plebiscite happen?

It must take place at least one month, and no more than four months, from the date that President Santos notifies Congress of his intention to convene it.

But here the timetable gets cloudy. Several things must happen in a closely orchestrated way. In order to do that, though, the plebiscite’s implementers will have to cut through some circular logic, in which B can’t happen until A is completed, yet A depends on B being completed.

On the evening of August 24, after government and FARC negotiators announced agreement on a final peace accord, President Santos announced that the plebiscite would take place on Sunday, October 2.

The timetable could look something like this (Note that, as indicated in the graphic, the positions of the amnesty law, the final signing, and the plebiscite have changed):

  • Negotiators in Havana finalize the peace accord. This requires agreement on how ex-combatants will be reintegrated into society, and on several points of disagreement that the draft accords inked since 2013 had postponed for later. (One such point—how judges will be selected for the tribunal that will decide war-crimes cases—was resolved by an agreement announced on August 12.) Nailing down all of these questions could take several more weeks, in the most optimistic of scenarios. After a week and a half of marathon sessions in Havana, government and guerrilla negotiators reached a final peace accord faster than expected. The parties announced the agreement on August 24. Once the accord is finalized, Colombia’s government must now undergo a huge effort to ensure that citizens know what it says.
  • The FARC leadership meets somewhere to hold its “10th Conference,” where they will discuss and make a final decision about the accord. This is necessary to guarantee mid-level commanders’ buy-in.
  • The government and FARC sign a final peace accord. This would happen at a celebratory ceremony, probably in Colombia, with many invited international delegations present. Much credible speculation surrounds Friday, September 23 as the target date.
  • FARC members begin to concentrate into 23 zones and 8 encampments around the country, where they will begin a six-month, UN-verified process of disarmament and demobilization. The June 23 accord [PDF] for a cessation of hostilities and disarmament calls for the FARC to begin concentrating its members within five days of the final peace accord’s signature.
  • On October 2, Colombians vote in the plebiscite to approve or disapprove the peace accord. If Colombians vote “No,” this timeline stops. Meanwhile, in its July 18 ruling, Colombia’s Constitutional Court decreed that the amnesty law (the next step on this list) cannot be enacted unless citizens have first approved the peace accords plebiscite.
  • Colombia’s Congress passes a law that, as agreed in the December 15 accord [PDF] on Victims, would amnesty the political crime of “rebellion” (sedition). Without this law, FARC members will not begin to demobilize for fear of arrest. “If there is no amnesty law, there will be no final accord,” FARC negotiator Carlos Antonio Lozada said in early August. The FARC have backed off of this position. The final accord suspends arrest warrants for FARC members until the amnesty law is passed. It also—in 29 of its 297 pages—lays out the text of the amnesty law that will be sent to Congress immediately after the plebiscite is approved. This will not be easy either necessarily be an easy step, as Colombia’s Congress must decide to what extent guerrilla fundraising activities—so-called “connected crimes” like extortion and narcotrafficking—count as “rebellion” if their purpose was to raise money for the FARC’s war effort. It is also unclear whether, at this point, Colombia would have to release thousands of FARC members serving prison sentences for “rebellion.”

These items may not necessarily occur in this order.

For one thing, the The Colombian government would prefer to hold the plebiscite after the final accord signing, so that voters are motivated to choose “Yes” during the honeymoon phase following a national celebration of peace. But the signing triggers the FARC’s concentration into zones within five days, and the FARC understandably resists leaving its members concentrated and vulnerable if Colombians end up voting “No” and nullifying the peace accords. It is still unclear how this complication might be resolved, though with only 7-10 days between signing and plebiscite, it may turn out to be a minor issue.

Tags: Ceasefire, Plebiscite, Ratification

August 16, 2016

Article: Internal Displacement in Colombia

Here is a Spanish PDF of an article in Defensor, the monthly magazine of the Mexico City human rights ombusdman, by WOLA Senior Associate Gimena Sánchez Garzoli. It looks at characteristics and considerations for Colombia’s longstanding crisis of forced internal displacement, as the country nears a post-conflict scenario.

Tags: Displacement, Victims

August 16, 2016

Summary of the FARC-Government Ceasefire and Disarmament Accord

(This summary was updated and corrected on June 24 to reflect new information.)

