On January 25, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and 19 other international civil society organizations, as part of Colombia’s Cooperation Space for Peace, published a statement heavily condemning the murder of former Regional Coordinator of the Indigenous Guard Albeiro Camayo Güeito by armed actors from the Jaime Martínez Front of the FARC’s dissidents.
With the murder of Camayo Güeito, illegal armed actors have murdered three kiwe thegnas (Indigenous Guards) in under two weeks. The other two individuals are Breiner David Cucuñame and Guillermo Chicame. Given this context, Indigenous authorities have declared a maximum alert throughout their territories in Cauca department.
The international civil society organizations reinforced the alert by the Nasa Indigenous community and requested that the diplomatic corps present in Colombia urge the national government to implement efficient and effective measures to protect the Indigenous communities of Cauca, including the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 peace accord. They also called on the Ombudsman’s office to fulfill its constitutional mandate by immediately traveling to the territory and issuing appropriate and necessary Early Warning alerts.
Read the original, Spanish statement here. Read the translated, English statement here.
“I’m 25-years-old and my entire life I’ve lived in the midst of armed conflict,” social leader Mayerly Briceño sorrowfully expressed as she spoke about the dire humanitarian situation in Arauca, Colombia—a northeastern department that shares its border with Venezuela. At a January 7 event hosted by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Colombian daily newspaper El Espectador, Briceño formed part of a panel of civil society leaders and experts convened to inform the international community about the realities being lived in Arauca after an outbreak of violence that marked the beginning of 2022 in the department. As the humanitarian situation continued to deepen, Briceño, who profoundly understands the perils of living through ongoing internal armed conflict, took to the streets with several communities throughout Arauca to demand peace, not more militarization.
This recent episode of violence in Arauca over the first weekend of 2022 killed at least 33 people, left many disappeared, and internally displaced hundreds of families and campesinos amid fighting between the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) guerrilla and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) 10th Front. On January 19, a car bomb was detonated in Saravena, Arauca in front of a human rights organization’s office. At the date of publication, more than 1,400 individuals have been displaced as a result of the ongoing violence, including over 400 families, and dozens of Venezuelan migrants and refugees living along the border. While horrifying and unacceptable, this surging violence is not surprising.
Decades of Violence in Arauca
Arauca has long felt the effects of Colombia’s internal armed conflict and true social investment, a longtime demand of Araucan civil society, is needed to advance peacebuilding efforts. Arauca is located in a remote region that has historically lacked institutional presence and has been left in the periphery of Colombia’s political and economic life. This lack of investment exists even though the department is the third largest oil producer in Colombia. As contended by Sonia Lopez, spokesperson for the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation, “armed conflict has been imposed on Arauca.”
Amid a lack of state presence, the guerrillas imposed their coercive and violent rule across communities in the department. The ELN established its influence in the region in the early 1970s, with the FARC shortly after marking its territorial presence. The discovery of oil in the early 1980s caught the attention of the extractive industry, which began expanding its lucrative operations. The guerrillas often targeted and extorted the oil industry with attacks like those against the Caño Limón–Coveñas pipeline, which is operated by state-owned Ecopetrol and U.S.-owned Occidental Petroleum. Such attacks prompted the Colombian government to deploy its troops to protect this growing industry and its infrastructure.
Violence against Araucan civilians persisted even with the state’s militarized presence in the region. The 1980s were met with the inception of drug trafficking schemes and the 1990s with the disturbing incursions of expansive paramilitary networks. In the 2000s, violent confrontations between the FARC and the ELN deepened Arauca’s humanitarian crisis. Civilians were often caught in the crossfire, harassed and forcibly recruited by these illegal armed actors, and internally displaced from their homes. The guerrillas eventually signed a non-aggression pact in 2010, but estimates for this gruesome period between 2006 and 2010 indicate that these confrontations killed up to 2,000 civilians.
The Colombian state’s military presence has not served to protect communities. Lopez characterized the strategies imposed by the Colombian state in Arauca as a “laboratory for armed conflict policies.” She pointed to the intensified violence seen during the implementation of Colombia’s counterinsurgency initiatives that saw a high incidence of extrajudicial killings, as well as counternarcotics initiatives that undermined the social needs of Araucan communities. With social investment at the forefront of the pleas by Araucan civil society, the state has continuously stigmatized civil society by accusing leaders of collaborating with guerrilla groups. When social leaders and communities at-large carry out activism demanding basic social investment and services, they are stigmatized as insurgents or sympathizers, and essentially persecuted by the state.
Adding yet another layer to an already multifaceted context, Venezuela’s proximity to Arauca—so much so that many residents in the region even tend to hold a binational cultural identity—plays a major role in the policies and narratives the Colombian government chooses to advance. A tense political relationship between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments has often undermined the wellbeing of these border communities by prioritizing geopolitical influence and optics. Meanwhile, the lack of a diplomatic relationship between the Maduro and Duque governments, despite sharing a 1,300 mile-long border, means that there are no formal channels through which the two countries can resolve border conflicts. For this reason, following a series of armed confrontations in the Venezuelan state of Apure in March 2021, a group of Colombian and Venezuelan NGOs issued a letter urging the UN Secretary General to designate a Special Envoy to support efforts to deescalate tensions along the border.
Overall, these dynamics, interests, and the state’s security approach to conflict in Arauca victimized the civilian population for decades. As Lopez put it, “if militarization were the answer, we would have already seen a solution.”
A Security Situation Foreshadowed
The current violence in Arauca was foreshadowed, according to Juan Carlos Villate—an Araucan Ombudsman for Tame municipality. The 2016 peace accord signed between the Colombian state and the FARC sparked hopes for peace throughout the country, prominently so in Arauca. In tandem with dialogues that were occurring with the ELN in the mid-2010s, these peacebuilding advances brought about a respite from violence for communities across the department. However, this tranquility was short-lived. Villate underscored how the faltering implementation of the 2016 peace accord helped generate the current security situation.
The Colombian government’s failure to comprehensively implement the 2016 peace accord helped triggered the growth of dissident groups that operate in the region. However, it is incorrect to assume that these dissident factions operate in the same ways as the FARC, according to President of Arauca’s Human Rights Protection Committee Guillermo Antonio Díaz Leonis. He explained that the commanders of these splinter groups are not the thousands of individuals that committed themselves to Colombia’s peace by laying down their arms. Communities throughout Arauca recognize that the dissidents are different from the FARC that demobilized. Instead, they are composed of a mix of different armed actors that are financed by the department’s illicit economies and fuel its violence.
A mute institutional and humanitarian response to the evolving composition of armed actors in the region also fostered the current insecurity and violence. The Ombudsman’s Office—which since 2001 has published over 70 different Early Warning alerts, risk reports, and follow-ups—has persistently documented the dynamics among armed actors in the department and warned that clashes between the ELN and dissidents of the FARC were going to arise. Even with this foreshadowing, the state has made no concrete humanitarian plans to ensure protection, leaving the civilian population entrenched in deep insecurity. Ultimately, Villate and Díaz Leonis concluded that Araucans are strong advocates of comprehensively implementing the 2016 peace accord and resuming dialogues with the ELN guerrilla, as they understand the detrimental implications of not following through with these peacebuilding efforts.
