Tag: Ratification

Peace is Ratified. When is “D-Day?”

December 1, 2016

Update as of 8:15PM EST: The Colombian government and FARC have issued a joint communiqué assuring that the accord “enters into force after ratification by the Congress. As a consequence, ‘D’ Day is today, according to the terms of the Accord.” This clears up much of the question, making it likely that Colombia will follow the first, and most desirable, of the three timetables discussed below. However, if Colombia’s Constitutional Court decides to torpedo “fast track” authority, uncertainty about D-Day may resume.

Over two days this week, both chambers of Colombia’s Congress debated, then voted to ratify (refrendar), the government’s revised peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group. Both votes were unanimously in favor, with abstentions from opponents, principally from ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center Party and some Conservative party members.

The vote was the substitute for a second national plebiscite on the accord. On October 2 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos convened a national plebiscite to ratify the accord’s first version. Voters surprisingly rejected it, by a 0.5 percentage-point margin. Colombian law does not require peace accords to be approved by a plebiscite; President Juan Manuel Santos chose to take this step because a popular vote would have conferred more legitimacy on the accord, which took four years to negotiate. After the plebiscite defeat, the government and FARC made adjustments to the accord, incorporating many of its opponents’ suggestions. These adjustments did not go far enough to satisfy Uribe and other critics, who remain opposed.

The Santos government is reluctant to submit the revised accord to a second plebiscite. First, because—in this year of unpredictable election results—its passage is not assured. And second, because organizing another plebiscite would take about two months, extending the legal limbo in which the FARC’s membership finds itself and straining a fragile ceasefire arrangement.

The Colombian government and FARC disagree about what the accord calls “D-Day”: the first day in which guerrillas must begin a six month process of gathering into twenty-seven zones and turning over their weapons to a UN mission. Five days after D-Day, the accord states, all FARC guerrillas are to begin reporting to the village-sized concentration zones.

The accord appears to indicate that D-Day was the day the final accord was signed (Thursday, November 24th), but neither side is holding to that. The government believes D-Day is now: the day after the accord’s ratification. The FARC insists that its members will not begin to demobilize and disarm without a guarantee that they won’t be subject to summary arrest for having rebelled. It wants a political-crimes amnesty law, absolving all members of the crime of sedition (rebelión), to be approved first, or at least formally presented and moving rapidly through Congress. Only then, in the guerrillas’ view, will D-Day arrive. The text of that law, which the Congress must approve, is embedded in the peace accord.

Congress must approve a series of other laws to implement the accord: establishing a transitional justice system, guaranteeing protections for opposition political movements, carrying out a new rural development policy, among others. But the amnesty law is the one that must come first, since the FARC won’t even start turning in its arms without it.

In the meantime, it is dangerous to keep waiting. At present, arrest warrants against FARC members have been suspended, and a bilateral ceasefire with UN monitoring is in place. But that ceasefire is fragile, as evidenced by a November 13 combat incident in Bolívar department, which left two guerrillas dead.

Meanwhile, it is unrealistic to expect the FARC’s entire membership to remain docile in its clandestine encampments, with no certainty about their future, for a long period. During an extended “limbo,” dissidences might emerge within the group. Even if that does not happen, every day of uncertainty could see a steady trickle of FARC members abandoning their encampments, perhaps to pursue lives of criminality, no longer available when the moment to demobilize finally arrives. And even if that doesn’t happen, each day of delay is another in which other criminal groups can establish a stronger foothold in territories of historic FARC influence, increasing the likelihood of further violence. The process is unlikely to withstand much more uncertainty.

When will “D-Day” truly happen? Here are three potential timetables, depending on an upcoming decision from Colombia’s Constitutional Court, which was already reviewing challenges to the plebiscite law (the “Legislative Act for Peace” [PDF]), which the Congress passed in July. This decision could come as early as Monday, though there is no fixed timetable.

  1. Congressional ratification with “fast-track” legislative authority: just a few days until D-Day. The July 2016 law establishing the plebiscite stated that if the accord is approved by “ratification by the people” (refrendación popular), the laws resulting from it may be approved with fewer rounds of congressional voting, and the possibility of passing laws in a matter of a few weeks. Colombians, borrowing from English, call this accelerated legislative process “fast track.”

    The government, and its majority coalition in Congress, are likely to pursue this path now, beginning debate on the political-crimes amnesty law via fast track. The amnesty could be formally presented in Congress next week, and either approved or nearing approval by the time the current legislative session ends on December 16, which would allow the FARC to begin demobilizing. This process, though, risks being nullified by the coming Constitutional Court decision.

  2. Another plebiscite with fast-track: about 2-3 months until D-Day. The Constitutional Court may decide that the fast track option is only valid after the accord’s approval by plebiscite, adopting a strict definition of “ratification by the people” to mean ratification directly, and not through the people’s elected representatives. If so, then this week’s Congressional ratification would not be enough to allow the amnesty law, and other accord implementation laws, to go via fast track.

