Bringing into the 2020s

During the government-FARC peace negotiations, WOLA used this site heavily to explain what was happening to an English-speaking audience. During the past few years, though, we’ve mainly used this space to share occasional blog posts.

We’re changing that. This website is undergoing a thorough overhaul, as you can see if you click the options in the menu at the top of the page. 

The following resources, together with the blog you’re reading right now, are in place already:

✔️ A timeline, in reverse chronological order, of events relevant to peace, security, and human rights in Colombia, with many graphics and links to sources. Entries to this timeline are tagged: clicking on a topic will result in a “sub-timeline” just for that topic. We don’t intend for make this a source for today’s news: we will update it about once per month, adding all of the previous month’s timeline entries at once by the middle of each month.

✔️ Links to reports about peace, security, and human rights in Colombia. That includes WOLA’s reports, reports from governments and International organizations, reports from non-governmental organizations, and in-depth journalism. These listings are also tagged: clicking on a topic will reveal only reports for that topic.

✔️ Public-domain photos relevant to peace, security, and human rights in Colombia. Again, tagged by topic.

✔️ Embeddable videos, minimum three minutes in length, relevant to peace, security, and human rights in Colombia, tagged by topic.

✔️ In the sidebar on this site’s main page, links to current news relevant to peace, security, and human rights in Colombia.

The following resources are under construction, but coming in March:

???? A constantly updated page of frequently sought numbers, with links to sources. In one place, visitors will find numerical data like approximate memberships of armed groups, peace implementation expenditures, hectares of coca, amounts of U.S. assistance, and much more.

???? A constantly updated collection of about a dozen brief “explainer” documents about important issues and entities. There will be pages about coca cultivation, dissident groups, transitional justice, U.S. policy, PDETs, and more—and their content will change often when we obtain new information.

???? Overall, the site still requires a lot of styling to improve readability, navigability, and aesthetics. That banner image at the top, for instance, looks very “2013.”

We’ve moved this site’s old pages (other than blog entries) to an archive section. Our new resources will go back only to January 2020, and build from there.

We look forward to spending the rest of the decade making this space a crucially important resource about Colombia’s uneven, often frustrating, but indispensable—and even sometimes courageous—effort to put its long conflict behind it.

Tags: Admin

Notes on the Colombian Government’s Draft Decree to Restart Coca Fumigation

A National Police OV-10 plane sprays herbicides over a coca field in Colombia. [AP/WWP file photo]
Image from the State Department’s website.

On December 30 Colombia’s Ministry of Justice issued a draft decree that would allow it to re-start a U.S.-backed program of aerial herbicide fumigation in coca-growing zones. This program used aircraft to spray more than 4.4 million acres of Colombian territory between 1994 and 2015.

In 2015, a UN World Health Organization literature review found that glyphosate, the herbicide used in the program, was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In 2018 and 2019, two California juries gave large awards to three U.S. plaintiffs who claimed a link between heavy use of glyphosate and cancer, particularly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The government of Juan Manuel Santos suspended the coca spraying program in late 2015, but took years before replacing it with any other effort, like alternative livelihoods or manual eradication. As a result of this and other factors, coca cultivation increased dramatically in Colombia. By 2017, more than 119,500 families were making a living off of the crop.

Now, the government of Iván Duque is bringing fumigation back. The U.S. Department of State quickly put out a brief statement celebrating Colombia’s decision.

The decree is 20 pages long, and lays out some of the review, consultation, and complaint processes that should apply to a renewed fumigation program. We’d been expecting this document since July 18, 2019, when Colombia’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling, modifying a 2017 decision, softening the requirements that the government would have to fulfill in order to start fumigating again.

What happens next?

The draft decree is now undergoing a 30-day citizen comment period. Then, it will go to Colombia’s National Drug Policy Council (Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes), a grouping of ministers, the police chief, the chief prosecutor, and the inspector-general, which must then vote to re-start the program. That vote probably won’t happen until at least March or April. The Colombian journalism website La Silla Vacía sees the process going on for months more:

Several more steps await: that the final decree be issued; that the Defense Ministry formally present a spray program, adjusting to this decree’s requirements, before the National Drug Policy Council; that this Council approves it; and that the Ministry obtains an environmental license for that program. All of that will take several months, and probably most of the year.

