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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Civil Society Faces Deadly Threats in Colombia’s Chocó Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Support Colombian civil society organizations

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

3. “Don’t abandon Colombia”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find the full Defend the Peace letter in Spanish below:

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

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

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

Here is the full statement translated into English:

Public Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, we demand the Colombian government to:

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

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

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

Bogotá, May 30, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the full text translated into English:

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

A Declaration of the Defend the Peace Movement

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

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

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

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

Tags: United Nations

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

Leer en español

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights

It’s possible that 15% of the FARC have re-armed

From La Silla Vacía (Colombia).

Leer en español

A very good New York Times analysis by Nick Casey, which ran on May 17, looked at the Colombian government’s failures to honor commitments made in the 2016 FARC peace accord. It included this troubling finding:

Experts estimate that as many as 3,000 militants have taken up arms again — a figure equal to more than 40 percent of those who initially demobilized. It includes new recruits.

That’s correct, as written. However, more than one reader probably saw that and came away with the notion that “40% of the FARC have already rearmed.”

Some rearmament happens after nearly all peace accords, as dissident or residual groups form. But a recidivism rate of 40 percent would be disastrous. It would make it very hard to defend the notion that the government should honor its accord commitments.

Colombia’s past demobilizations saw much recidivism—but not 40 percent. Between 2002 and 2013, about 55,000 guerrillas and paramilitaries demobilized. About 20 percent went on to commit crimes, according to the official estimate.

How does the FARC process compare so far?

  • Let’s accept that figure of 3,000 members of FARC dissident groups, large and small, scattered around the country. That sounds right, even though the commander of Colombia’s army reported 2,000 members in March. The dissidences are growing fast, attracting some disillusioned fighters and recruiting from a large pool of underemployed rural youth.
  • Let’s say that 2,000 of them were once FARC members who demobilized. I think this estimate is a bit high, but we have no way to know: it’s impossible to do a survey of dissident fighters.
  • 6,804 FARC fighters reported to demobilization sites in 2017, where they turned in a larger number of weapons to a UN mission, and remained for several months.
  • But that is not the entire universe of demobilized FARC fighters. One must add FARC members who were released from prison, and FARC militia members: part time, mostly urban guerrillas who had only to report to the demobilization zones for a few days.
  • That yields an entire universe of 13,061 former FARC members, the number that had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace as of late March, according to the UN Verification Mission.

2,000 recidivist fighters out of a universe of 13,061 would be 15 percent of all who demobilized. That’s bad, but not unusually high for a peace process, especially one in which the accord has been implemented so slowly and partially.

Because of that slow, partial implementation, and the evident lack of political support the accord has from Colombia’s current government, this percentage is bound to get worse. Every day right now, ex-guerrillas, tired of uncertainty and poor economic prospects, may be accepting the dissidents’ offers.

Tags: Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration

Big JEP vote today in Colombia’s Senate

On March 11 Colombian President Iván Duque threw the country’s peace process into semi-paralysis. He formally “objected” to parts of the law underlying the transitional justice system that the accords had set up for judging ex-combatants’ human rights crimes. The “objections,” essentially a line-item veto, sent back to Colombia’s Congress a law that originally passed in November 2017. Today, Colombia’s Senate is to vote on the objections, a major milestone in this labyrinthine process.

Without an underlying “Statutory Law,” the transitional-justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), can function but is badly hobbled. The JEP is a special tribunal, developed after 19 months of contentious negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana, to judge those on both sides who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. In exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims, the JEP sentences war criminals to up to eight years of “restricted liberty,” not quite prison. This was enough to convince 13,000 FARC guerrillas to demobilize, making the JEP the backbone of the 2016 peace accord. But the perception of leniency has made it unpopular and vulnerable to political attack.

For the 11,000 ex-guerrillas and 1,950 military personnel who have signed up to be tried in the JEP, President Duque’s “objections” cause more delay and more uncertainty. And more uncertainty—even the possibility that the JEP Statutory Law could collapse—raises concern among ex-combatants that they could be imprisoned or even extradited to the United States. That possibility could cause hundreds, or even thousands, of ex-combatants to take up arms again. This is serious.

What happened?

For readers coming to this story late, a bit of chronology is in order.

  • The government-FARC peace accord went into effect on December 1, 2016. That set in motion a 12-month countdown in which Colombia’s Congress had “fast track” authority to quickly pass legislation needed to implement the accord. Just before the “fast track” deadline, at the very end of November 2017, Congress finally passed the Statutory Law for the JEP. Legislators added some problematic provisions, but at least the JEP had a legal underpinning.
  • The law then passed to Colombia’s highest judicial review body, the Constitutional Court, to assess its constitutionality. In August 2018, the Court signed off on most of the law. In December 2018, the Constitutional Court published its 980-page decision.
  • That set off a three-month countdown for President Duque, who took office in August 2018, to sign the bill into law. Just before that deadline, on March 11, Duque sent the Statutory Law back to Congress with objections to six of its 159 articles. They mainly had to do with reparations, the definition of “maximum responsible” war criminals, and extradition procedures.