    This, in fact, is the recommendation of the ponencia—the “first draft” decision, proposed by one of the justices (in this case, the chamber’s President)—submitted on Monday. The ponencia is not the final word, and Colombian media reports indicate that a majority of justices may be in favor of revising it to maintain fast-track authority. But if the justices agree with the ponencia, then Colombia’s government might need to go through with a second plebiscite in order to preserve fast track.

    The last plebiscite took a bit less than two months to organize. So if we assume a Court decision in early December, a plebiscite in February, a “yes” vote, and an amnesty law a few weeks after that, then the FARC might begin to demobilize in late February or early March. It won’t be easy, but the ceasefire, and the FARC’s command and control, might be able to withstand this delay.

    It’s impossible to predict whether a second plebiscite might pass. However, one of the opposition’s strongest arguments no longer makes sense today. Many “No” voters claimed that while they weren’t opposed to peace, they wanted a better accord. Now, a new accord has been negotiated, and the likelihood of going back and negotiating a third one is zero. A second plebiscite would be a starker choice between peace and renewed war.

  3. Congressional ratification without fast-track: six months to a year until D-Day. If the Court insists on a second plebiscite to enable fast track, Colombia’s government may decide not to risk a second rejection. This would leave the Congress forced to pass the amnesty law, and all other accord implementation laws, through its regular legislative procedures.

    These procedures are lengthy: eight debates over many months. These debates and votes could stretch on into June or July, and the Constitutional Court’s process for reviewing them could drag on for months after that. By the second half of next year, meanwhile, Colombia will be nearing the launch of campaigning for March 2018 legislative and May 2018 presidential elections, creating a climate in which even the smallest steps toward implementation will be politicized. It’s unlikely that the ceasefire, and the FARC’s ability to maintain a large force in clandestinity without losing much of its membership, can last this long.

Tags: Accords, Disarmament, Ratification

Explaining Colombia’s Peace Plebiscite

August 16, 2016

Updated August 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

When might the plebiscite happen?

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

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

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

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

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

These items may not necessarily occur in this order.

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

Tags: Ceasefire, Plebiscite, Ratification

“Instead of making the puzzle pieces, we’re now putting them together”

August 27, 2015

The Colombian investigative website Verdad Abierta published an interview with legal expert Rodrigo Uprimny that has been getting a lot of attention on social media. Uprimny, director of Dejusticia, a Bogotá-based justice think-tank, is close to the peace negotiations going on in Havana.

His message here combines optimism and alarm. A peace accord could come sooner than we think, he says, because negotiations are advancing fast. However, Colombia’s legal system is not prepared either to ratify or to implement it, and the government has not won the fight for public opinion.

Here are excerpts in English; the whole interview in Spanish is at Verdad Abierta. Emphasis in blue boldface is ours.

Verdad Abierta: This isn’t the first time that the government has tried to put forward a mechanism for ratification [of a peace accord]. It had already done so in the bill that would have allowed a referendum alongside the [March 2014] congressional and presidential elections. What’s the hurry?

Rodrigo Uprimny: Contrary to what many people think, I believe an accord could come quickly because the discussions are now happening in parallel. Instead of making the puzzle pieces, we’re now putting them together and creating the pieces that are still missing. What would be very problematic is an accord being reached without a mechanism to ratify or implement it.

VA: Do you think time is being wasted?

RU: If everything is to have a solid legal underpinning, the foundation must be a prior reform. …The best outcome would have been for the people to vote this October [alongside scheduled local elections] in a referendum to say whether or not they approve of that reform. It’s a shame that it hasn’t been done because the problem now is one of timeframes. Now it may have to come through legislation, and that takes a year plus the time taken up by possible constitutionality challenges [in Colombia’s Constitutional Court]. That’s why I think the issue must start being discussed at the [negotiating] table and in society.

VA: But the response in Havana is that they still haven’t come to this point of the discussion, that it’s the last point.

RU: They have to discuss it. Just like they’ve started discussing at the same time the issue of victims along with that of justice and that of the end of the conflict, they should start with a subcommittee on ratification and implementation.

VA: What is the other option to gain time?

RU: Preparing a special mechanism [like a small congressional committee to handle constitutional reforms]. Something that should be flexible and open, foreseeing the options of the government and the FARC, but one that people can be assured is not a blank check. That is done by saying that the citizens will approve everything at the end.

VA: And if they disapprove it?

RU: I start with the assumption that if we don’t manage to win the peace politically, the peace is already lost. Colombian society is divided in three. Some are enemies of peace due to ideological stubbornness or specific interests. Others are very much in favor and are willing to do almost anything for peace. And in between are some skeptics who sometimes are more in favor and at other times more against. The point is that those of us in favor of peace must win over the skeptics with formulas that are appropriate for a negotiation. Peace will not materialize without 70 percent in favor of the final formula.