The Court’s requirements

Though it loosened restrictions on a new spray program, the Constitutional Court still requires that:

  • The regulations governing spraying come from a different agency than the one charged with spraying.
  • The regulation must be based on an evaluation of health, environmental, and other risks. That evaluation must be “participatory and technically sound,” and must happen continuously.
  • Newly emerged risks or complaints must receive automatic review.
  • Scientific evaluations of risk must be rigorous, impartial, and of high quality.
  • Complaints about health, environmental, or legal crop damage must be processed in a “comprehensive, independent, and impartial” way that is “tied to the risk evaluation.”
  • “Objective and conclusive” evidence must demonstrate “absence of damage to health and the environment,” though the Court says that absence doesn’t need to be total.

Limits on spraying

The draft decree excludes from aerial spraying “natural parks of Colombia, whether national or regional; strategic ecosystems like páramos, wetlands as defined by the Ramsar convention and mangroves; populated centers; settlements of populations; and bodies of water.” According to Colombia’s Semana magazine, “researchers consulted…calculate that 70 percent of illicit crops are located in territories where aerial fumigations aren’t viable” under the decree’s definitions because “they are protected zones, because prior consultation is required, or because they are out of the planes’ reach for logistical reasons.”

Oversight, evaluation, and complaints

As in the past, Colombia’s National Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate, a heavy recipient of U.S. assistance, would manage the new spray program. The draft decree gives crucial oversight and approval responsibilities to three small agencies elsewhere within the Colombian government.

  • The Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), within the Agriculture Ministry, will be charged with processing and adjudicating complaints about the inadvertent spraying of legal crops. It must do so within 15 days, though the decree allows very wide latitude for postponements. (During the past spray program, people whose legal crops suffered damage from fumigation had to go to the Anti-Narcotics Police, which approved only a small single-digit percentage of compensations. Police usually responded that “we didn’t spray there that day,” “there was coca mixed in with the legal crops”—which many farmers denied, or “the zone is too insecure to evaluate the alleged damage.”)
  • The National Environmental Licensing Agency (ANLA), an Environment Ministry entity established in 2011, will approve aerial eradication projects, perform initial studies, and monitor their environmental impact, while processing complaints about environmental damage.
  • The the National Health Institute (INS), an entity within the Health Ministry, will monitor the human health impact of aerial eradication, carrying out continual evaluation of health risks, while processing health complaints.

These agencies seem quite small, with sporadically updated websites. In some cases they will have to depend on the National Police for logistical support necessary to perform their oversight work. Their capacity to handle a large docket of complaints and monitoring requests is far from assured.

Participation and consultation

The decree states that the Anti-Narcotics Police must “announce to local and regional authorities, as well as to the citizenry in general, the initiation of spray activities.” This announcement must explain complaint and evaluation mechanisms, and use local media. After spraying in an area, the Narcotics Police must “guarantee participation spaces with local authorities and with the citizenry in general, in which comments, complaints, and suggestions may be expressed.” Conclusions of these “participation spaces” will be included in the Anti-Narcotics Police’s monthly report to the ANLA.

What the peace accord says

Semana notes that the Constitutional Court had “immovably” required the Colombian government to build a spraying policy “that complies with what was established by the FARC peace accord,” adding that “the expression ‘peace accord’ isn’t mentioned even once in the decree’s text.” The peace accord (section limits aerial spraying only to cases in which communities have not agreed to crop substitution, and where manual eradication is “not possible.”

In cases where there is no agreement with the communities, the Government will proceed to remove the crops used for illicit purposes, prioritising manual removal where possible, bearing in mind respect for human rights, the environment, health and well-being. If substitution is not possible, the Government does not waive the instruments that it believes to be most effective, including aerial spraying to ensure the eradication of crops used for illicit purposes. The FARC-EP consider that in any case of removal this must be effected manually.

Tags: Coca, Illicit Crop Eradication

Lecture: “Saving Colombia’s Fragile Peace”

WOLA’s Adam Isacson was at Florida State University on October 30, 2019 delivering a Broad International Lecture on Colombia’s conflict and peace accord implementation.