Dialogue with the ELN is Crucial for Colombia’s Peace
Luis Eduardo Celis, an expert with the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, echoed sentiments for a comprehensive peace by making a strong case for the Colombian government to resume national dialogues with the ELN. Celis characterized Arauca as having separate governing states: the Colombian state and the ELN. The guerrilla group has enforced its rule over communities throughout Arauca for over half a century. Residents, as they hold deep fear of repercussions and reprisals, are made to follow the ELN’s rules and norms. While the ELN is responsible for unacceptable atrocities and violence, many Araucan communities also deeply distrust the Colombian state and its institutions, often looking to the ELN to address community needs that should be carried out by the state. It’s a reality that must be acknowledged to truly address the complex situation in Arauca. The state must rethink its relationship with the department, which can only happen through social investment and peacebuilding efforts.
The Need to Prioritize Social Investment
Each panelist at WOLA’s event described the fundamental lack of social investment in Arauca, and how it perpetuates different manifestations of violence.
Adam Isacson, WOLA’s Director for Defense Oversight, spoke of a 2019 trip he took to Arauca with WOLA’s Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli. He described how despite the profits brought in by the oil industry, they saw how a large portion of the department’s residents live in poverty, as these profits are not invested back into the community for basic infrastructure and services. When roads, bridges, and other forms of infrastructure are built, they are made solely with the oil industry’s interests in mind. Even past U.S. foreign aid, such as under the Bush administration, was directed towards amping up security to protect Arauca’s oil infrastructure, leaving behind social investment for Arauca’s over 300,000 residents. This disregard for the communities and people who make up Arauca must change.
The people of Arauca deserve to advocate for themselves and choose their path to true democracy and peace. Arauca desperately needs to be given the ability to build up its institutions and infrastructure, so that it can govern autonomously, build up its economy, fortify its health systems, form an education system, and offer sustainable opportunities to its people. Right now, they are living with fear and anxiety of what will come with the ongoing internal armed conflict occurring in their department. But their story is also one of hope. Social leaders like Briceño are mobilizing communities to advocate for themselves. They are pleading with the international community to accompany them and urge the Colombian government to advance peace accord implementation and dialogues with the ELN. These communities are the catalysts to peace, and Colombia must invest in them.
On January 24, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and 26 other international civil society organizations, as part of Colombia’s Cooperation Space for Peace, published an SOS statement demanding peace in Arauca department amid escalating violence in the region.
As the organizations note, Arauca started 2022 with egregious episodes of violence by illegal armed groups that deepened the humanitarian situation for Arauca’s civilian population. At least 33 people were murdered, 50 disappeared, 170 families and 36 former FARC combatants internally displaced, and a car bomb detonated against a human rights organization’s office. The Ombudsman’s office and civil society organizations have warned of this escalating violence for years now.
The statement calls on the international community to urge the Colombian government to prioritize dialogues with guarantees and humanitarian agreements as solutions forward from this senseless violence and to consolidate peace.
See the original statement here See the unofficial English translation here.
Colombia had a tumultuous start to 2022, as violence broke out in the northeastern department of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, killing dozens. The armed groups involved are ELN guerrillas and a faction of ex-FARC guerrillas—but the actors are different elsewhere in the country. Colombia’s persistent armed-group violence has become ever more confused, fragmented, and localized, more than five years after a historic peace accord.
To make sense of the situation, Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson and Program Assistant Matthew Bocanumenth spoke with Kyle Johnson, an analyst and co-founder of the Bogotá-based Conflict Responses Foundation, a research organization that performs extensive fieldwork in conflict-affected territories.
With a nuanced but clear presentation, Johnson answers our many questions and helps make sense of this complex, troubling moment for security and governance throughout rural Colombia.
The way forward, Johnson argues, goes through negotiations and a renewed effort to implement the 2016 peace accord, especially its governance and rural development provisions. It requires abandoning the longtime focus on meeting eradication targets and taking down the leaders of what are now very decentralized armed and criminal groups.
The first weekend of 2022 saw one of the most serious humanitarian situations in recent years in Arauca—a department in Northeastern Colombia that borders Venezuela. Armed confrontations among illegal armed actors, believed to be members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), left at least 23 people killed and several others displaced. Details surrounding the situation are still emerging.
On January 3, Defend the Peace Colombia (Defendamos La Paz Colombia, DLP) published a statement calling on all armed actors to cease their hostilities and to respect the lives and dignity of the communities, organizations, and leaders impacted by the confrontations. DLP further reiterated the importance of advancing a peace process with the ELN, addressing the dynamics brought forth by the FARC’s dissidents, and ratifying a humanitarian accord to bring an end to cycles of violence.
An English-language translation of the statement is below:
Defend the Peace observes with great concern the sensitive situation occurring in Arauca. The ongoing insecurity further reiterates the importance of advancing a peace process with the ELN, handling the dissidents of the FARC who continue their armed actions, and ratifying a global humanitarian accord to move away from these relentless cycles of armed conflict.
Given this situation of ongoing confrontations and the repercussions on communities and their organizations, we are grateful for all the humanitarian action and accompaniment of both national organizations with legal capacities and the international community, as accompaniment to the communities must always be a priority.
Arauca will only find a path of coexistence and true democracy if agreements are reached to leave behind more than four decades of armed conflict.
We call on the ELN and FARC dissident structures to cease their armed confrontations and respect the communities, their organizations, and their leadership.
Between February 2021 and May 2021, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) worked with Colombia-based consultants and partners to gather the perspectives of people at the community level about their experiences with the implementation of Colombia’s historic 2016 peace accord.
While there are good academic, statistical, and investigative reports on different aspects of Colombia’s peace, WOLA gathered perspectives on how various civil society actors were viewing the implementation of the 2016 peace on the ground. For peace to be properly consolidated on the ground, understanding how those most affected by the conflict is key and their viewpoints are vital to guaranteeing that peace is successful. Colombia’s regions are each unique with their own historical, cultural, geographic and ethnic differences and the conflict has played itself out differently throughout the country, which has resulted in distinct dynamics on the ground.
Our research covered four different regions of Colombia—Arauca and Catatumbo in the northeast, Chocó in the northwest, and northern Cauca in the southwest. For people to speak candidly without fear of reprisals, there is no direct attribution of the sources of the information in this report.
When persons interviewed were asked what can the U.S. government and civil society organizations do to support peace efforts in the region, the following proposals were made:
1)Support the creation of a Commission that can dialogue directly with U.S. policymakers
The U.S. government and civil society organizations should support the creation of a binational commission that serves as an interlocutor with U.S. policymakers to advance peace accord implementation in the Chocó. The Commission would include the U.S. government, Chocoan civil society, U.S. civil society and experts chosen due to their expertise). By helping create this commission, the international community can ensure the 2016 peace accord’s Ethnic Chapter is prioritized, and that peace is implemented in Chocó with a differentiated ethnic, gender, and disability approach. This commission should also incorporate the peace-related demands from various social movements that have formed in the department to petition the government. These include civic strikes (paro civicos) and Indigenous collective peaceful protest actions known as Mingas, all of which urge for the Ethnic Chapter’s comprehensive implementation.