Duque’s objections drew an outcry from peace accord supporters, both within Colombia and in the international community. Opposition legislators, led by former government peace negotiator Juanita Goebertus, used a newly won “right of rebuttal” to broadcast a video laying out the dangers posed by Duque’s move.

The only international government to support Duque’s actions was the Trump administration, in the person of Ambassador Kevin Whitaker, who went on national radio and met with members of Congress to argue for the objections that would ease extradition to the United States.

What happens now?

The JEP Statutory Law went to Colombia’s Congress, which is charged with voting to accept or reject President Duque’s objections. Colombia’s House and Senate vote separately. As we understand it, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. If both houses of Congress uphold Duque’s objections, they go back to the Constitutional Court for review. That Court already approved the law’s provisions after exhaustive review in 2018, so it would be likely to overturn the objections again.
  2. If both houses reject the objections, Duque must sign the bill into law as is, which would be a huge political defeat for him.
  3. If the two houses of Congress split, it’s not clear what might happen, as this situation has never come up under Colombia’s 1991 constitution. Probably, the six objections would be “archived,” and the law would go to the Court’s review without them. But it’s possible that the whole JEP law could get “archived,” or shut down, which would be disastrous. The Constitutional Court will have to decide.

On April 8, Colombia’s House of Representatives dealt President Duque a blistering defeat, voting 110-44 against his objections, with moderate and centrist parties joining the left. (This owed partly to concern about torpedoing the peace process, and partly to an unwillingness to hand Duque’s party a big political victory six months before nationwide gubernatorial and mayoral elections.) That eliminated option 1 above.

It is now up to the Senate to decide whether option 2 or option 3 will prevail. The vote will probably be closer there, not least because a senator from Duque’s party currently holds the body’s presidency. Analyses in Colombia’s media, though, indicate a majority of senators is likely to reject Duque’s objections, which would preserve the Statutory Law as is and deal an embarrassing blow to Iván Duque.

Duque’s supporters know this, and they have used gambits and delaying tactics to delay the Senate vote. Opposition observers worry that the governing party has been using the extra time making promises of patronage, like party positions in ministries, in order to turn the votes of enough moderate senators to gain a majority.

The vote is scheduled for today, Monday, April 29. Unless there are further delays, by Tuesday we should know whether President Duque’s objections have succeeded in keeping the JEP, and the peace process, in a state of semi-paralysis. This is an important vote.

Tags: Transitional Justice

Colombian Congress Concerned About U.S. Ambassador Whitaker

The below post features a letter from several members of Colombia’s Congress who support full implementation of the peace accord. They emphatically reject views that U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker expressed in some unusual early April meetings with Colombian legislators. An account of these meetings was first reported in the Bogotá daily El Espectador. That report showed Whitaker, a career diplomat now completing his fifth year as ambassador, hinting that

  1. All U.S. aid to Colombia may be cut if Congress rejects President Iván Duque’s objections to the law underlying the transitional justice system. Colombia’s House overwhelmingly rejected those objections on April 8
  2. President Trump may “decertify” Colombia in September for being a poor partner in the drug war.
  3. The extradition of former FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich is a “point of honor” for the U.S. government.

The letter continues:

 

Press Release

Denouncing the Ambassador of the United States in Colombia’s Intrusion

 

We, the undersigned Members of Congress, affirm the following:

  1. We reject the U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker’s open intrusion into Colombia’s domestic politics. We do not consider the intervention into the legislative debate a legitimate exercise of his diplomatic privileges in Colombia, especially in regard to the transitional justice system and the peace process. Thus, any form of political pressure on members of the Legislative or Judicial branches, even in the form of statements or suggestions in a public forum, are inadmissible. The role of diplomacy is to cultivate and maintain good relations between countries, people, and governments and not to get involved in the country’s own political issues and democratic functions.
  2. We express our solidarity with John Jairo Cárdenas, representative of the Chamber of Representatives and member of the U Party on the Chamber’s Peace Commission, in light of the announcement from the U.S. Embassy suspending his visa. We consider this action to be an unwarranted conflict in our normally cordial bilateral relations. We are willing to respond proportionately to express our dissatisfaction with the treatment given to our fellow Representative Cárdenas.
  3. We additionally establish that the position taken by the U.S. ambassador regarding the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and its legality contradicts the statements and positioned that the U.S. government has adopted in its capacity as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council. Jonathan Cohen, the previous ambassador from the United States, issued the following statement in the name of his government: “We reaffirm the importance of Colombia’s enforcement of the Statutory Law of the JEP, as it empowers the judicial body to act in an independent and effective manner.
  4. We ask that President Iván Duque Márquez, acting through the offices of Chancellor Carlos Holmes Trujillo, communicates this position from the National Government of Colombia rejecting this act violating our national sovereignty.