It’s a recent iteration of Adam’s “Colombia 101” talk, covering the conflict, U.S. policy, Plan Colombia, the peace process, and today’s security challenges. It’s 55 minutes plus questions and answers.

The staff at FSU did a great job of integrating dozens of slides into the video, and the sound and lighting are very good. We’re grateful to them for sharing this.

Tags: Armed Groups, Compliance with Commitments, Stabilization, U.S. Policy

WOLA Podcast: Protest and Politics in Post-Conflict Colombia

WOLA’s Defense Oversight Director Adam Isacson talks about Colombia with WOLA Andes Program Director Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli. She explains Colombia’s four-week-old wave of social protests, the continuing challenge of peace accord implementation, and efforts to protect social leaders. Isacson and Sánchez-Garzoli talk about what they saw and heard during October field research in the historically conflictive, and still very tense, regions of Arauca and Chocó.

(mp3 download)

Tags: Arauca, Attacks on social leaders, Audio, Chocó, Human Rights, Podcast, Politics of Peace

Can a Group Chat Unite a Polarized Colombia Around Peace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polarization around the peace accords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ethnic Communities are the Pathway to Peace in Colombia’s Abandoned Areas

In 2016, after various failed efforts with devastating human consequences, Colombia signed peace with guerrilla group the FARC, ending a protracted conflict that violently raged on for over half a century. In the end, the conflict resulted in more than 23,000 selective assassinations, 27,000 kidnappings, 260,000 deaths and 8 million registered victims.

The bulk of the fighting, displacement and abuses were related to armed groups vying for control of land in areas with weak or no state presence. For example, atrocities like the May 2002 Bojaya massacre—in which over 80 Afro-Colombian civilians were incinerated after FARC guerrillas threw a pipe bomb at the church where they were taking refuge from the fighting—were concentrated in rural Colombia.

Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations have long inhabited the most remote, geographically hard to access and biodiverse areas of the country. Yet it wasn’t until 1991—when Colombia’s constitution finally recognized the plural ethnicity of the country—that these populations were able to legally claim their collective land titles. Despite this formal protection, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities have been disproportionately victimized by special interests propping illegal armed groups’ thirst for land in order to carry out illegal economies and development projects without the consent of local communities.

Within this context, Colombia’s peace accord attempts to balance international standards of justice with a necessary demobilization of combatants in order to end the fighting. In pursuit of that balance, it is innovative in many respects: it transversally safeguards the rights of ethnic minorities, integrates women and gender rights, and includes commitments geared towards resolving the issue of illicit drugs.

The importance of the peace deal’s Ethnic Chapter

At its core, this innovative approach to peace is largely due to the fact that multiple delegations of victims, women’s groups, and ethnic minority representatives met multiple times with the negotiating parties. After listening to the voices of numerous victims and civil society, the negotiating parties integrated their priorities into the agreement.After the government changed from Santos to Duque, the relationship reverted back to one of mistrust and deprioritization of ethnic minority issues.

The result of these efforts was Chapter 6.2, or the Ethnic Chapter, which safeguards the rights of ethnic minorities transversally throughout the accord by guaranteeing their right to prior, free and informed consent on norms, laws, and plans that affect their communities.

Another victory was the creation of the Special High Instance for Ethnic Peoples (Instancia Especial de Alto Nivel con Pueblos Étnicos), the body ensuring that ethnic minorities have representation and a voice before the commission responsible for verifying the peace agreement is fully implemented.

However, post accords, ethnic communities had to once again fight for inclusion into the implementation planning process. During the special legislative procedure—known as the “fast track” process—which saw the development of an Implementation Framework Plan, ethnic communities were able to get 98 ethnic indicators into the framework for the peace agreement.

A former FARC rebel waves a white peace flag during an act to commemorate the completion of their disarmament process in Buenavista, Colombia, in June 2017 (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara).

While, in theory, all 43 measures that gave constitutional and legal standing to the peace accords in Congress should have gone through a consultation process with both Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups, the reality was different. The government did not use this legislative procedure for all of the projects that would result in national norms. Rather, while the government said it would submit 18 legislative measures in consultation with coalition the Indigenous Permanent Concertation Table (Mesa Permanente de Concertación Nacional, MPC), it only presented six measures and normative projects. Afro-Colombian communities, meanwhile, did not get a chance to go through a formal consultation process.