VA: How can those skeptics be convinced?

RU: It’s crucial that in a sensitive topic like justice, the government and FARC come out with an accord that Colombian society, and especially that skeptical 30 percent, considers to be acceptable. Another method is that, as the war’s de-escalation yields results, the dynamic in favor of peace could be expected to grow.

VA: You say that [peace accord] implementation should be in phases, and that it is important to leave the most difficult issues to be dealt with in a few years. Why?

RU: Let’s suppose that peace is approved, the accords are ratified, the legal formulas are defined for the FARC and the military. At that point, the atmosphere will become relaxed. But if the most radical points are voted on immediately, it’s likely to become polarized again. It’s better to wait three or four years for the benefits of peace to begin, to show that this isn’t “Castro-Chávezism” [a term often used by the rightist opposition] but a more robust democracy, that the non-repetition guarantees are functioning.

VA: Beyond ratification and implementation, another point to discuss is how to guarantee that what was agreed doesn’t fall apart over the ensuing years. How can this process be hardened?

RU: The idea of ratification has three purposes. That the citizenry says yes or no in a democratically legitimate way, to generate agile implementation mechanisms, and finally to put a padlock on the peace process. The only thing that can give the peace process a padlock in a divided country with a long war, is the combination of: the maximum possible political accord, certain legal formulas, and international legitimacy. Without that, it’s possible that peace could be reversible.

VA: And how are those three pillars going?

RU: Pretty well with regard to international support and the construction of ideas for legal security, but only so-so with regard to political construction. The risk now is that of trying to use legal maneuvers as a way to avoid building political consensus around peace.

Tags: Implementation, Ratification

Competing Views and “Trial Balloons”

November 16, 2014

Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, ran a series of articles Friday about a forum it co-hosted about the country’s peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. The event was noteworthy because its participants included several of the government’s negotiators, plus officials and legislators who would play a large role in a possible post-conflict period.

The speakers revealed much current government thinking about the peace process, and raised eyebrows with some “trial balloons”—statements perhaps intended to prepare public opinion for some tough decisions if the government and guerrillas reach an accord. Here are some standout examples.

Disarmament: whether the FARC will “stop using” or “turn in” its weapons

Disarmament is one of the main questions left to be negotiated in Havana. The FARC is reluctant to hand over its weapons immediately after an accord is signed. Doing so gives the appearance of defeat or surrender, and guerrillas also fear being killed if disarmed, as happened to thousands of members of a political party the FARC tried to form during a failed 1980s peace process. Instead, guerrillas wish to promise not to use weapons in the short term, and perhaps to give them up in the long term, once they are certain that the government is complying with its peace accord commitments.

Jaramillo

Debate at the forum centered on the difference between “abandonment” (dejación) of weapons and “surrender” (entrega) of weapons. Even a verifiable abandonment of weapons (like Northern Ireland, where the IRA kept weapons “beyond use” for nearly seven years after the 1998 Good Friday Accord) does not satisfy many in Colombian politics and public opinion, as it leaves open the option that the FARC might take them up again.

“Of course there has to be abandonment (dejación) of weapons,” said government negotiator Sergio Jaramillo, the Colombian Presidency’s high commissioner for peace. Jaramillo added that the distinction between abandoning and surrendering weapons is “a false dilemma,” noting, "The government said clearly in the secret stage, and will continue to insist, that there must be a verifiable abandonment of those weapons so they are out of use.”

Negotiator Jorge Mora, a retired general and former chief of Colombia’s armed forces, agreed. “Call it what you want: abandonment, surrender, destruction, whatever. What matters is what they will have to do. They will not practice politics with weapons. If it’s not like that, we simply won’t sign the accords. As soon as the guerrillas sign, they will have to do away with their strategy of combining all forms of struggle [violent and non-violent]. Demobilization is an implicit activity to end the conflict.”

Mora

Ángela Ospina, the vice-president of Colombia’s Conservative Party, disagreed: “abandonment and surrender of arms are different.” She wondered to whom the FARC would hand over its weapons, and whether the government has any idea how many weapons the guerrillas possess. “We are convinced that there must be a surrender of weapons and their destruction, to demonstrate that there is a genuine desire for peace,” she said.

Alfredo Rangel, a security analyst who is now a senator in ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s right-of-center political party, warned that if it merely “abandons” weapons, the FARC will end up conducting “armed oversight of the peace agreements.”

Whether human rights violators will go to prison or something else

Another pending issue for the negotiations is transitional justice. There is broad consensus—upheld by Colombia’s membership in the International Criminal Court—that there can be no amnesty for those who committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. What, then, must happen to the worst human rights violators in the FARC and in Colombia’s armed forces?

Tags: Disarmament, Ratification, Transitional Justice