Signed:

Angélica Lozano

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Gustavo Petro

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Julián Gallo Cubillos

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Iván Cepeda Castro

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Wilson Arias Castillo

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Luis Alberto Albán Urbano

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Jorge Gómez

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Juanita Goebertus

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Ángela María Robledo

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Jorge Enrique Robledo

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Katherine Miranda Peña

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Omar Restrepo

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Fabián Díaz

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Alberto Castilla

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Antonio Sanguino

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Jairo Cala Suárez

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Carlos Alberto Carreño

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Benedicto González

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

María José Pizarro

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

León Fredy Muñoz

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Wilmer Leal

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

David Racero

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Tags: Human Rights Defenders, U.S. Congress, U.S. Policy

Afro-Colombian Leader Urges Global Community to Widen its Laser Focus on Venezuela to Prioritize Peace in Colombia

Erlendy Cuero Bravo was honored by Johns Hopkins University on February 18 in a ceremony in Baltimore for her tireless defense of Afro-Colombian human rights despite repeated threats to her life.

While global attention has concentrated on the grave humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, Cuero Bravo focused her Washington D.C. on sounding the alarm about neighboring Colombia’s protracted civil conflict and the fragility of the 2016 peace deal that faces daily threats from the Colombian government.

Cuero Bravo is the vice president of AFRODES, an organization fighting for the rights of Afro-Colombians displaced by armed conflict. AFRODES was founded in 1999 and represents a coalition of 96 organizations with over 90,000 members. Cuero Bravo accepted the Anne Smedinghoff Award and presented her work before Johns Hopkins students and faculty.

“I am originally from a small village in Buenaventura,” she said. “But I fled to Cali after my father was murdered.”

Beginning with the loss of her father, Cuero Bravo has endured a succession of threats and tragedies from her activism. One of AFRODES’s most visible leaders, she represents a default target for armed groups. Though finally granted state protection after a series of bureaucratic delays, she now lives in hiding in a situation she compares to a drug trafficker evading the law.

Armed groups have gone so far as to threaten Cuero-Bravo’s children. “I thought that if I am going to die defending the work I do, that’s one thing, but I will not stand to allow anything to happen to my child,” she said.

Cuero Bravo dismissed many state protection measures as completely ineffective. She described one protection protocol as simply a daily visit from police to see if the social leader is still alive. In another, a social leader is taken to a hotel for five days before moving back to the threatened area.

“The only weapon we have is our words,” she said.

In a separate meeting with WOLA and other human rights organizations, Cuero Bravo detailed disproportionate impact of both poverty and violence on Afro-Colombian women. Threats of physical violence come from criminal gangs, paramilitaries, small-scale drug traffickers, and false accusations from the police that target human rights defenders.

The circumstances of deprivation that displaced Afro-Colombians and others are enduring have recently become obscured by the Venezuelan refugee crisis.

“We want to help our Venezuelan sisters and brothers,” Cuero Bravo said during the event with WOLA. “But it’s hard to see President Duque promising immediate aid to them while we [the displaced population in Colombia] still don’t have access to education, housing, or schools for our children.”

Cuero Bravo expressed her concern that the influx of Venezuelan refugees will present Colombia’s internally displaced population with a competition for resources and exacerbate the unemployment that feeds the country’s cycle of violence.

The high unemployment and economic stress afflicting displaced communities and ethnic minorities creates an environment that enhances the vulnerability for young people to be recruited into illegal trafficking or gang-related groups. Many armed groups focus on recruiting children due to the reduced legal penalties for children under the age of 18.

What worries Cuero Bravo most is the lack of hope she sees in her community’s youth. “The young people see the toll it takes to fight for our rights, and now they don’t want to be social leaders anymore.”

Still, Cuero Bravo pointed to several positive signs of progress in the Afro-Colombian community. Youth programs, like one in Cali that supports 1300 young people with access to education and job training, have the potential to significantly decrease the violence in the region.

“There are so many resources in Colombia,” Cuero Bravo said. “There’s no reason why Colombia shouldn’t be a rich country.”

Written by Julia Friedmann, Colombia Program Intern

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities, Human Rights Defenders

A Lack of Political Will Abandons Ethnic Minorities in Colombia to a Deteriorating Security Situation

Indigenous and Afro-Colombian civil society leaders denounced the assassination crisis which has claimed the lives of 58 minority social leaders during a historic hearing before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) on February 15.

The hearing, jointly requested by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the National Association of Displaced Afro-descendants (AFRODES), the Consultancy for Human Rights (CODHES), WOLA, and the Center for Justice and International Law, allowed indigenous leaders to raise their concerns about enhanced environments of violence in their communities.

Indigenous civil society representatives from the departments of Amazonas, Putumayo, and others called on the Colombian government to enhance security in their communities. Andro Pieguaje, a representative of the Siona people in the Putumayo Department, reminded IACHR that indigenous and Afro-Colombian security has only worsened after the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC.

“The post-conflict situation has left [indigenous] territories abandoned,” Pieguaje said. “We’re left with paramilitaries and narco-paramilitaries who fight to control our territories and their resources, as well as the illicit crops.”

 

Identifying the Problem Becomes Difficult with Two Stories and Two Sets of Facts

Civil society and Colombian government representatives disputed the number of social leaders assassinated and threatened since 2016.

According to ONIC data presented by Patricia Suárez, 206 indigenous people have been murdered and 6,580 displaced since 2016. Twenty minutes later, the Colombian General Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General) identified just 38 murders during the same period. During questioning, the Colombian state justified their statistics by noting that they came from the United Nations.