The accord agreed today, for “A Bilateral and Definitive Ceasefire, Cessation of Hostilities, and Laying Aside of Weapons,” closes the fifth of five substantive items on the FARC-government negotiating agenda. It sets out a roadmap for disarming and demobilizing the FARC after a final peace accord is signed. It foresees a swift process: a full turnover of guerrilla weapons within six months.

This is a tremendous milestone. What remains between now and a final, conflict-ending peace accord are details. Some of these will be thorny, and may require weeks or even a few months to unravel. But the hardest parts of the FARC peace process are now in the past.

Here is a quick English summary of the remarkable agreement announced today.

Timetable

  • The bilateral ceasefire and “leaving aside” of weapons will begin at the date and hour of the signing of a final accord. This date may be weeks or months from now, as the draft accords reached since 2013 have at least a few dozen points on which the parties could not reach final agreement.
  • The day after a final peace accord, Colombia’s security forces will redeploy in a way that facilitates the FARC membership’s movement to the 23 “Temporary Hamlet Zones for Normalization” described below. The government and FARC will provide these zones’ geographic coordinates to the UN monitoring mission (which is also described below).
  • Five days after a final peace accord, the FARC’s units will begin to move to these zones, following routes agreed upon between the government and FARC. The monitoring and verification mission will oversee this process, including the movement of the guerrillas’ individual weapons.
  • Once the FARC turns in a list of the combatants present in each Temporary Hamlet Zone, the government will suspend all outstanding arrest warrants for them. Those who can be amnestied—who do not face allegations of serious human rights crimes—may begin their “process of reincorporation into civilian life.”
  • Between seven and thirty days after a final peace accord, the FARC’s weapons stockpiles, as well as guerrilla militias’ arms and all explosives, must be moved to the Temporary Hamlet Zones under the supervision of the verification and monitoring mission.
  • Within 180 days, as discussed below, the UN mission should have control over all of the FARC’s weapons.

Concentration of Guerrilla Fighters

  • The parties will establish 23 “Temporary Hamlet Zones for Normalization” (Zonas Veredales Transitorias de Normalización), with 8 encampments inside each and an additional 8 encampments elsewhere in the country. These zones’ location has not been made public, if it is even decided yet. These zones and encampments will be located in municipalities listed in a June 24 Defense Ministry communiqué and mapped out below.

  • Each Temporary Hamlet Zone will be as large as a hamlet or vereda, an administrative division that is usually quite small (most of Colombia’s 1,100 counties have a few dozen veredas). Each must be accessible by road or river. Each may be expanded or reduced by mutual accord if necessary.
  • Each zone will be surrounded by a 1-kilometer buffer zone, in which neither the security forces nor the FARC may be present (except for those participating in the verification and monitoring mission). Military aircraft may not fly below 5,000 feet above the zones.
  • The FARC will be responsible for its combatants within each zone. Any FARC members who leave the zone must do so unarmed and out of uniform.
  • The FARC cannot use the zones “for demonstrations of political character.”
  • Any unarmed civilian government authorities within these zones will be able to continue performing their duties without interference. They may enter any part of the zones, except for the encampments within them, where the FARC will be lodged. No civilians may enter the encampments at any moment.
  • If the police or other armed government authorities need to enter a Temporary Hamlet Zone for some reason, they must arrange it beforehand with the verification and monitoring mechanism.
  • The FARC may provide education and other orientation to its fighters within these zones, while the government may perform other services (like health care or issuing ID cards) necessary for their reintegration into civilian life.
  • During the period in which the FARC are concentrated in these zones, 60 guerrillas will have permission to travel anywhere in the country to carry out tasks related to the peace accord. For each Temporary Hamlet Zone, 10 guerrillas will be able to travel anywhere in that department (province) to carry out such tasks. While traveling, these guerrilla representatives will have protection. Before they do so, they much store their weapons in containers overseen by the verification mission.

Monitoring and Verification

  • Members of the government, the FARC, and a UN mission approved by a January Security Council resolution will make up a tripartite monitoring and verification mechanism. This mechanism will be divided into eight regions and a larger number of local units—including one for each Temporary Hamlet Zone. The mechanism will have unlimited access to each of these zones.
  • The international component will be a UN mission made up of unarmed political observers. It will mainly be made up of members of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) countries. This international component will preside over all of the tripartite mechanism’s units, and will settle disagreements, issue recommendations, and publish reports.
  • This mechanism will verify that the parties are following the rules of the ceasefire. It will investigate incidents or violations, and will present recommendations to the government and FARC for how to prevent or correct them.