2)Closely monitor the implementation of the Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs)
The full and comprehensive implementation of the PDETs, a central commitment of the peace accord’s first chapter, can help transform the structural obstacles to consolidating peace in Colombia. For these plans to function as envisioned by the peace accord, international actors need to closely monitor and advocate for their implementation to help guarantee their advancement and to address complications that may arise. All proposals and projects related to the PDET Chocó must fully integrate an ethnic and gender approach and include the full participation of beneficiary communities. An ethnic approach does not mean superficially placing Afro-Colombian and Indigenous individuals in key positions; rather, only by integrating ethnic communities into all levels of participation and governance at the national level can the PDET truly address on-the-ground realities. As for implementing a gender approach, women and LGBT+ individuals from the territories must be included in the PDET as designers, implementers, and beneficiaries. Finally, the PDET must seek to activate local economies by supporting economic projects proposed by the community councils and the cabildos. Supporting the projects designed by the communities themselves will transform the rural countryside and foment peacebuilding among receptor communities.
3)Send resources directly to civil society organizations
At the moment, resource allocation is at the whim of who holds political office, which often results in alleged embezzlement practices. Civil society organizations have noted suspicious instances where funds are channeled to individuals who actively supported the political campaigns that elected those who hold political office. Therefore, to ensure resources and funds truly meet the needs of implementing the peace accord, international resources to support Colombia’s peace should be administered directly by communities in the Chocó who uphold the well-being of the community. This means empowering civil society organizations to administer resources. These organizations, made up of and elected by the communities themselves, have a wide breadth of experience working to solve the department’s challenges. As such, they hold a deep understanding of the needs of the communities and are beholden to them. Directly allocating much-needed resources to these civil society organizations provides stronger guarantees of transparency and accountability, increasing the likelihood that the resources will be used as intended and preventing their diversion when changes, inevitable in a politicized local context, occur in municipal and departmental governments.
4)Help develop an alliance among victims, ex-combatants, and civil society to demand and monitor the peace accord’s implementation
To advance peace accord implementation at the departmental level, a transformative pedagogy of peacebuilding is required. This strategy must move beyond its current emphasis on university professors and students. It should prioritize the participation of victims of the internal armed conflict, former combatants who are signatories of the peace accord, and diverse sectors of civil society like territorial leaders, social leaders, women, LGBT+ leaders, and youth representatives.
These different sectors already exist in some form. However, they must unify their efforts by forming an alliance that advocates for the peace accord’s full implementation. For such an alliance to form, and for it to be effective, these sectors should join together in solidarity and ensure their communities understand what the peace accord stipulates and how they can demand the implementation of what the state is obligated to fulfill. This alliance should carry out broad-based education campaigns about the stipulations of the peace accord and how state institutions, including the National Police and the judicial and legislative branches, can be used as tools to guarantee short- and long-term compliance to what was agreed to in the 2016 peace accord.
5) Advocate for the Humanitarian Accord Now Chocó!
To sustain the 2016 peace accord and for it to be fully implemented, the other illegal groups operating in the region need to be addressed. The optimal solution would be for them to be addressed via a politically negotiated solution and/or disarmament. Since such solutions have not advanced in the past decade, Chocoan civil society is proposing that all armed groups support the humanitarian minimums found in the Humanitarian Accord Now Chocó!. This Accord seeks to place limits on the internal armed conflict and violence linked to illegal armed groups. It guarantees better protection for civilians stuck in the middle of all these groups and respect for international humanitarian law. It is an effort by coalitions of local civil society organizations and religious entities to step in where the government has failed to ensure guarantees for the lives and physical integrity of civilians living in the area. Its intent is to minimize the impact of the conflict on civilians and to help pave the way for future and continuing dialogues. However, for such an accord to be realized it requires support from the international community, in particular the United States.
Women accounted for a significant percentage of victims of the violence from Colombia’s armed conflict—an unequal distribution of pain and overall suffering. Even 40% of the FARC guerrillas ranks were women, yet they remained excluded from the initial negotiations that led to Colombia’s 2016 peace accord. This intentional silencing reflects a larger pattern of structural violence that existed prior to the armed conflict, which is taught in the home, reinforced in society, and ultimately legitimized by the state. Yet, despite this oppressive status quo, women in Colombia have been active participants in advocating for themselves, their communities, and the peace process by institutionalizing their respective emotions.
Women’s groups across Colombia are leading peacebuilding efforts to bring to light the disproportionate, gendered impact of the internal armed conflict’s violence. For instance, Colombian feminist organization Casa de la Mujer, in collaboration with a series of other organizations, published their recent report entitled TruthIs: Politicizing Women’s Pain and Emotions. The report, filled with sobering testimonies and concerted recommendations by victims of gender-based violence, was submittedtothe Truth Commission—an entity that forms part of Colombia’s tripartite transitional justice system and is responsible for clarifying the truth of what occurred during Colombia’s decades-long internal armed conflict. Three of Colombia’s departments—Meta, Córdoba, and Cauca—have dedicated chapters in the report, as they are home to many Indigenous and Afro-descendants who were disproportionately affected by the conflict. With the report’s submission to the Truth Commission, these women’s groups are contributing to implementing the 2016 peace accord’s trailblazing gender provisions, urging they be used as mechanisms for justice.
Women and the Peace Process
Reports like TruthIs are possible because of the efforts placed forth to include a gender approach in the peace process. The inclusion of the peace accord’s innovative gender provisions was no easy feat. When peace negotiations began between the Colombian state and FARC guerrillas, women were not granted a seat at the table to participate and it took the intentional efforts of about 450 women’s organizations to push then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to allow for two seats. In September 2014, a gender subcommittee was launched that included five members in total from the FARC and the government. But nonetheless, the gender provisions that resulted from the subcommittees’ contributions received significant pushback, mainly due to an opposition movement that labeled the recognition of LGBTQ+ and women rights as a “gender ideology”. This push came mainly from evangelical factions who sought to hinder advances in protecting different gender identities and sexual orientations. Unfortunately, this opposition movement succeeded in helping deter support to the peace accord and help the plebiscite fail, resulting in the “no” vote succeeding by a margin of less than 1 percent.
Despite these setbacks, women’s eventual integration allowed them to play an essential role in the delegations of victims, where women represented 60% of the members. This integration has led the Colombian government and the FARC to release statements that reflected positively on women’s rights, inclusivity, and diversity. The largest impact can be seen in legislation around sexual violence in which many agreements have a gender focus and sexual violence is listed as a crime that can not be amnestied under the accord. Essentially, the peace process without women is not adept to face the dynamic problems that face civil society and the Colombian government.
Women’s lives before the armed-conflict
The report brings attention to the continuum of violence that existed prior to the known inception of the armed conflict. The pre-established systems of oppression against women were deeply ingrained from interpersonal relations and into the larger structure of financial, economic, and physical oppression in Colombian society. The harmful ideology of machismo upholds and perpetuates a traditional expression of masculinity and femininity, which is simultaneously tied to a rigid gender binary in which women are inferior to men.