Both civil society and the government agreed on the location of the crisis. The regions registering the greatest threats to indigenous leaders were listed as Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Chocó, La Guajira, Nariño, Antioquia, Putumayo, and Norte del Santander.

“The map of the affected areas and damage directly corresponds to an ethnic map [of Colombia],” said one of the lawyers representing civil society.

The humanitarian crisis in Colombia’s indigenous communities extends beyond the assassination of social leaders. “I’m here to bring the voice ofthe 102 indigenous nations of Colombia,” said one representative of the Naza people in Cauca. “The majority of us are living through the disappearance and extermination of our cultural identity.”

 

The Government’s Response

Government representatives rejected the accusations from civil society that their protection efforts were insufficient.

Referring to a government report, one Colombian state representative identified five factors that correlated with the assassinations. Four of the five factors blamed competition between armed extra-governmental actors, while one pointed to the “slow stabilization” of former FARC territory.

Pablo Elías González defended the government’s protection record. As the head of the National Protection Unit (UNP), he stated that 441 Afro-Colombian and 536 indigenous leaders had received protection. He also described the UNP practice as a dialogue with each individual in order to maximize their applicability to each culture.

Indigenous civil society representatives consistently cited the government’s slow response to protection as the deciding factor behind the violence. They also noted that the National Protection Unit (UNP) process was slowed by excessive bureaucratic hurdles and, when it was granted at all, often worsened the surrounding community’s security.

“The state lacks political will, because the process is slow enough that many leaders are killed before receiving protection,” Suárez said.

Súarez also pushed back against the government’s claim that it was implementing consultation-based policies. “We’ve showed up, and we’ve added our voices, but in practice there aren’t any advances [in indigenous security,” she said.

 

Moving Forward

Indigenous leaders proposed 10 mandates for both the IACHR and the Colombian government.

The recommendations focused on rapid investigations and response to murders and threats, prior consultation with indigenous communities about their protection, implementation of the Ethnic Chapters of both the 2016 peace accord and the 2018 National Development Plan, and a request that the CIDH visit the affected territories and hold the Colombian government accountable for implementing enhanced protection.

The hearing was intended to bring international pressure to bear on a Colombian government that has historically neglected ethnic minorities. The alarming number of social leaders killed in Colombia represents, as Súarez noted, a “lack of political will.”

Written by Julia Friedmann, Colombia Program Intern

Tags: Human Rights Defenders, Indigenous Communities, Inter-American System

Unenforced and Unrealized:

Despite Colombia’s progressive gender equity laws, Afro-Colombian women continue to face high rates of gender-based violence

Over two years after Colombia ratified a peace deal celebrated for its focus on gender equity, Afro-Colombian women face an increasing threat of violence without access to justice. According to a report on Colombia’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) released in February, Colombia violates the Convention’s protections for ethnic minorities. The publication anticipates the UN’s 72nd CEDAW conference that is scheduled between February 18 and March 8 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The report is one of the first to be directed by the Afro-Colombian community. The Cali Black Communities Process (PCN) and the Movement for the Diverse Identities of Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquera Women received drafting support from WOLA, MADRE and the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic of the CUNY School of Law. Building on interviews with Afro-Colombian human rights defenders, organizational documents, and news articles, the report details how the gap between Colombia’s laws and their enforcement generates consistent and systemic conditions of violence perpetrated against Afro-Colombian women.

The authors identified six primary threats to Afro-Colombian women’s security. Beginning with a detailed analysis of the failure to implement the peace accord, the report cites threats and attacks on female Afro-Colombian human rights defenders; sexual and gender-based violence; lack of access to justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence; lack of access to healthcare for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence; and the violation of Afro-Colombian women’s land rights.

A fractured peace deal compromises Afro-Colombian women’s safety

Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, and women’s groups mobilized during peace negotiations and won special provisions in the 2016 deal to address their specific needs and vulnerabilities. Only 54% of the accord’s Ethnic Chapter (Capítulo Étnico) was implemented as of March 2018, while only 51% of the gender provisions have been implemented.

The government’s failure to implement the peace legislation stems from both the national Congress’s lack of political will and the exclusion of Afro-Colombian women’s voices from the agreement’s enforcement mechanisms.

The implementation framework, called Plan Marco, was designed to integrate Afro-Colombian voices into its High Level Body on Gender and the High Level Body for Ethnic Peoples.

Two years later, both bodies are understaffed and underfunded, while the central enforcement authority has attempted to relegate Afro-Colombian women leaders’ input to email correspondence. The Commission on Security Guarantees, a critically important council for safeguarding human rights defenders, only has one female civil society representative.

When Uncertainty Becomes Deadly

One human rights defender is assassinated every three days in Colombia, according to reports compiled by the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (Defensoría del Pueblo). This crisis impacts Afro-Colombian women in two forms. The human rights defenders lack access to the protection they are entitled to by the government, while many are prosecuted for their community advocacy.

The alarming spike in assassinations of social leaders since the peace deal is caused by the power vacuum left in former FARC territories and the impunity armed groups enjoy in rural areas. Despite warnings from multiple international and human rights organizations, the government fill the territories the FARC demobilized from with increased security presence. The power vacuum has encouraged armed groups to compete for territory, while human rights defenders bear the costs of advocating for their communities.