Despite these early victories, the change in government from Santos to Duque has presented new challenges for ethnic and indigenous communities.

The failure to fully implement the Ethnic Chapter

After the Ethnic Chapter was agreed upon, the Santos administration’s relationship with ethnic minorities deepened. It was the Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples who most campaigned in favor of the peace referendum. These interactions opened up a better working relationship between different Colombian authorities—including the Inspector General’s Office and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office. These two offices are now two of the biggest advocates for the rights of ethnic groups. After the government changed from Santos to Duque, the relationship reverted back to one of mistrust and deprioritization of ethnic minority issues.All the peace-related projects… require buy-in and leadership from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to work.

Problems also arose regarding the Ethnic Chapter, which is critical to the success of the peace accords for a number of reasons.

A new state institution, the Agency for Territorial Renewal (Agencia de Renovacion del Territorio, ART), was created in 2015 in order to bring infrastructure and other state services to rural Colombia. This agency selected 170 municipalities that the government is supposed to prioritize when implementing its rural development initiatives, known as the Development Programs with a Territorial Approach (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial, PDETs).

Within these 170 municipalities are 452 indigenous reserves and 500 cabildos. Furthermore, in those areas, Afrodescendant, raizal and palenquero communities have 307 collective titles and 500 community councils. (It should be noted that the chapter of the peace accords that deals with rural land issues affects areas whereby 51 percent of indigenous and 81 percent of Afro Colombians are concentrated).The illicit crop substitution program was not designed with any input from ethnic leadership, making communities skeptical of the initiative.

While imperfect, the 300-page peace deal serves as a blueprint for extending civilian authority to areas that, for decades, were controlled by illegal armed groups. But in order to facilitate and guarantee that the state is effective and gains credibility in these areas, it must work hand in hand with the representatives of the ethnic communities. All the peace-related projects—from the PDETs to the illicit drug crop substitution program (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito, PNIS) meant to counter coca growing—require buy-in and leadership from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to work.

Sadly, the government has not complied with the safeguards in the Ethnic Chapter for advancing the legislative measures needed to more fully implement the accord. Neither has it advanced the work of the Special High Instance for Ethnic Peoples.

Residents of Puerto Conto, Chocó, who escaped their village due to fighting between leftist rebels and paramilitaries, disembark at the port of Quibdo in 2002 (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan).

In areas like Chocó, ethnic minorities have participated in the design of PDETs because they value its importance and see these as a mechanism of improving the situation for their people. But the illicit crop substitution program was not designed with any input from ethnic leadership, making communities skeptical of the initiative.

Statements by President Duque and his cabinet have also heightened concerns among ethnic leaders, particularly as it relates to restarting environmentally damaging aerial fumigation of glyphosate while at the same time attempting to implement crop substitution programs. A Constitutional Court decision has stalled fumigations, but leaves room for resumption down the road.

Budget fights

These challenges can be, in part, attributed to a lack of serious political will to advance peace. The government appears to be only interested in meeting UN and OAS measurements widely used to measure success of peace process by academics and the international community.

Essentially, the Colombian government is reducing the agreement to disarmament and integration of fighters, foregoing the structural changes needed to establish a durable stable peace. It appears as though the Colombian government is not looking to address the long term structural problems leading to conflict, nor the ethnic and gender issues.Reducing the budgets of these rural reform agencies is a direct way of cutting off support to ethnic communities.

Another major issue is that the Colombian government has attempted to fight every effort to allocate funds for the transitional justice system, known as the JEP. The JEP was notified in July that it should expect a budget cut of 30 percent by the Finance Ministry. However, push back from the international community—in particular the UN Security Council—made it politically untenable for the Ivan Duque administration to carry this out.

The final budget for 2020 ended up with a 13 percent increase for transitional justice, with the JEP only increasing its budget by 1 percent, the Truth Commission 18 percent (which, given that the Truth Commission’s budget was initially cut, only meets 56 percent of what they require) and the investigative unit responsible for searching for the disappeared 47 percent. There remains a general deficit of 8 billion pesos for these truth and justice initiatives.