“Leaving Aside” (Dejación) of Weapons

  • The UN mission will receive the totality of the FARC’s armaments, which will be used to build three monuments.
  • “Leaving aside” weapons will consist of eight steps:
    • registration of the quantity and types of weapons brought into the Temporary Hamlet Zones;
    • identification of each individual’s weapons (the accord makes a distinction between the weapon each fighter carries, and additional weapons in guerrilla stockpiles);
    • monitoring and verification of weapons being carried by guerrillas in the encampments within the zones;
    • turnover of weapons to the UN mission;
    • storage or warehousing (almacenamiento) of the collected weapons, in containers within the zones that only the UN mission may access;
    • removal of the weapons from the zones; and
    • creation of three monuments built from the destroyed weapons: one at UN headquarters, one in Cuba, and one in Colombia.
  • 60 days after the signing of a final accord, the FARC must move its stockpiles (non-individual weapons), grenades and munitions to containers supervised by the UN mission.
  • By 90 days after the signing of a final accord, the FARC must turn over to the UN mission 30 percent of its individually carried weapons. Another 30 percent of individuals’ weapons must be turned over by 120 days after the signing of a final accord. The remaining 40 percent must be turned over by 150 days after the signing of a final accord. By 180 days after the signing of a final accord, the UN mission should have all guerrilla weapons.
  • The FARC must contribute to efforts to remove mines, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and other explosives.

Security Guarantees for Demobilized Guerrillas

  • The government will encourage political parties and other sectors throughout the country to sign a “National Political Pact” committing all to abandoning the combination of arms and politics and the promotion of violent organizations like paramilitary groups.
  • A National Security Guarantees Commission, presided by the President, will develop and oversee policies to dismantle such violent organizations.
  • A Special Investigative Unit in the Prosecutor-General’s Office will concentrate on the dismantling of organized crime and paramilitary groups and support networks.
  • A “mixed protection corps” to guarantee the security of demobilized FARC members will be created within the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit.
  • An Integral Security and Protection Program will be established to protect organizations, groups, and communities in historically conflictive territories.

Ratification of Peace Accords

  • A brief paragraph in the June 23 communique commits both sides support what Colombia’s Constitutional Court decides should be the proper procedure for a public vote to approve the contents of the peace accords. (The Court is currently deciding on a plebiscite in which voters would vote “yes” or “no.”)

Tags: Accords, Cease-Fire, Disarmament

June 23, 2016

English Translation of the ELN Peace Talks Agenda

On March 30, after more than two years of exploratory conversations, Colombia’s government and second-largest insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), reached agreement on an agenda for formal negotiations. This “public table of conversations” will take place in Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, and Cuba. Here is the negotiating agenda. This document’s Spanish original is here, in PDF format. This is a rush translation; feel free to suggest edits in the comments.

Accord for Dialogues for the Peace of Colombia Between the National Government and the National Liberation Army

The government of the Republic of Colombia (National Government) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), henceforward “the Delegations,” as a result of exploratory and confidential dialogues, and given their manifest disposition for peace, have agreed to install a public table of conversations to take on the points that have been established on the agenda, with the goal of signing a Final Accord to end the armed conflict and agree on transformations seeking a Colombia in peace with fairness.

The exploratory dialogues took place between January 2014 and March 2016 in the Republic of Ecuador, the Federative Republic of Brazil, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, whose governments acted as guarantors along with the Government of Norway; during this phase the governments of the Republic of Cuba and the Republic of Chile officiated as accompaniers. The National Government and the ELN express special recognition and gratitude toward all of them. The international community’s continued accompaniment is essential.