“Habia una buena relación, las mujeres eran sumisas porque el que mandaba era el marido”145
“There was a good relationship, the women were submissive because the husband was in charge “145
Beyond this, machismo minimizes and normalizes violence against women often becoming internalized in men and women. Throughout the interview process, women shared that they found their relationships to their spouses, families, and communities to be generally positive in terms of their quality of life. However, In the same recounting of events they would include anecdotes of violence within families, partners, and insecurity for women in general:
“En alugnas familias había conflictos ecónomicos y pasionales cuando un hombre cela a una mujer, también en las familias había maltrato y violencia…no dejaban salir a la mujer por celos y golpes” (145, TruthIs)
“In some families, there were economic conflicts and conflicts of passion when a man was jealous of a woman, in families, there was mistreatment and violence…they did not let the woman go out because of jealousy and beatings” (145, TruthIs).
Additionally, there was an extreme division of labor and enforced subordination in which women had no rights to education or entrepreneurship. This, in turn, would not only confirm the biases against women but limit women to vulnerable socio-economic situations. The intentional retraction of resources was a manifestation of how little value women held in Colombian society thus making it easier for perpetrators to dehumanize and enact intimate and familial violence on them. The TruthIs report provides insight that before the conflict these girls and women had already been reduced to public commodities instead of dignified humans. Sexual violence was already systematically being practiced by perpetrators who exploited the physical and bodily autonomy of women:
[…] “antes de llegar los paramilitares, los ricos compraban a las niñas, la gente que tenía plata compraba a las niñas a sus padres: dos, tres vacas; tres, cuatro, diez mil pesos por una niña, y entonces se la llevaban a vivir uno, dos meses, y ahí la dejaban y salían y compraban otra.” (Narrativa de líder de Córdoba-68).
[…] “before the paramilitaries arrived, the rich people bought girls, those who had money bought the girls from their parents: two, three cows or three, four, ten thousand pesos for a girl. They took her to live with them for one or two months. They would leave her there and go out and buy another one.” (Narrative of a leader from Córdoba-68)
Ultimately, the qualitative research provided in the report demonstrated the extent of the normalization of violence in communities that would later be appropriated by various armed actors to use women as pawns for dominance.
Women’s experiences in the armed conflict
The TruthIs report highlights that the larger struggle during the armed conflict is impossible to understand without understanding how women experienced gender-based violence, a reality supported by the Constitutional Court’s report that sexual violence was a ‘systematic, habitual and generalized practice’ appropriated by all armed groups in the Colombian conflict. Estimates include that armed groups were responsible for the rape of 12,809 women, the forced prostitution of 1,575, the forced pregnancies of 4,415 women, and the forced abortions of 1,810 women. Both the falsehood of security and the unstable security vanished leaving only extreme direct violence, a reality that became unavoidable from the youngest child to elderly mothers. This new milieu instilled fear that did not allow them to live their lives as they had before, new biopolitics was being forcibly instilled in communities across Colombia.
“Mi mamá no me hizo fiesta de quince porque decía que eso era darles aviso a los hombres armados de que ya se lo podían comer a uno.”36
“My mother didn’t throw me a quinceañera because she said that would be a warning to the armed men that they could have me. “36
The TruthIs report highlighted how Afro-descendant and Indigenous women were disproportionately impacted not only because of the regions in which they live but the many dimensions of discrimination that they face. And so, Colombia’s history with slavery and oppression of bodies continued to burden those who have historically been disregarded. Sexual violence was used to control and dominate physically, culturally, economically, and territory for the larger perceived purpose of the conflict. For example, guerrillas have used sexual violence in the forced recruitment of girls as combatants, girls as sex slaves, and as payment to protect other family members.
“Ya el pensamiento era de oder que la mujer conquistara al que tiene el poder…cuando empezaron a llegar los grupos armados, más que todo los paramilitares y los soldados…ya no se buscaba marido por amor sino alguien que nos protegiera”. 38
“The idea was that the woman should conquer the one in power…when the armed groups began to arrive, especially the paramilitaries and the soldiers…they were no longer looked for a husband for love, but for someone who would protect us. “38
State Security Forces’ have been distinctively damaging as the civilian population has no mechanism for justice. These militias’ essential position is to protect and support civilians’ rights to a life free of violence. However, as described by many victims, these entities often took advantage of the chaos to extend harm on vulnerable populations exercising violence against women on a mass scale. Unlike FARC or ELN groups targeted by the government, the State Security Forces were never held accountable for their actions since they operated as the rule of law in these sometimes remote areas. The impunity surrounding State Security Forces has protected many individuals and battalions from being held accountable for the crimes committed against their civilians.
The significance of a report like TruthIS being presented to the Truth Commission
It’s innovative, it highlights not only the perseverance of women’s resistance but how women in these communities utilized their pain and emotions to contribute to the peace process. This report refutes the machismo mindset, that normalizes victim-blaming, and minimizes the suffering of women instead highlighting how women can strengthen peacebuilding efforts.
It’s intentional, the report is taking advantage of the gender provisions in order to create a historical record nationally and internationally affirming the violence committed against women in the context of the armed conflict. It demonstrates how important it is for women to be integrated into the peacebuilding process since their participation also promotes gendered provisions. The regional focus on the Pacific Coast is to emphasize that Afro-descendant and Indigenous women were impacted in specific and targeted ways.
It’s an example, using testimony as an integral component in communicating the differentiated impact the internal conflict had on women. These individuals’ experiences centered on sexual and physical violence but also brought to light how women experienced forced disappearances, forced displacement, forced recruitment, and psychological trauma. The report also includes the experiences of trans individuals and those with different sexualities which as previously discussed are realities that are often overshadowed.
The struggle to end sexual violence continues
While this report is an exceptional demonstration of how far women’s engagement has come in terms of their healing, liberation, and role in the peace process, it can’t begin to entirely eclipse the intricacies of trauma that remains in the wake of the armed conflict. The recent webinar hosted by Oxfam, WOLA, and the Latin America Working Group provided space for women to share in their own words how they experienced violence and the intergenerational trauma felt in their families and communities. The sheer courage displayed moving and the overall message that the fear and continued instability are incredibly prevalent. The women shared a general desire for their daughters and sons to live in reality free of violence, a dream that seems almost unattainable in the current reality.
Presently, the Pacific Coast home to the Cauca and Cordóba departments continue to be disproportionately impacted by violence against women as the demobilization of guerrillas and the increase of militarization in areas previously abandoned by the state has maintained the armed conflict’s violence continuum as young women are still forced into armed prostitution and sexual abuse. Nationally, UN Women reported that 37% of women in Colombia will experience physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence at least once in their lifetime, and over 50% of Colombian men surveyed for a 2010 UN study admitted to abusing their female partners. This violence has continued to be exacerbated following COVID-19 the FISCALIA reported 60.581 cases of domestic violence across the country.
The silencing of women’s voices and experiences has been constant before, during, and after Colombia’s armed conflict. However, new forms of advocacy and resistance have forced attention onto wounds that many responsible and complacent actors would rather ignore. Of these actors, the Colombian state should grant a public apology to victims of sexual violence experienced by girls, women, and those with different sexual orientations and gender identities. In addition, the international community should hold the Colombian state accountable for implementing the gender provisions of the 2016 Peace Accord that focus on women’s rights, gender, and their social and political participation. Ultimately, the resistance of female victims and community non-profits such as Casa de la Mujer is integral in pushing forward narratives deserving of public attention and justice. Therefore, defending and amplifying the voices and experiences of women that have endured Colombia’s armed conflict is not only a peace mechanism but an active step towards protecting women’s dignity and autonomy.