A cursory look at budget allocations for 2019 is instructive in proving the point. The funding for the Agency for Territorial Renewal was also reduced by 63 percent, and the Rural Development Agency’s by 47 percent. These two agencies are essential to meeting the obligations of the rural reform chapter of the peace accord. Reducing the budgets of these rural reform agencies is a direct way of cutting off support to ethnic communities.

In particular, the JEP serves as a voice for the Afro-Colombian and indigenous victims of war crimes committed by the FARC, paramilitaries and the Colombian armed forces. It is the first court in the country’s history to include gender, ethnic, and regional diversity in its makeup, representing a new opportunity for these Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities to access a measure of justice.

Crucially, both the JEP and the Truth Commission underwent a previous consultation process with ethnic minorities in order to incorporate their recommendations so as to guarantee that truth, justice, and reparations integrates the perspectives of their communities. As a result of this, both the JEP and the Truth Commission integrated commissions dedicated to guaranteeing a differentiated response to ethnic minorities within the institutions’ mandates.

Since indigenous communities have their own autonomous juridical systems, coordination between the bodies is required. Beyond this, the aim is to guarantee that the patterns in the violations related to ethnic minority victims and damages caused to these cultures are addressed with mechanisms put in place that guarantee non-repetition of such events. Yet reducing the budget of both the JEP and the Truth Commission limits the impact they could achieve.

Other challenges

Even in situations of relative success, new challenges have arisen in the implementation of Colombia’s peace agreement.

The historic demobilization of around 7,000 FARC combatants successfully decreased violence in the country. It also opened the door for other illegal armed groups to fight for control over the areas they abandoned.

Paradoxically, this scenario has led to a multitude of legal and illegal actors feeling that they are at risk of losing their economic projects and power in those very territories. Since 2016, according to reports by Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, the lack of effective protection by the State and high levels of impunity has led to 479 social leaders killed—mainly in places like Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Choco.Once in office, Duque was confronted with the reality that completely undoing the accord was not possible.

In fact, according to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), in 2018, 56 percent of the social leaders killed in homicides belonged to ethnic groups. A different source, the think tank INDEPAZ, reports that from November, 2016 to July, 2019, 627 social leaders were killed, of whom 142 were indigenous, 55 afro descendant and 245 rural farmers defending the environment or attempting to implement the peace accord’s crop substitution program. Regardless of how you count it, the problem is alarming and poses a significant risk to sustained peace in Colombia.

Women perform during march against the murders of activists, in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, July 26, 2019. Colombians took to the streets to call for an end to a wave of killings of leftist activists in the wake of the nation’s peace deal (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia).

The security crisis is particularly acute in the Pacific region where Afro-Colombian and indigenous are experiencing new displacements and acute humanitarian crises. The state could very well detain much of this violence if it advanced the Commission for National Security Guarantees—an initiative set up in the peace agreement, meant to dismantle illegal armed groups. Furthermore, by advancing the obligations in the FARC accord, the government would send signals to the active guerrilla movement and the National Liberation Army (ELN) that it keeps its word in negotiations.

Looking ahead

Compounding the situation, Colombia’s politically polarized climate led to the peace agreement being rejected in a subsequent referendum. Resistance from the entrenched political and economic elites to accept the terms of the peace deal paved the way for the election of right-wing Ivan Duque as president, who campaigned on the promise of making changes to the accord to appease their concerns.By starving key aspects of the accord of resources and trying to limit the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, Duque is deferring to powerful interest groups who have rarely acted with the interests of vulnerable ethnic communities in mind.

Once in office, Duque was confronted with the reality that completely undoing the accord was not possible. A constitutional infrastructure was already in place and the international community had placed all its bets on peace.

In response, President Duque unsuccessfully attempted to remand crucial legislation required to establish the transitional justice system. He has proposed changes that would alter six of the 159 provisions of the peace deal legislation. A major sticking point for Duque and his supporters concerning the JEP is that the FARC rebels and the Colombian armed forces are not judged in the same manner for war crimes. By attempting to change the established provisions, the president all but assures that perpetrators of grave human rights crimes will lose any incentive to participate in the truth-telling process.