Empty Protection Promises

Given Colombia’s long history of armed conflict, the country created the National Protection Unit (UPN) to provide security guarantees for threatened human rights defenders. However, Afro-Colombian women have reported that the protection—when granted after bureaucratic delays—can raise their target profile. After receiving a protection detail, an Afro-Colombian woman felt a multidimensional threat from both her original powerbrokers and her bodyguards.

“I cannot go anywhere without the two, armed, male body guards assigned by the UNP to protect me. It is uncomfortable, I know very little about them and their political agenda, while these men know where I live, and can identify my family. They watch my every move even when I am in my own home. Protection should be given to our entire community, that way I would not need to have individual protective measures and I would feel safer than I do now.”

The Office of the Attorney General (Fiscalía) has also criminalized the human rights work of Afro-Colombian women, falsely accusing Sara Liliana Quiñonez Valencia and her mother, Tulia Marys Valencia Quiñonez for supporting the ELN guerrilla. State authorities have imprisoned both women since April 2018 without charges or access to bail, violating several Colombian due process statutes.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: A Multidimensional Problem Requiring Bold Action

The CEDAW report found that Afro-descendant women in Colombia suffer disproportionate rates of sexual violence while perpetrators are given impunity. In one of the most egregious cases, the report cited testimony from human rights defenders that an Afro-Colombian woman was publicly raped in Tumaco—the site of two military bases—while police failed to intervene.

Colombia’s Law 1257 guarantees women the right to live free from all forms of violence. The law also guarantees victims of sexual violence access to justice. While incidences of sexual violence are under-reported, the Victim’s Registry Unit documented 24,576 victims of conflict-related sexual violence in 2017, while only 5 percent of offenders brought to trial were convicted for their crimes. This environment of impunity leaves Afro-descendant women at increased risk of sexual violence as a weapon of conflict.

Land: The Heart of the Problem

Colombia’s decades of armed conflict, though rooted in a variety of factors, mainly stems from extreme disparities in land ownership. Just 1% of Colombians own 81% of the land, while Afro-descendants and ethnic minorities are particularly marginalized when attempting to claim their ancestral land.

Colombia’s Law 70 passed in 1993 granted Afro-descendant communities the right to hold collective land titles. However, state and local officials have created administrative hurdles to disbursing them. As a result, Afro-descendants, who comprise 25% of Colombia’s population, only officially hold 5% of the land titles. Compounding the problem, only 1 of the 18 land restitution provisions of the peace accord has been implemented.

Afro-descendant women in Colombia advocating for human rights recognize that barriers to land ownership are barriers to their communities’ security. Without realizing their freedom from fears of forced displacement, extortion or sexual violence, Afro-Colombian women will continue to face deteriorating living standards and frequent human rights violations.

Recommendations

Observers solely referring to the gender laws already governing Colombia would assume a situation which could not be farther from reality for many Afro-descendant women. The CEDAW report’s essential recommendation to the Colombian government was to implement the pre-established laws while holding those who violate them accountable. The report credited Afro-Colombian women for raising their voices to a government who has chosen to ignore them. Afro-Colombian women and Colombia’s legal mandates understand their needs—all that remains is for the government to bridge the gap between statutes and action.

Written by Julia Friedmann, Colombia Intern

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities

One Year of the JEP: A Special focus on Victims

Marino Córdoba called on the Colombian government to refocus the implementation of its 2016 peace deal on the victims of the country’s 50-year civil war. Córdoba presented his call to action during a Jan. 16 event marking the one-year anniversary of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).

The JEP was established in 2016 as part of a peace deal between the Colombian government and the guerrilla insurgency Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Representing a compromise between the government and FARC leaders, the JEP implements a transitional justice model.

The agreement tasked the JEP with sanctioning the most grievous crimes committed during the 50-year conflict, while facilitating a sustainable peace by initiating a reconciliation process between victims and perpetrators.

“I was invited to present as a victim in order to represent [the victim’s] perspective of the JEP’s work,” said Córdoba, the founding director of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES). The organization has been an important WOLA partner since and represents a coalition of 96 organizations in a network of 90,000 Afro-Colombians.

Córdoba is a survivor of Operation Genesis, a 1997 forced displacement of Afro-Colombian communities in the Cacarica river basin in Chocó. During the operation, Colombian soldiers collaborated with paramilitary groups to target social leaders and farmer’s unions.

“Before I die, I want to know what happened in Riosucio, and who was responsible for it all,” Córdoba said at the event, documented by W Radio Colombia.

Colombian General Rito Alejo del Río Rojas, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for ordering Operation Genesis, recently agreed to appear before the JEP in exchange for a reduced sentence.

“As victims, we want to know the truth and we want other Colombians to know the truth as well,” Córdoba said, in reference to del Río’s appearance. “The JEP has a great responsibility to document what happened, and we will do our utmost to support the institution.”