“Bueno yo pienso que al principio pues no éramos visibles, éramos invisibles para todo el mundo porque la mujer no se tenía en cuenta para nada, pero a raíz de todo lo que nos pasó yo creo que reaccionamos y dijimos que Dios nos dejó por algo, y yo pienso que tenemos que dejar una huella de bien en la comunidad, en la sociedad, en nuestra familia, que nos empoderemos en muchos espacios y en muchas cosas. Ver tantas mujeres asesinadas, desaparecidas y uno que ha logrado superar esas cosas es una razón para que otras mujeres vivan a través de nuestra experiencia, que se den cuenta [de] que sí vale la pena luchar y cambiar este país. Los grupos, fundaciones y todo eso nos ayudan a superarnos emocional y económicamente, y si lo hacemos unidas, mejor.” (Narrativa de mujer del Meta-143).
“Well, I think that at the beginning, we were not visible. We were invisible to everyone women were not taken into account at all. But as a result of everything that happened to us, I think we reacted, and we said that God left us for something, and I think that we have to leave a mark of good in the community, in society, in our families, and our world. We empower ourselves in many spaces and in many things. Seeing so many women murdered, disappeared, and even one woman who has managed to overcome these despite it all is a reason for all of us to overcome. It is a reason for other women to live despite our experiences, to realize so that they realize [that] it is worth fighting and changing this country. The groups, foundations, and all that help us overcome ourselves emotionally and economically and help us better ourselves emotionally and financially, and if we do it united, all the better.” (Narrative of a woman from Meta-143)
The meaning of the FARC’s removal from the U.S. terrorist list
Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America
At least in the 20 years since “Plan Colombia,” it’s been rare to see the U.S. and Colombian governments disagree in public about something. Even during the worst days of police abuses during the Paro Nacional protests earlier this year, Washington’s expressions of concern were remarkably mild.
That’s why it was surprising to hear President Iván Duque express disagreement with a step that the Biden administration took to coincide with the five-year anniversary of Colombia’s peace accord. “We understand and respect this information from the United States, but we would have preferred a different decision,” he said on November 29, the day before the State Department removed the FARC from its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The removal of the FARC, or rather the ex-FARC, should be uncontroversial. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia on the U.S. list doesn’t exist, and hasn’t since August 2017. Of its 13,600 members who underwent demobilization, more than 90 percent haven’t carried out an act of organized violence in more than five years. They are playing by the rules and integrating themselves into civilian life.
A few continue to engage in violence against civilians. These are mainly members of Colombia’s two main ex-FARC dissident networks, the one headed by “Gentil Duarte” and the one known as “Nueva Marquetalia,” which either refused to demobilize in 2016 or abandoned the process later. Most of these groups’ members are new recruits with no guerrilla background; many weren’t even adolescents yet when the peace accord was signed. The Biden administration added these groups to the State Department’s list, in the FARC’s place.
The step taken on November 30, then, was less a “removal” of the FARC than an updating of the terrorist list to reflect reality.
As the list was being interpreted, “Gentil Duarte” and “El Paisa” were in the same category as former fighters now raising children and going to schools, starting their own businesses, or participating in competitive rafting teams. That was absurd.
But that was the reality. Under the “material support for terrorism” provisions in U.S. law, as they were being interpreted, it has been a crime—punishable with fines or up to 15 years in prison—for U.S. citizens to provide any demobilized FARC members with money, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, communications equipment, facilities, or transportation.
The U.S. government was interpreting this very strictly. It has literally been illegal even to buy them a cup of coffee, much less include them in development meetings or—as in the case of Humanicemos, a group of ex-FARC deminers who were unable to get any U.S. aid—to instruct them in a skill like landmine removal.
In off-the-record conversations going back to 2017, U.S. officials have told of incidents in which former low-ranking guerrillas have been barred from Colombian government meetings to plan Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs) or to consult with communities about government services, just because the U.S. government was partially or fully covering the meetings’ cost.
In some cases, U.S. officials only found out afterward that low-level former guerrillas had attended U.S.-funded events. When that has happened, because that ex-guerrilla may have eaten a snack provided by the conference organizers, or may have received some knowledge by attending the event, U.S. officials have had to endure numerous subsequent meetings with State Department lawyers, going over every detail to document and understand what happened, what the organizers knew, and whether it was punishable.
The delay in removing the FARC not only undermined U.S. programming, though. It made the U.S. government look out of date, unaware that the FARC on the list didn’t exist anymore. It even made the U.S. government appear actively hostile to the entire peace process, echoing the notion—expressed this year by Foreign Minister Claudia Blum and Defense Minister Diego Molano—that the Comunes party and the dissident groups (which, in fact, often target Comunes members) are somehow linked. Either way, the message Washington sent by keeping the FARC on the list was toxic.
It is great news that this step has finally been taken. But the Biden administration certainly could have rolled it out better. News of the impending decision leaked to the Wall Street Journal very early, on November 23, perhaps from an individual who opposed removing the FARC from the terrorist list. The explanation, with fuller context, did not come from the State Department and White House for days afterward, in part because November 25 was a major national holiday in the United States.
As a result, the initial reaction from many colleagues and journalists in Colombia was confused. Those of us who work on Colombia policy here in Washington got a lot of questions. Here are answers to a few of them.
Why did it take so long to take the FARC off the list, especially if it was causing so many problems for U.S. programming? There is no great answer to this, other than that while it is easy to add a group to the State Department’s list—all you need is a few attacks on civilian targets—it is hard to remove it. Revocation of a “terrorist” status requires a deliberative process within the State Department in which all interested actors have to reach consensus. The AUC formally demobilized in 2006 but remained on the list until 2014. Peru’s MRTA barely existed after the 1997 Japanese embassy fiasco, but was on the list until 2001. The Washington Postreported that each group’s terrorist designation usually gets reviewed every five years, and that the FARC had last been considered in April 2015. A fresh review of the FARC didn’t happen in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Does this mean FARC leaders are no longer wanted by U.S. justice? Nothing changes about extradition requests for FARC members. They are wanted in U.S. courts either for sending cocaine to the United States or for kidnapping or killing U.S. citizens. These are specific crimes, not the vague charge of “terrorism.” Those processes continue, so former FARC leaders wanted by U.S. justice still face risks if they travel internationally. Because he was arrested in Ecuador in 2004 while apparently serving as an intermediary for talks about three U.S. citizen defense contractors whom the FARC was holding at the time, Simón Trinidad remains imprisoned in the state of Colorado for his role in that specific case.
Is this an insult to the FARC’s victims? Annette Taddeo, a Democratic Party state senator in Florida, emigrated from Colombia when she was 17, after the FARC kidnapped her father. “For me and many of us, this is painful and very personal,” she tweeted. The FARC upended the lives of thousands of Colombians; many of them, and their loved ones, are no doubt outraged to see any sign of conciliation like a U.S. recognition that those leaders are no longer behaving as terrorists. The fact, though, is that the top non-dissident ex-FARC leadership appears truly to have renounced terrorism. They remain guilty of many things, and must answer to their victims and the transitional justice process. But the “terrorist” label no longer sticks.