This could impact cases that the JEP has already advanced. According to the JEP’s latest report, 9,706 FARC ex-combatants and 2,156 members of the Colombian armed forces have agreed to testify before the tribunal. The political efforts to change and diminish the transitional justice infrastructure means that these cases could plunge into uncertainty.

The leaked internal documents from the Colombian armed forces revealed by the New York Times point to the military resorting to perverse tactics to gain military advantages and boost their death toll. The risk of peace crumbling and the cycle of war repeating itself in Colombia is high unless the country advances the transitional justice provisions of the accord, and in that way revealing the full truth of the past.

By starving key aspects of the accord of resources and trying to limit the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, Duque is deferring to powerful interest groups who have rarely acted with the interests of vulnerable ethnic communities in mind. That said, the mechanisms to turn all of this around are there—what it requires is the political will of the government to work with ethnic minorities to advance the country forward.

Tags: Indigenous Communities

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Indigenous Communities

The Colombian Army’s Very Bad Year

Here’s an English translation of a column WOLA’s Adam Isacson wrote for the Colombian political analysis website Razón Pública, which it posted today. It voices strong concerns about Colombia’s military, especially its army, which has been showing signs of institutional backsliding all year.

The Colombian Army’s Very Bad Year

Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America

The ties between the U.S. government and Colombia’s armed forces “are like the heart of this [bilateral]  relationship,” said outgoing U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker, in his last interview with the Colombian daily El Tiempo. “They are very dear to us and very professional. There are elements of the Police and the Armed Forces that have a 21st-century character and are among the best in the world.”

Let’s leave aside how troubling it is that an ambassador in any country might say that the military relationship is more central than the diplomatic, commercial, or cultural relationships. Is the latter part of Whitaker’s statement true? Have Colombia’s armed forces—especially its army, which makes up 84 percent of all military personnel—become a professional twenty-first century force, among the world’s elite?

For much of this decade, Colombia’s military seemed to be headed in that direction. Accusations of extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations plummeted after 2008. High-ranking officers participated honorably in the peace talks with the FARC, and about 2,000 current and former soldiers agreed to participate in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The armed forces developed a forward-looking new doctrine as they sought to adapt to a future, for the first time in decades, without a large-scale national-level insurgency. NATO agreed to include Colombia as a “global partner.” A new, post-“false positives” generation of mid-level officers, with years of training in much-improved military colleges, appeared to place a much higher value on human rights, international humanitarian law, and measuring results through territorial legitimacy. While some concerns persisted, especially allegations of espionage against participants in the peace process, the overall trajectory had been positive. 

Then came 2019, which has been an annus horribilis for Colombia’s Army. The high command that new President Iván Duque put into place came under immediate attack from human rights groups for their past proximity to “false positive” killings a decade earlier. The ultraconservative new defense minister made repeated statements minimizing the severity of killings of social leaders and calling for crackdowns on social protests. And then, scandals started to hit.

On May 18, the New York Times revealed that, at the beginning of the year, the Army’s new high command had taken a leap backward in time, bringing back “body counts” as a principal measure of commanders’ effectiveness. After years of seeking to measure progress by measures of security and state presence in territories from which government had long been absent, the new commanders decided to seek something simpler. Unit commanders were instead required to sign forms committing themselves to a doubling of “afectaciones”—armed-group members killed or captured—in their areas of operations. While this signaled a return to a long-discredited territorial stabilization strategy, it also raised major human rights concerns about creating incentives for “false positives.” Already, Colombian media had been gathering reports about increased abuses, and abusive behavior, at the hands of military personnel in 2019.

July saw the Army buffeted by corruption scandals, including selling permits to carry weapons and misuse of funds meant for fuel and other needs. The scandals, mostly revealed by Semana magazine, have so far led to the firing of five Army generals, one of them imprisoned, and the jailing of nine more soldiers. One of the generals fired under a cloud of corruption allegations was the Army’s number-two commander, Gen. Adelmo Fajardo. Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán, meanwhile, revealed that Gen. Fajardo allegedly arranged to have his favored staff sergeants approved for officer training, even though they were not the most qualified candidates.