Córdoba pushed back against allegations by former president Álvaro Uribe that the JEP is a political tool of the left. “This country is very polarized,” he said. “Right now, we need one voice to ensure that the victims of the conflict are at the center of the peace process.”

 

The JEP’s first year in review

Judicial Progress

The JEP has begun 5 major investigations focusing on the actions of FARC ex-combatants and the Colombian military. The cases focus on kidnappings by the FARC; violence in the departments of Tumaco, Ricaurte and Barbacoas, and Nariño; extrajudicial killings by the Colombian military (infamously known as “false positives”); crimes committed in the department of Antioquia’s sub-region of Urabá; and violence in the northern region of the Cauca department.

Over 800,000 victims have registered with the JEP in the past year, while 11,675 have agreed to appear before the tribunal. The vast majority of those agreeing to testify, 9,687, are ex-combatants of the FARC. The remaining number is composed of 1,938 members of Colombia’s Armed Forces, 38 state operatives unaffiliated with the Armed Forces, and 12 who have self-identified as social protesters. Two Colombian generals and one senator are the most notable public figures involved in the process.

 

Remaining Challenges

The JEP has navigated a highly politicized and controversial implementation of the peace agreement. About 15% of the JEP’s 51 magistrates come from Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and over half of them are women. However, the Central Democratic Party (UD) founded by ex-president Álvaro Uribe has accused the JEP of carrying out a political agenda. While independently unsubstantiated, UD’s allegations have cast doubt on the JEP’s legitimacy.

The JEP has also faced criticism from the FARC, with high-profile cases involving two of the group’s former leaders. The first, known by his alias Jesús Santrich, has sought a JEP guarantee that he will not be extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges. The second FARC ex-commander, Hernán Darío Velásquez, or “Paisa,” has not appeared before the JEP. The tribunal has yet to decide whether his failure to participate exempts him from the benefits of the transitional justice system.

The JEP’s most critical tool lies in its popular legitimacy. María Camila Moreno, director of the Colombia program for the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), emphasized the importance of transparency and legitimacy. Presenting on the JEP’s first year of operation, Moreno called for greater resources for implementing the peace agreement in post-conflict zones and a greater focus on the conflict’s victims. The JEP, she warned, must serve as an example that Colombia’s conflicts can be solved by institutions instead of violence.

 

Written by Julia Friedmann, Colombia Intern

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities, Transitional Justice, Victims

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of September 30-October 6

Prosecutor’s Office Raids Transitional Justice System Headquarters

On the afternoon of October 4 agents of Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía, which investigates and prosecutes crimes in the regular criminal justice system) showed up at the offices of the new, separate transitional justice system created by the peace accords (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP, which investigates and prosecutes war crimes committed during the armed conflict). The agents, sent by the Fiscalía, demanded to be allowed to carry out a “judicial inspection” of the files in the new justice system’s first and largest case so far, numbered “case 001”: charges of mass kidnapping against 31 FARC leaders.

This action, which appeared to be a blatant interference in the new justice system’s workings, generated expressions of outrage against Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, a frequent critic of the JEP and other aspects of the FARC peace accord. Though Martínez quickly rescinded the order and called back the agents, JEP President Patricia Linares declared, “the Prosecutor’s Office obtained a digital copy of the casefile, due to the hasty manner in which the procedure was carried out.”

Linares “strongly and emphatically reject[ed]” what she called “the Fiscalía’s undue interference with the autonomy and judicial independence” of the JEP, adding that it was “openly violative of the judicial reserve that covers the investigations carried out by JEP judges.”

The UN Verification Mission and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia issued a joint declaration following the incident:

The rights of victims and the legal security of participants in the armed conflict depend on strict respect of all public powers for the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. We underline the importance that collaboration between jurisdictions be harmonious and fully respectful of their respective competences.

What Colombian media called a “train crash” between the old and new judicial bodies could have consequences for the peace process. It appeared to be a political move seeking to intimidate the JEP and demonstrate the Fiscalía’s relative power. It may have increased former FARC leaders’ fear of being arrested in a similar future show of political power, which risks causing more of them to abandon the process, either going into hiding or taking up arms again.

Missing FARC Leaders Send a Harshly Worded Letter

Two of the most prominent leaders who have already gone clandestine surfaced in a letter sent to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress. Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa,” once head of a powerful FARC mobile column, have been missing since June or July. Their letter, the first communication from them in months, had some very harsh words for a process they view as failing.

“The peace accord has been betrayed,” reads the letter, which laments having agreed to turn in weapons before reaching more specific agreement on the terms of ex-combatants’ reintegration. The letter outlines what, in the missing leaders’ view, are three “structural flaws” in the November 2016 accord.

First, they cite “judicial insecurity,” believing themselves vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and possible extradition. They allege that this is what happened to Jesús Santrich, a guerrilla negotiator close to Márquez who was arrested in April and faces an extradition request to the United States on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine. The two ex-guerrilla leaders write that these charges are a “judicial setup hatched by the Attorney General, the U.S. Ambassador, and the DEA.” Writing in La Silla Vacía, analyst Héctor Riveros notes that regardless of the truth behind the Santrich case, the “judicial insecurity” argument has served “hundreds of ex-guerrillas” as a pretext for exiting the process and joining armed dissident groups.