What about Sen. Marco Rubio’s complaint that any U.S. money that benefits ex-FARC members should go through the Colombian government? The Colombian government “doesn’t want the delisting,” Sen. Marco Rubio (Republican of Florida), who is close to Uribismo, told U.S. radio. “What they wanted was, to the extent that you’re going to provide assistance to these people who abandoned the guerrilla fight, laid down their weapons, become politically engaged, we want you to run that assistance through the democratically elected government of Colombia, not unilaterally.” This argument is confusing. Most US assistance with ex-combatants’ participation—reincorporation, rural development, demining—would go hand-in-hand with the efforts of Colombian government agencies. U.S. aid almost never goes to such agencies directly as cash payments.
Why is Cuba still on the list of state sponsors? Before leaving office in January 2021, the Trump administration re-added Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, alongside Iran, Syria, and North Korea. The main reason cited was Cuba’s refusal to extradite ELN leaders who had been in the country for peace talks with the Colombian government, a move that would have violated those talks’ protocols. That the Biden administration hasn’t taken steps to remove Cuba, even as it removes the FARC, probably owes more to the politics around U.S.-Cuban relations. It would be very difficult to take Cuba off of the list—or perform any other act of engagement—in the weeks after Cuba’s government aggressively suppressed a citizen protest movement.
Why was the announcement rolled out this way? When we heard that the FARC were being taken off, why didn’t we know right away that the dissident groups would be added? There is no great answer to that. The impending decision was leaked, possibly by a hostile party. But for days, the Biden administration offered no new context, so many actors were left think that all of the FARC was being taken off of the list, and even that FARC leaders were no longer wanted by U.S. justice.
The rollout of this news was not graceful. In today’s climate, when a lie travels around the world before the truth can even get its running shoes on, that does damage. Still, there is only so much that the Biden administration could have done. Many sectors of our societies will always be determined to believe what they want, regardless of the facts we present to them.
There is a communications lesson here, though—one that recalls the plebiscite debacle of 2016. It is crucial to get out ahead of a story as much as possible, so that when it breaks, the response can be nimble, and people who are open to the truth—the majority of people, still—can get the context quickly.
November 24 is the five-year anniversary of a landmark peace accord that ended a half a century of fighting in Colombia. While there are aspects worth celebrating, this is a far less happy anniversary than it promised to be.
The 2016 accord ended the most violent facet of a multi-front conflict that killed 260,000 people, left 80,000 more missing, and led to more than 9 million of Colombia’s 50 million people registering with the government as conflict victims. The months after November 2016 saw the disarmament and demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest guerrilla group, though smaller armed groups remain.
For a time after the FARC left the scene, battered rural areas notorious for violence and illicit drug production experienced a moment of calm. A historic window of opportunity opened for Colombia to break its recurrent cycles of violence.
Five years later, the window is closing. Implementing the peace accord has gone more poorly than anticipated. A new report from the Washington Office on Latin America, “A Long Way to Go,” examines the experience of the past five years, presenting a wealth of data about each of the 2016 accord’s six chapters. While there are some positive developments, WOLA finds, Colombia is well behind where it should be.
It was up to Colombia’s government to preserve the peace, by fully implementing the commitments it made in the ambitious 300-page accord. That document promised not just to end the FARC, but to undo the causes underlying more than a century of rural strife in Latin America’s third-largest country: unequal land tenure, crushing poverty, an absent government, and impunity for the powerful.
That hasn’t happened. Parts of Colombia’s government acted, but what they did wasn’t enough. Opponents of the accord came to power in August 2018 and allowed many commitments to languish, keeping investments well below the necessary tempo and encouraging skepticism through messaging that regularly disparages the agreement.
10 notable facts from “A Long Way to Go: Implementing Colombia’s peace accord after five years”
1. As of March 2021, Colombia was 29 percent of the way into the peace accord’s implementation timetable, but had spent just 15 percent of what implementation is expected to cost. 2. One third of the way into the implementation process, the PDETs—the vital plans to bring the government into historically conflictive areas—are only one-seventh funded, and that’s according to the most optimistic estimate. 3. A nationwide mapping of landholdings, expected to be complete by 2023, was only 15 percent done as of March 2021. 4. 2021 is on pace to be Colombia’s worst year for homicides since 2013, and worst year for massacres since 2011. 5. Analysts’ estimates coincide in finding significantly less than 10 percent of demobilized ex-FARC members taking up arms again. “Dissident” groups’ membership is mostly new recruits. 6. Estimates of the number of social leaders murdered in 2020 range from 133 to 310. But the justice system only managed 20 convictions of social leaders’ killers that year, while the Interior Minister argued that “more people die here from cell phone thefts than for being human rights defenders.” 7. Of coca-growing families who signed up for a “two-year” package of crop substitution assistance three or more years ago, just 1 percent had received a complete package of payments by the end of 2020. 8. If the transitional justice tribunal is correct, half of the Colombian military’s claimed combat killings between 2002 and 2008 may have been civilians whom soldiers executed and then falsely claimed were members of armed groups. 9. 20 of the transitional justice tribunal’s 38 magistrates are women. 4 of 11 Truth Commissioners are women. 10. Since accord implementation began in fiscal 2017, U.S. assistance to Colombia has totaled about US$3.1 billion, roughly half of it for the military and police.
In historically conflictive territories all around the country, violence is on the rise again. New armed groups are quickly filling the vacuums of authority that the government would not or could not fill on its own. As massacres, displacements, and confrontations increase again, in too many regions—including many Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities—it no longer makes sense to speak of a “post-conflict.”
The “Long Way to Go” report walks through many of the most important commitments Colombia’s government made, evaluating the extent to which each is truly being implemented after five years. The discussion passes through 17 sections.
The first looks at the overall budget and use of resources, finding that Colombia is well behind where it should be after five years.
The next four cover commitments to Colombia’s countryside, like addressing land tenure, making rural economies viable, and improving security and governance. These commitments, too, are falling alarmingly behind: state presence has not been increasing, land tenure programs are struggling, and violence indicators are worsening.
The sixth, seventh, and tenth sections explore commitments to expand political participation and protect social leaders. Despite some important steps forward, the continued pace of attacks and killings and occasional government displays of indifference show how much remains to be done.
The eighth and ninth evaluate assistance and security for demobilized ex-combatants. Assistance efforts have been worthy, but security lags amid a low probability of killers being brought to justice
The remaining seven sections look at separate sets of commitments: crop substitution, transitional justice, inclusion of ethnic communities, the accords’ gender focus, laws that remain to be passed, verification mechanisms, and the U.S. government’s role. There are positive notes here, like the transitional justice system’s performance, useful external verification, and a more supportive tone from the Biden administration. For the most part, though, these seven sections sound alarms as ground continues to be lost.
Finally, WOLA’s new report explains why, despite the many setbacks documented here, this is absolutely not the time to give up on the peace accord and its promise. Instead, WOLA expects this five-year evaluation to motivate and inform the government that will take power after Colombia’s May 2022 elections, which will need to redouble implementation together with international partners.
Although many findings in “A Long Way to Go” are grim, the report also upholds the bright spots of the past five years. More than nine in ten demobilized guerrillas remain committed to the peace process. The special post-conflict justice system is functioning, earning recent praise from the International Criminal Court. Though beleaguered by threats and attacks, Colombia’s civil society and free press remain vibrant, and the country is headed into 2022 elections with a broad spectrum of candidates.