Non-commissioned officers, “the base of the Army, are furious,” Duzán reported. “There is a sense that too many generals are occupied more with benefiting from the perks of power than with serving the country, and that good soldiers and good officers are being left without power in the hierarchy, defeated not by a strategic enemy, but because they don’t want to participate in the feast of corruption.”

Duzán reveals something important here. The scandals that have buffeted Colombia’s Army this year have not originated from the work of human rights defenders or reporters. In all cases, the source of the information has been outraged members of the Army. That is new. Fifteen or twenty years ago, when the Army stood accused of working with paramilitary groups or committing extrajudicial executions, the sources were almost always victims, witnesses, or prosecutorial investigators. Now, the chief source is whistleblowers from within the institution: officers and soldiers who love the Army, believe that it has made important progress, and are deeply worried about the direction it is taking under current leadership.

On the other side is the “old guard,” at times allied with powerful retired officers, who opposed peace negotiations, resisted recent reforms, and who apparently believe that the key to victory is to lift commanders from the apparent burdens of accountability. Emblematic of that attitude is a January quote, revealed by Semana, and attributed to Gen. Diego Villegas, the commander of the military task force responsible for the conflictive Catatumbo region:

The Army of speaking English, of protocols, of human rights is over. What we have to do here is takedowns. And if we have to ally ourselves with the Pelusos [the EPL guerrillas] we will ally with them—we already talk to them—in order to fight the ELN. If we need to carry out hits, we’ll be hitmen, and if the problem is money, then there’s money for that.

We must hope that this quote is false, or at least that the number of “old guard” officers who really think this way is small. We must also hope that the high command—Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez—is not inclined toward the “old guard.” If they are, and if this faction is large, then Ambassador Whitaker’s sunny portrayal of today’s Colombian military is a sad caricature.

The high command’s handling of these scandals gives us even greater reason for worry. Instead of pledging to clean house, protect whistleblowers, and demand the most honorable behavior of all officers, the Army’s counter-intelligence apparatus has been deployed on an internal campaign of polygraphs, surveillance, and interrogations to identify those who have leaked to the press. Gen. Martínez, the army chief, has denied knowledge of what Semana calls “Operación Silencio,” but the Procuraduría has unearthed evidence that his denials are false: that the General in fact ordered the witch hunt. The Army’s botched damage control effort has done harm to the institution’s credibility at a critical moment.

And this is a critical moment. The number of armed groups, and armed group members, continues to proliferate in regions of former FARC influence. Homicides increased for the first time in six years in 2018, and if they are slightly down in 2019, as a new report from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation points out, it is only because criminal groups have secured dominance in some zones, or made accords with competitors in other zones. If Colombia’s security forces were achieving important security gains, it is likely that public opinion would overlook some of these scandals. But they are not making gains. “We see a paralysis of the military forces with regard to security at the territorial level,” the Foundation’s Ariel Ávila noted, citing ongoing scandals and strategic drift under President Duque and Defense Minister Botero.

Much can be done about this, immediately. While the Duque/Uribe government will always have a conservative high command, it is possible for that high command to be simultaneously conservative, competent, and institutionally forward-looking. Such officers must be identified and promoted.

It is meanwhile imperative that whistleblowers within the armed forces be given maximum protections. They are our best source of “early warning” about the institution’s direction. Colombia’s Congress, courts, and Public Ministry must maintain their protection from retaliation as a high priority.

And finally, the U.S. government, the Colombian Army’s most important international counterpart, must do more than just sing the Army’s praises. It must keep its eyes wide open and voice concerns about backsliding, whether publicly or privately, in strong terms. The U.S. Congress must maintain conditions in foreign aid law that freeze some assistance pending progress on human rights. These are the best ways to ensure that Colombia’s armed forces can once again move toward Ambassador Whitaker’s idealistic description of them.

Tags: Civil-Military Relations

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

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

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

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

Read the full statement translated below:

The Peace Process Continues

Statement from Defend the Peace

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

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

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

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

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

Bogotá D.C., August 29, 2019.

Read the original Spanish statement here.


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.


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.


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:


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








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