Recognizing that peace is a supreme good in every democracy, and with the objective of putting an end to the armed conflict, eradicating violence from politics; placing the treatment of victims’ situation at the center; and advancing toward national reconciliation through society’s active participation in the building of a stable of long-lasting peace, the Delegations have agreed:

  1. To install a public conversations table in Ecuador.
  2. The table’s sessions will take place in Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, and Cuba. These countries, together with Norway, are the guarantors.
  3. To carry out direct and uninterrupted conversations between the Government and ELN Delegations.
  4. To execute the agenda with the greatest speed and rigor.
  5. To develop the following agenda:

I. Agenda

1. Participation of Society in the Building of Peace

The participation of society will be:

a. That they make peace viable through initiatives and proposals in the course and context of this process.

b. On the themes of the agenda.

c. A dynamic and active exercise, inclusive and pluralistic, that permits the building of a common vision of peace that encourages transformations for the country and its regions.

2. Democracy for Peace

Democracy for peace is the purpose of this point of the accord:

a. To carry out a debate that permits examination of society’s participation in, and decisions about, the problems that affect its reality, and that can be channeled into constructive elements for society.

b. Treatment of conflicts with an eye toward building peace.

c. Review of the normative framework and guarantees for public demonstrations. Treatment of the legal situation of those accused and convicted for actions taken in the development of social mobilizations.

d. Participation of society in the construction of citizenship.

3. Transformations for Peace

The purpose of this point is to agree on transformations for peace, taking into account:

a. The transformative proposals elaborated by society, upheld by the results of point 2 of this agenda (“Democracy for Peace”).

b. Transformative programs to overcome poverty, social exclusion, corruption and environmental degradation, while seeking equity.

c. Alternative integral plans with a territorial focus, which constitute economic and productive options that benefit communities.

4. Victims

In the construction of a stable and lasting peace, the recognition of victims and their rights is essential, as is the treatment and resolution of their situation based on truth, justice, reparations, and commitments of non-repetition and not forgetting. These elements, taken together, are the basis of forgiveness and lead toward a reconciliation process.

Tags: ELN Peace Talks

April 1, 2016

Why Colombia’s Negotiators Couldn’t Manage a Cease-Fire by March 23

(2,686 words / 11.5 minute read time)

It sounded over-ambitious when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced last September 23, during a historic handshake meeting in Havana with the FARC guerrilla leadership, that both sides’ negotiators would sign a final peace accord in just six months—that is, by today, March 23, 2016.

The slow-moving FARC-government negotiations still had a lot of ground to cover. It then took nearly three more months just to finish the talks’ “Victims” agenda item, of which the September 23 agreement, on transitional justice, was only a part. During that period, several FARC spokespeople warned that the March 23 deadline would not be met.

A more realistic hope was that the negotiators could agree by March 23 on something more modest than a final accord, but still tremendously important: a bilateral ceasefire. This would be a genuine, full cessation of all hostilities—all forms of violence, from extortion to recruitment of new fighters—with UN verification, as laid out in a January Security Council resolution).

The “ceasefire by March 23” scenario had seemed likely. When WOLA staff visited Bogotá during the first week of March, a strong majority of experts and officials we interviewed saw the sides as “almost there” on the details. “Something will be signed on March 23,” Colombia’s foreign minister said earlier this month. President Santos warned on February 19 that if a ceasefire and precise timeline for laying down arms weren’t ready by March 23, he would see it as evidence that “the FARC aren’t prepared for peace.”

A ceasefire by this week would have been important enough for President Obama to alter his Cuba visit schedule to appear in the photo frame, along with Santos, Raúl Castro, and FARC leader “Timochenko,” at a triumphant signing ceremony. Such a photo could have had huge symbolic value for U.S.-Latin American relations, a break with a history punctuated by gunboat diplomacy, cold war proxy conflicts, and the war on drugs.

But there was no ceasefire accord, despite last-ditch efforts by President Santos’s older brother to break an impasse. So there was no photo opportunity by the time President Obama boarded Air Force One bound for Argentina on March 22. Instead, on March 21 the negotiators got the “participation award” of separate meetings (and photos) with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Secretary of State Kerry meets with FARC negotiators.

So, what happened?

In order to protect guerrillas during a ceasefire, and to guarantee both sides’ compliance, it is necessary to gather FARC fighters in specific zones around the country. Colombia’s security forces would be absent from these zones (though they would guard the perimeter), and the government would suspend outstanding arrest warrants for all guerrillas assembled there.

Agreement on these “concentration zones” remains elusive. They are the main point standing in the way of a ceasefire. In fact, the parties may be more distant on the concentration zones issue today than they were two months ago.