The second “flaw” noted in the letter are the changes made to the accord after it was narrowly rejected in an October 2016 plebiscite, which in their words “transfigured the Havana Accord into a horrific Frankenstein.” Third, they cite the Colombian Congress’s failure to pass all the legislation needed to implement the accord, especially reforms to the political system and the failure to create special temporary congressional districts to represent victims’ groups.

The FARC political party held a press conference in the Congress, with its legislators rejecting the arguments in Márquez and Montero’s letter. “They’re totally wrong,” said FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada.

“I could hardly go and say that there are no conditions or guarantees while I’m sitting in the Senate press room leading a press conference. What we’re saying is that the process has difficulties, the implementation has not been consistent on the part of the state, but there are some spaces that have been won, we value them and they are very important to achieve progress in the implementation of the peace accords.”

Lozada called on the missing leaders to “understand” that the ex-guerrilla party has adopted a supportive but critical position on the accord’s implementation, and that they “reconsider their position.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told the Blu Radio network that “the police have intelligence reports” about Márquez and Montero’s current location. While refusing to reveal anything on the radio, Botero acknowledged that both are in Colombia.

US Ambassador Pushes for Santrich Extradition

The Jesús Santrich case remains a big test for Colombia’s new transitional justice system. The former guerrilla negotiator remains in prison awaiting a decision from the JEP about whether he may be extradited to face charges in a New York federal court of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the peace accord was ratified.

“Extradition is a very strong tool for Colombia, for the United States, for the victims and for the peace agreement,” U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker said this week. “Jesus Santrich is accused in a United States Court of having violated U.S. law, that is why we are seeking his extradition and we will continue in that.” The ambassador added, “Any person or institution that can stop the extraditions affects the interests of the United States, affects the interests of Colombia and of all those who long for peace.”

The FARC insists that Santrich, a FARC ideologist who has poor eyesight and little apparent prior involvement in the guerrillas’ narcotrafficking, is innocent. They doubt the evidence made public so far, which appears to show Santrich offering approval to a plan, hatched by a nephew of Iván Márquez, to send coca to Mexican narcotraffickers who are, in fact, DEA agents or informants.

Farc Senator Victoria Sandino said, “It’s been more than six months since they captured Jesus Santrich, with the argument that U.S. justice has the evidence,” but “the Prosecutor-General’s office then goes out and says it does not have it. And now the Embassy persists in the extradition. What we say is show the evidence and present it to the JEP. And Santrich’s legal defense demands freedom, because no evidence has been shown.”

Sandino is referring to this chain of events:

  • When another country requests the extradition of an individual facing trial in the JEP, the peace accord requires the JEP to determine whether the alleged crime took place before or after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord—the official end of the conflict. If the crime happened before that date, then extradition would be blocked.
  • This procedure left unclear whether the JEP was merely to perform the clerical task of certifying the date of the alleged crime, or whether it was also empowered to decide whether there was enough evidence to back up the allegation.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court settled this question in August, when it determined that the JEP does have the ability to evaluate the evidence backing an allegation.
  • On September 18, the JEP asked the Fiscalía to turn over all the evidence in its possession about the Santrich case.
  • On September 27, the Fiscalía sent a letter to the JEP stating that it had turned over everything it its Santrich file. La Silla Vacía commentator Héctor Riveros characterized this as “the ‘bureaucratic file,’ that is, some letters and little else.”
  • On October 1, the Fiscalía announced via Twitter that it had sent 12 more audio files to the JEP. But it also surprisingly announced that it “does not have audio or video evidence. …The elements being requested now are those that form part of a judicial process in the United States.” That the proof against Santrich is not available in Colombia drew much attention in Colombian media.
  • According to Riveros, the Chief Prosecutor then tried to do some damage control: “Prosecutor Néstor Humberto Martínez, aware of the seriousness of Santrich’s detention, invited the directors of the most influential media in the country to his office to show part of the evidence on the basis of which the former negotiator’s arrest was ordered. They were short videos and some photos that, although they did not reveal anything, hinted that Santrich may have been literally caught ‘with his hands in the cookie jar.’”

“If everything keeps going like this,” Riveros wrote, “that Jurisdiction [JEP] can not say anything other than that there is no proof that Santrich has committed crimes after the accord’s signing.”

New Security Council Report

The UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued its latest quarterly Secretary General’s report to the Security Council on the demobilization and reintegration process. It covers July 21 to September 26. Some of its key findings:

  • As of August 30, approximately 13,000 demobilized FARC members had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, and 12,773 of them had been provided with their accreditation, an increase of 150 since July. It’s hard to notify some of these ex-guerrillas of their accreditation because of their “increased dispersal.”
  • On August 10 the FARC gave the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace a list of about 1,000 additional former members, who were not on the “final” list of August 15, 2017, the date the FARC officially disarmed. Most of the new names, the Secretary-General’s report notes, “come from areas affected by continuing security challenges and where the integration of the individuals into the process could be beneficial. As such, I hope that this matter will be treated by the new Government as a priority.”
  • As of late August, 232 accredited ex-guerrillas were still in prison, even though the accord calls for amnesty for their crime of sedition, and then for their future appearance before the JEP for more serious crimes.
  • The UN Mission reiterated concerns about “the departures of several former FARC-EP commanders from the territorial areas for training and reintegration in the south-eastern region. Some of them have cited concerns about their physical and legal security as a motivating factor.” Ominously it adds, “this development has underlined the continued fragility of the peace process, owing in particular to the persistence of violence in the zones of conflict linked mainly to criminal groups.”
  • The Mission’s chief, UN diplomat Jean Arnault, said that about 4,000 ex-FARC members remain in the “territorial areas,” or demobilization sites, or their immediate vicinity. (Ex-guerrillas have been free to leave these sites since August 15, 2017.) More than 2,000 have moved to “several dozen new regrouping points and thousands are dispersed throughout all of the country, including in the main cities.”
  • “The process of economic reintegration is clearly lagging behind other dimensions of reintegration,” the report states. “[T]he fundamental goal of providing income-generating opportunities to some 14,000 former combatants is far from being realized, as illustrated by the fact that only 17 projects have been approved, of which only 2 are currently funded.” Former FARC members are carrying out dozens of productive projects, informally, on their own. Many could succeed, the UN report contends, “if provided with better access to technical and marketing advice, land and overall support from the Government, local authorities and the private sector, among others.”
  • Nine former FARC members were killed during the 90-day period, making a total of 71. The Fiscalía’s Special Investigation Unit, set up by the peace accord to investigate these killings, notes that three-quarters of these killings took place in five departments: Nariño (16), Antioquia (15), Cauca (12), Caquetá (8), and Norte de Santander (7). The UN report notes further, “In 34 cases, the Unit reported significant progress in its investigations, with 17 instigators or perpetrators arrested. Of these, 15 cases involved dissident groups, 7 involved private individuals, 6 were attributed to ELN, 4 cases were attributed to the Clan del Golfo criminal group, 1 involved local criminal organization and 1 case remains under investigation. According to the Investigation Unit, the principal motives behind the attacks are related to territorial control (21 cases) and revenge (3 cases).”
  • Even without direct negotiations, the UN report states that “continued direct communication between the Government and ELN is welcome.” The report finds that renewed peace talks are certainly possible: “The Government has made it clear that it expects a cessation of all violence; the ELN, for its part, has stated that it aims to bring about substantive change based on a broad social dialogue. The two goals are not incompatible.”

FIP Report Finds Deteriorating Security Conditions

The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think-tank founded by members of the business community, released an extensive report on October 3 about deteriorating security guarantees for practicing peaceful politics in post-conflict Colombia. “From a feeling of tranquility and expectation for the returns that the implementation of what was agreed with the FARC would bring,” the report reads, post-conflict regions “have passed into distrust and fear for the reactivation of violence.” It zooms in on four conflictive regions: Arauca, Catatumbo, Cauca, and southern Bolívar.

Among the report’s findings:

  • In the 170 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that Colombia has prioritized for post-conflict Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDETs), homicides increased 28 percent in January-July 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.
  • In these municipalities, forced displacement tripled, from 5,248 people to 16,997.
  • In these municipalities, crimes against social leaders also nearly tripled, from 24 to 67.
  • Throughout the country, 93 social leaders were killed between January and August, compared to 50 during the same period in 2017.

In the four regions it looked at, the FIP found common patterns:

  • an unstable confluence of armed actors;
  • a reactivation of social conflicts;
  • vulnerability of social leaders;
  • delays in the implementation of the peace accord;
  • weaknesses in ex-combatants’ reincorporation process; and
  • difficulties in implementing security guarantees at the local level.

The FIP calls for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration of post-conflict zones’ security situation. “Under these conditions, the implementation of the peace accord is at a critical moment. We still have time to prevent and contain the manifestations of violence and intimidation in the territories affected by the presence of illegal armed groups and armed confrontation.”

Kidnapping of Mayor’s Son, Age Five, in Catatumbo

Two armed, motorcycle-mounted men kidnapped the five-year-old son of the mayor of El Carmen, a municipality in the violence-torn region of Catatumbo, in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. The mayor, Edwin Contreras, is part of a political dynasty in the 2,000-person municipality; his uncle had held the post before him. “Since he became mayor, he has received strong intimidations,” reports El Espectador.

The Catatumbo region, with 11 municipalities and a population of about 300,000, has suffered frequent fighting between the ELN and a local guerrilla group, the EPL, since March. The two groups previously had cordial relations, but the departure of the FARC from part of the zone, and a sharp rise in coca cultivation, undid the local power equilibrium. Violence has since shuttered schools at times and displaced thousands.

While the kidnappers’ identity is unknown, speculation points to the ELN. “In this municipality, even a needle can’t move without the ELN knowing about it,” local residents who asked to remain unnamed told El Espectador. “We’re so exposed that on any given day they can kidnap the mayor’s son,” the municipal ombudsman said. “There is no Army here. There is a police presence, but they can’t do their job. They can’t go out. We’ve reiterated this issue in all official security meetings. We are abandoned to our fate.”

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Extradition, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy, UN, Weekly update