The window has not closed all the way. All is not lost yet. By taking the temperature of implementation at the five year mark in the most clear-eyed possible manner, WOLA hopes to contribute to Colombians’ effort to resume and rethink their fight to curb the conflict’s historic causes.
Colombia’s government and largest guerrilla group signed a historic peace accord on November 24, 2016. The government took on many commitments which, if implemented, could guide Colombia away from cycles of violence that its people have suffered, especially in the countryside, for over a century.
Five years later, is the peace accord being implemented? The picture is complicated: the FARC remain demobilized and a transitional justice system is making real progress. But the countryside remains violent and ungoverned, and crucial peace accord commitments are going unmet. WOLA Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez joins host Adam Isacson for a walk through which aspects of accord implementation are going well, and which are urgently not.
On October 21 and 22, 2021, representatives from five macro regions in Colombia held the Black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquero and Raizal People’s Summit in Santiago de Cali, Valle del Cauca department. They engaged in collaborative work and analysis to advance their common objectives at a time when their communities and territories face serious challenges. These challenges stem from a historical and systematic marginalization; the resurgence of armed conflict and widespread violence, forced internal displacement, and dispossession of their territories and natural resources; the COVID-19 pandemic; and Colombia’s national strike, which brought to light the severity of these ongoing situations.
The summit resulted in a concerted set of recommendations that urge for the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 peace accord and its Ethnic Chapter, the active enforcement of the Afro-Colombian collective land ownership Law 70 of 1993, the declaration of humanitarian emergencies in Afro-descendant territories, the need to promote economic reactivation targeted towards Black communities, a protection strategy that focuses on social investment, among other key issues.
In view of the absence of high-level government officials at the summit, members plan to go to Bogotá to deliver these demands and recommendations personally to President Iván Duque.
You can read unofficial, English-language translations of the recommendations here and here.
Many women and their organizations across Colombia have come together to document their own experiences with violence during the country’s internal armed conflict, share their testimonies, offer an analysis of the structural roots of violence against women in a patriarchal society, and provide recommendations to ensure such violence does not recur. These efforts resulted in a published report—by Colombian feminist organization Casa de la Mujer, in colloboration with local organizations in Cauca, Córdoba, and Meta departments—entitled “TruthIs: Politicizing Women’s Pain and Emotions.”
These women’s organizations submitted their report to Colombia’s Truth Commission, which was created in the historic 2016 Peace Accord to uncover the truth about human rights violations during the conflict, promote recognition of the victims and the responsibilities of those in the conflict, and foster coexistence in order to ensure such violence is not repeated. The report discusses the importance of politicizing women’s pain and emotions as a means to raise public awareness about the conflict’s violence against women and provide guarantees these harmful acts will not be repeated. It contains chapters dedicated to the Meta, Córdoba, and Cauca departments that outline women’s rights before armed actors arrived, women’s experiences after they arrived, the acts of violence committed against women, women’s emotions and resistance, and the patriarchal logic and practices of violence perpetrated against women.
The report’s recommendations are vital to addressing all forms of violence against women and ensuring a strong gender approach for understanding the conflict and building lasting peace. Therefore, delivering the report to the Truth Commission is important because it highlights the trailblazing gender provisions in the Peace Accord and urges they be used as mechanisms for justice.
The women’s organizations call on the international community to:
Urge the Colombian state to advance the integral implementation of the Peace Accord, in particular with regard to women’s and a gender perspective, demilitarize the response to social protest, and guarantee women’s right to social and political participation;
Support the design and implementation of programs and actions aimed at guaranteeing the non-repetition of acts of violence experienced by women;
Accompany the process of widely distributing the Truth Commission’s final report when it is published in mid-2022;
Consistently follow-up, through international monitoring, on the implementation of the Truth Commission’s recommendations for coexistence and non-repetition;
Support peacebuilding initiatives led by civil society organizations, especially those led by women.
Below you will find an unofficial translation of a summary of the report.
TruthIs: Politicizing Women’s Pain and Emotions
To guarantee acts of violence perpetrated against women are not repeated, it is necessary to carry out initiatives for coexistence, reconciliation, and peacebuilding. These initiatives require the inevitable ethical and political responsibilities of explaining how the violence of Colombia’s internal armed conflict, as well as overarching patriarchal and capitalist ideologies, have caused suffering for women. With these responsibilities in mind, the truth narrated by women must contribute to a recognition by Colombian society that their lives are valuable and that this violence against women is a societal concern. Addressing violence against women at the societal level serves as a step towards healing for women victims of the armed conflict. To politicize the pain and emotions of women is to recognize, understand, and explain the suffering of women; it is accepting that the loss of their lives has not been considered a reason for social or collective mourning, given the unequal distribution of suffering in which women’s pain has not been and is not socially recognized or amplified (Butler, 2006, p. 16).
Therefore, we hope that our report “TruthIs: Politicizing Women’s Pain and Emotions” will contribute to politicizing both the roots of the patriarchy and the socio-political structures in which we live. We also strive to explain why some lives are more protected than others and why some are more exposed to violence and more susceptible to suffering. Additionally, we also explore why some women manage to process and give a collective and political meaning to their pain through forms of resistance. For example, they accompany other women, promote organizing among women, and demand the building of a society where women are equal and have the same opportunities as men, free from violence.
The report contains a prologue that discusses the importance of politicizing women’s pain and emotions as a means to raise public awareness, ensure these harmful acts are not repeated, and build lasting peace. The report’s introduction presents the principles, methodology, purpose, and the conceptual elements that guide the information collection and its subsequent analysis. The report then focuses on three of Colombia’s departments: Meta, Córdoba, and Cauca. Each of these chapters addresses women’s rights before armed actors arrived, women’s experiences after armed actors arrived, the acts of violence committed against women, women’s emotions and resistance, and the patriarchal logic and practices of violence perpetrated against women. Additionally, each chapter includes the most relevant dynamics of the armed conflict that help explain the intersection and intertwining of the violence women experienced.
The last chapter analyzes the patriarchal ideology of violence used against women and its expansion, its continuities and discontinuities, and its displacement from private life to the public realm and from the public realm to the private sphere. It includes the practices, stereotypes, and evaluations about women and feminized bodies. The chapter ends with recommendations to Colombia’s Truth Commission to guarantee non-repetition and coexistence.
Women victims from the following groups and regions present recommendations that they hope will contribute to the Truth Commission’s work, and ultimately contribute to responding to the expectations and needs of women victims:
Women from Caldono, Santander de Quilichao, Lorica, Montería, Tierralta, Valencia, and Granada.
The Association of Women of Ariari- Association of Women Building Development for the Region of Ariari Asomuariari (Asociación De Mujeres Construyendo Desarrollo para la Región del Ariari, Asomuariari).
The Association of Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict of Lorica (Asociación de Víctimas por el conflicto armado interno de Lorica, Asovilor).
Foundation for Social Development and Agricultural Research (Fundación para el Desarrollo Social y la Investigación Agrícola, Fundesia).
Network of Social Organizations of Communal and Community Women of Monteria (Red de Organizaciones Sociales de mujeres, Rosmuc).