On January 23, the negotiators’ “End of Conflict Subcommittee”—an expert group made up of five senior active-duty military officers and five of the FARC’s most battle-hardened commanders—submitted a confidential consensus document recommending how these zones would operate. Things appeared to be on the right track.

Tags: Cease-Fire, Updates

March 23, 2016

The UN Verification Mission’s Essential Role in Colombia’s Long-Awaited Ceasefire

By Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security

As soon as this week, though perhaps later, Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrillas may agree to a bilateral cessation of hostilities. As discussed in a previous article, this would involve guerrilla fighters beginning to concentrate themselves into special demilitarized zones around the country.

Within 30 days of signing this agreement, according to a January 25 Security Council resolution, details should be worked out for a UN mission to Colombia. We don’t yet know what that mission’s name will be, but we know the following.

It will be charged with monitoring and verifying the FARC’s “laying down of arms.” The guerrillas will not be handing over weapons to Colombia’s government. This would be seen as symbol of surrender. Any such proposal would run contrary to the spirit of the negotiations, and would have been rejected by the FARC. In addition, recent Colombian historyleads FARC members to worry about their own protection after they demobilize. As a result, disarmament will happen slowly (as it did in Northern Ireland), and will be the responsibility of the UN mission.

The UN will be part of a “tripartite mechanism” to verify the cessation of hostilities, along with Colombia’s government and the FARC. The UN mission will be present near the as-yet-undetermined guerrilla concentration zones, which most likely will be guarded by Colombian military personnel. The mission will have full access to these zones. There, it will play a sort of “referee” role. Along with government and guerrilla representatives, the mission’s members will deploy quickly to investigate any claims that one side has violated the terms of the ceasefire, or that such a violation appears imminent. The tripartite body will have to decide whether a violation happened, report it, and recommend steps that must be taken to avoid a repeat.

Officials interviewed by WOLA colloquially described the tripartite model as “three people in a jeep”: investigator teams with representatives from the FARC, the Colombian military, and the UN mission. (The teams are actually more likely to be made up of six, not three, people.)

It is likely to be made up of 350 unarmed international military personnel, plus support staff. These will not be blue-helmeted peacekeeping troops: this is a political mission, not a peacekeeping mission. (This also means that the mission is likely to be far less generously funded than a peacekeeping mission.) They will be active-duty or retired personnel most likely wearing civilian clothes.

Its personnel will come from around the world, though the Security Council resolution “looks forward to the contributions of Member States of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a body of all Western Hemisphere countries except the United States and Canada. However, according to UN custom, countries that share a border with Colombia (Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, and—due to a maritime border—Nicaragua) cannot participate. There may be some flexibility on this custom, though, as these neighboring countries plus Colombia comprise more than half of the combined population of CELAC member states.

Tags: Cease-Fire, UN

March 22, 2016

Integrating Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Rights

By Gimena Sanchez, WOLA Senior Associate

After more than 50 years the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), are finally engaging in peace negotiations. Beyond the signing of a potential agreement, ensuring peace will require incorporating into the process those communities that have been the hardest hit during the conflict and where tensions can rise to violence during the post-conflict era. Precisely because indigenous and Afro-Colombian persons make up a disproportionate number of the victims and displaced communities of the conflict, their voices are especially essential for ensuring a just and lasting peace.

President Santos recently traveled to Washington and, alongside President Obama, announced that the United States and Colombia were entering a new era of relations. Yet President Santos’ large entourage at the White House did not include any Afro-Colombians, until U.S. officials noted their absence. At the last minute, the Colombian Embassy scrambled to invite Afro-Colombians residing in the United States to appear racially inclusive. This was contradictory to both countries’ priorities, considering that Colombia and the United States signed a ‘Racial Action Plan’ (CAPREE) to combat discrimination and promote human rights conditions in U.S. military aid.

In this context, last week President Juan Manuel Santos invited a handful of Afro-Colombian celebrities and personalities to the presidential residence, the Casa de Nariño. At this event, Santos announced that he was appointing Colombia’s first Afro-descendant Congresswoman, Zulia Mena, to the post of Vice Minister of Culture. The meeting at Casa Nariño included the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), a respected coalition of ethno-territorial authorities, the displaced, women, and civil rights leaders. However, the meeting did nothing to address these communities’ request that they be invited to form an ethnic commission in Cuba to discuss real issues at stake in the peace process. These include the demobilization of guerilla fighters, reconciliation, victims’ rights, collective land rights, the needs of Afro-Colombian women, and the political participation of Afro-Colombians. Naming a leader with the caliber of experience and prominence of Zulia Mena to a post with little political influence does nothing to advance these issues.

In order to ensure the consolidation of peace in areas where these populations hold collective land titles, the parties to the conflict must sit down with the ethnic-territorial authorities before finalizing the peace agreement. These ethnic minorities have a constitutional right to be previously consulted on matters affecting their land. In addition to the legal, historical, moral, and reparative reasons to consult with these groups, there are practical realities to take into consideration. Due to inexistent or weak state presence, the ongoing presence of illegal armed groups, corruption and geographical isolation, these will be the areas where consolidating peace will be hardest. These are also areas, especially along the Pacific Coast and mountains of Cauca, where new conflicts are likely to arise in a post-conflict scenario and where the risk to peace is highest. Coordinated and well-planned efforts that fully include these leaders will be required for the accords to yield results. Bogota’s centralized, top-down approach to governance without real inclusion of the beneficiaries has failed in the past. This time Colombia should take advantage of the opportunities at hand and do things right.

Since 2014, organized ethnic minorities under the umbrella of CONPA and The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) have advocated for inclusion at the peace table. These organizations have stressed that despite the invitation of ethnic leaders to present their cases of victimization in Havana, a more collective-rights view on how to construct peace should be discussed with them. Colombia has ignored this plea by offering superficial meetings such as the one that took place last week.

Colombia may not be including ethnic minorities in the process, but these groupings have decided to include themselves. On March 8, these communities joined forces and launched a non-governmental ethnic commission on the peace process of their own.  The Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defense of Territorial Rights, as it is called, will work to defend their collective territorial rights and address conflicts that may arise in post-conflict scenarios. It behooves both negotiating parties in Havana to listen to them, and make them active partners in the construction of peace and a sustainable post-conflict era.

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities, Indigenous Communities

March 21, 2016

“Concentration Zones”: the Perplexing key to a Bilateral Ceasefire in Colombia

There's a good possibility that by March 23, Colombia's government and the FARC guerrilla group will sign an accord putting in place a bilateral ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities. This would mean not only that neither side will attack the other, but that the FARC will halt actions that affect the civilian population, like extortion, laying landmines, recruiting minors, and drug trafficking. Members of an unarmed United Nations mission will verify allegations that either side is violating the terms of the ceasefire, or that such a violation appears imminent.

A major part of the ceasefire arrangement will be a concentration of guerrilla forces in specific zones around the country. Colombia's armed forces will not be allowed to enter these zones, and for some time the guerrillas assembled there will be allowed to keep their weapons, as they begin what may be a long process of “leaving aside arms.”


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These areas will eventually become the sites where guerrillas undergo demobilization and disarmament, after the signing of a final accord, which is likely to occur in mid-2016. 
 
On March 9, Colombia’s Senate approved, in a final debate round, its version of a reform to Colombia’s Public Order Law, which would legalize what would be termed “Concentration Zones.” Surprisingly, the party of former President (now Senator) Álvaro Uribe threw its support behind the bill. The legislation suggests that these zones must:
  • Be free of illicit crops and illegal mining.
  • Be “prudent and reduced” in number in order to ease monitoring and verification.
  • Not touch Colombia’s borders.
  • Host inventories of the FARC’s weapons supply​.
  • Require full identification, including fingerprints, of all who enter.
  • Eventually host the destruction of surrendered FARC weapons.
  • Allow international monitoring and verification of the ceasefire.
The legislation offers some clarity about what these Concentration Zones might look like, though whether the guerrillas will agree to all of these conditions is uncertain. Even if they do agree, much else remains to be determined. For instance, the legislation does not clarify how these zones will be harmonized with the collective territorial rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities living in areas where they would be established.

How many zones will be created? Where might they be?

The FARC membership's transfer to these zones poses a great risk of triggering a post-conflict spike in violence. This initial transfer phase will be very difficult, and much depends on the number and locations of the zones that negotiators are currently discussing.

Tags: Cease-Fire

March 15, 2016