With regard to interpreting the violent acts against women during the internal armed conflict, we suggest that the Truth Commission:
Take into account the existing relationships among armed conflict, patriarchy, and capitalism, and how these contribute to violence against women; that is, creating cartographies that demonstrate the intersection of structural violence with the violence experienced by women because they are women, in all their diverse identities;
Recognize that violence against women is fundamental to the mapping of geographies of power, control, and masculinized “disciplining” of women’s bodies and territories;
Highlight the importance of deconstructing the patriarchal and capitalist ideologies that place women’s lives in a place of precariousness that is exacerbated within a scenario of armed confrontation;
Recognize women as holders of rights, in all their diverse identities; implying that the recommendations should ensure that the state guarantee enabling conditions for the effective enjoyment of rights for all women, without any distinction whatsoever. Additionally, it means changing the perspective that all women have the same needs, instead understanding that women victims have individual experiences and rights, allowing them to demand that the state comply with its constitutional and internationally recognized responsibilities.
In order to politicize women’s pain and emotions, we suggest the Truth Commission give a privileged place in its report for women’s pain and emotions. Such pain and emotions are linked to the ruthless exercise of power by men—armed and unarmed—over women, the violence against them, and the dispute over their bodies, their territory.
Therefore, we suggest the Truth Commission urge the Colombian state to:
Design and agree on national and territorial plans for the psychosocial accompaniment of victims by women’s and victims’ organizations and provide the needed economic and professional resources. Plans should emphasize strategies that focus on women’s pain and care for the body, promoting reflection on the deprivatization of pain, self-care, self-esteem, and autonomy in all their diverse identities. The national and territorial plans should include ancestral knowledge and practices of care and self-care;
Design, coordinate, and implement communication, cultural, and educational strategies that transform images and stereotypes that uplift the value, life, and dignity of women in all their diverse identities;
Build monuments and public parks to honor the memory of women victims and declare sites linked to the violence committed against women during the armed conflict as spaces of memory (after putting together an inventory of sites in consultation with women’s organizations);
Recognize the responsibility of the state, armed actors, and civil society organizations in the territories for the violence committed against women and for the pain caused because they did nothing to stop, denounce, investigate, and punish this violence. They failed to protect women;
Apologize to the victims of sexual violence, especially women and girls, and other people of different sexual orientations and different gender identities for the grave violations committed against them.
In regard to guarantees for non-repetition and reconciliation, we suggest the Colombian Truth Commission:
Immediately comply with the Peace Accord and, in particular, with measures focused on women’s rights and a gender perspective;
Design and implement programs and actions that help guarantee non-repetition. They should aim to recognize the experiences and authority of women, as well as remove the structural causes of oppression and subordination, injustices and exclusions, and the violence women experience in public and private spheres;
Give full support and legitimacy to the work of individuals, institutions, and organizations that defend women’s human rights, feminist organizations, and victims’ organizations;
Provide support to collective memory initiatives proposed by local institutions, women’s organizations, and communities affected by severe violations of women’s human rights—in all their diverse identities—and international humanitarian law;
Design, coordinate, and implement, in public and private educational centers, a pedagogy for reconciliation based on the recognition of and respect for otherness, dialogue as an option for dealing with public and private conflicts, solidarity and cooperation, as well as the need to legitimize and grant authority to the experience of women in all their diverse identities. The construction of peace and reconciliation requires the transformation of social norms and the material and symbolic elements that reproduce war, discrimination, and privileges for political, economic, social, ethnic, and sexual reasons;
Guarantee the equal participation of women in all their diverse identities in the mechanisms adopted to follow up on the implementation of the Truth Commission’s recommendations.
We call upon the international community to:
Urge the Colombian state to advance the integral implementation of the Peace Accord, in particular with regard to women’s rights and a gender perspective, demilitarize the response to social protest, and guarantee women’s right to social and political participation.
Support the design and implementation of programs and actions aimed at guaranteeing the non-repetition of acts of violence experienced by women;
Accompany the process of widely distributing the Truth Commission’s final report when it is published in mid-2022.
Consistently follow-up, through international monitoring, on the implementation of the Truth Commission’s recommendations for coexistence and non-repetition.
Support peacebuilding initiatives led by civil society organizations, especially those led by women.
On October 18, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), alongside 16 other U.S. civil society organizations, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to use his travel to Colombia as an opportunity to press the Colombian government for progress on peace accord implementation, among other critical human rights matters. Secretary Blinken is set to travel to Bogotá on October 20, where he will meet with President Iván Duque and Vice President-Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez, co-lead a migration ministerial, open the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Dialogue, engage in a conversation on democracy and human rights with youth leaders and civic activists, and participate in an event about tackling the climate crisis.
The letter expresses disappointment with the Biden administration’s position on Colombia-related matters thus far. They encourage Secretary Blinken to “avoid public statements that praise the U.S.-Colombia partnership while skirting over the deeply disturbing patterns of human rights violations that should be a major focus of U.S. concern and diplomacy.” These matters of concern include the serious problems of police brutality and racial injustice, addressing the needs of low-income and landless farmers, improving the dire situation of social leaders, advancing ethnic rights, and fully and comprehensively implementing the historic 2016 peace accord. The organizations provide detailed recommendations that should guide the State Department’s foreign policy on and engagement with Colombia.
On September 30, hundreds of Colombian civil society organizations and individuals lauded the U.S. House of Representatives’ decision to pass a Colombia-related amendment in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits U.S. defense-budget funding to aerial fumigation of illicit crops in Colombia. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the amendment alongside two other Colombia-related amendments. These amendments, approved through a larger bloc of amendments, will still need to survive approval by the U.S. Senate then the Conference Committee.
The September 30 statement called on the U.S. Senate to maintain the anti-aerial fumigation amendment in the final bill and urged the U.S. Congress to also ensure funds are not allocated to finance the practice during collaborative efforts between the State Department and Colombia. The organizations and individuals underscored the detrimental social, health, and environmental effects of using aerial fumigation with glyphosate and also outlined how the Colombian government has failed to maintain its 2016 peace accord commitments to advance voluntary crop substitution programs. They noted how these failures helped spur the wave of protests that occurred in Colombia in May 2021.
An unofficial translation of the letter is available here. The original Spanish version is here.
On September 2, La Silla Vacía—an investigative Colombian news site—published an article about the case of Harold Ordóñez, a former FARC combatant, who, despite actively participating in the peace process, was indicted on trumped-up charges, or a “judicial false positive” (falso positivo judicial).
Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office is accusing Ordóñez of conspiring to commit a crime, illegally possessing a weapon exclusively used by the armed forces, and aggravated homicide, all with the premise that he is alias ‘Óscar,’ a commander of the former Central Block armed group. As the article notes, the charges are based on circumstantial evidence and more substantial evidence demonstrates his innocence.
The case raises larger concerns for Colombia’s peace process. Ordóñez is a left-leaning campesino leader, father, student, and an advocate for social dialogue who is helping advance the provisions in the 2016 peace accord. As the article points out, it seems that the objective of these charges are not to render justice or combat rampant crime, but to socially eliminate any political opposition. This behavior is dangerous for Colombia’s peace, as it may incentivize recidivism among former combatants.
Read an unofficial, English translation of La Silla Vacía’s article here.