Preliminary Accords Released to the Public as 29th Round Begins

23 September 2014

The 29th round of talks began on Tuesday, Sept. 23, and in a joint communiqué on Sept. 24, the Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators in Havana announced their decision to make public the preliminary draft agreements reached in the peace process thus far. (See the joint statement here.)  The parties noted that “all sorts of speculations exist about what has been agreed–speculations that are sometimes the result of ignorance of the communiqués and reports and others with the clear intent to disinform public opinion.  For this reason, and as a measure of transparency, we decided to make public the texts of the joint drafts.”

In a separate statement,  lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle recognized that the parties had released more than 40 joint communiqués to the public, but acknowledged that “those efforts at transparency have not been sufficient and have left too wide a margin for speculation, including ill-intentioned speculation.”  (See his statement here.)

The drafts, which total some 65 pages, pertain to the three preliminary agreements reached thus far:

  • “Toward a New Colombian Countryside:  Comprehensive Rural Reform”/“Hacia un Nuevo Campo Colombiano: Reforma Rural Integral”
  • “Political Participation: A Democratic Opening for Building Peace”/“Participación política: Apertura democrática para construir la paz”
  • “Solution to the Problem of Illicit Drugs”/ “Solución al Problema de las drogas ilícitas”

Read the agreements here.

Recap of Last Round

The 28th round of talks between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP finished  on Thursday, September 11, 2014 with a joint statement that underscored the two main accomplishments of the cycle–the visit of a second delegation of victims to Havana, and the formalization of the gender subcommission.

“Like the testimony of the first twelve victims who came a few weeks ago, this second visit was fundamental for enriching the discussions of the fifth item on the Agenda [Victims], strengthening this process and the related accords that we might reach,” the statement read.  (See the full statement here.)  At a press conference on Sept. 11, the delegation of victims called on the parties to stay at the table until agreement was reached, urged them to accelerate the process and enact a bilateral ceasefire, and called on the parties to fulfill and guarantee the rights of the victims.  Read their press statement here and watch it below:

In the 28th cycle, which began on Sept. 1, the delegations also discussed among themselves the issue of victims and heard from experts on truth commissions.  A third delegation of victims will be received on Oct. 2.

Likewise, the gender sub commission began functioning in the last cycle, and the parties noted that it would meet at least once per cycle.  The subcommission will be accompanied by external advisors.  “The inclusion of a gender focus in a peace process like this has no precedent in the world, and is a milestone in the construction of agreements reached and forthcoming,” the parties noted in their joint statement of Sept. 11.

The delegations also acknowledged receipt of the reports on victims from the UN-National University forums in Barrancabermeja, Barranquilla, Villavicencio and Cali, and thanked Cuba, Norway, Chile and Venezuela for their support for the peace talks.



Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

28th Cycle of Talks in Havana in Full Swing

September 10, 2014

On Monday, September 1, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP reconvened in Havana to initiate the 28th cycle of peace talks.  In this cycle, negotiators are working simultaneously on several different fronts.


The parties at the table continue to grapple with the issue of satisfying victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  They have now received proposals from the numerous forums on the topic organized by the United Nations and the National University, as well as earlier regional consultations organized by the Peace Commissions of the Congress and the United Nations and the visit on August 16th of the first of at least five delegations of victims. (See my earlier posts on this topic.)

A second delegation of victims join the parties in Havana today (Wed., September 10) and tomorrow.  Nine of the twelve delegation members are women, reflecting what UN Resident Coordinator Fabrizio Hochschild called “the harsh reality that in this armed conflict, women and girls have paid the highest costs.”  Delegation members again are a diverse group, representing victims of displacement, forced disappearance and recruitment, kidnapping, killings, and land mines. (For more on the members of the delegation, click here.)

Finally, a Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV) named at the end of the last cycle is hard at work producing a series of reports and inputs for consideration in the discussions on victims.  (See my recent post on this topic here.)

For the most part, Colombian society and the press appear be rallying around the victims.  Nonetheless, some of the participants in the first delegation have suffered hostile attacks of various sorts.  Luz Marina Bernal (the mother of a youth who was killed extrajudicially) and Jaime Peña (whose son was assassinated in a massacre in Barrancabermeja in 1998) received death threats on their return from Havana.  Angela Giraldo (brother of a Congressman kidnapped and killed by the FARC) was the target of a twitter campaign launched by María Fernanda Cabal, a Congresswoman of the Center Democratic party, who cast aspersions on Angela’s participation in the first victims’ delegation to Havana and her relationship with the FARC; Angela has filed libel charges with the Prosecutor’s office.

Likewise, a FARC commander published an article on the FARC website that maligned Rep. Clara Rojas and downplayed her status as a victim. (Read “¿Es Clara Rojas una víctima de las FARC?” here, with a version in English here.)  Rep. Rojas was the running mate in Ingrid Betancourt’s bid for the presidency in 2002; both were captured on the campaign trail and held captive by the FARC for six years.  The FARC article prompted a strong reaction from both the government’s negotiating team (view Declaración de la Delegación del Gobierno Nacional) and the FARC peace delegation (view FARC Comunicado Respuesta a Humberto de la Calle), and caused Rep. Rojas to withdraw in protest on Monday from her position as co-chair of the Congress’s Peace Commission.

Human rights leaders, organizations that have defended victims, peace organizations, and Afro-Colombian organizations have come under increased attack.  Yesterday, a paramilitary group, Black Eagles (Aguilas Negras), issued death threats via email accounts to 91 human rights defenders, the latest in this worrisome trend of attacks against human rights defenders. While many civil society groups are rallying to defend those being threatened, the situation is made worse by recent announcements by Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo that the National Protection Unit will be reducing funds that have offered a number of these leaders protection.  (Read Senator Fernando Cristo’s remarks here.) In the first half of 2014, 30 human rights defenders were assassinated.  (Read more here.)

Ending the Conflict

In addition to addressing the peace agenda item on victims, the parties in Havana are also beginning work on the last substantive item on the agenda–ending the conflict.  On August 22, a delegation of high-level active Colombian military officers joined the parties at the peace table to participate in the launch of a technical sub commission on this topic.  The sub-commission is studying the options and logistics of a bilateral cease-fire and cessation of hostilities, the laying aside of arms (dejación de armas), and national and international models and practices that have been used for integrating excombatants into civilian life.  (See Comunicado Conjunto 42 and statement by lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle here.)  Each of the delegations was to appoint 10 members to the sub commission.  For the government side, Army General (ret.) Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel and Police General (ret.) Óscar Naranjo Trujillo, already members of the peace delegation, will lead the team.  Read more here about the active-duty participants on the subcommittee, who include:

  • Army General Javier Alberto Flórez Aristizábal, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces;
  • Army Colonel Vicente Sarmiento Vargas;
  • Army Colonel Saúl Rojas Huertas;
  • Commander of the Navy Ómar Cortes Reyes;
  • Lieutenant Colonel of the National Police Edwin Chavarro Rojas;
  • Air Force Major Rodrigo Mezú Mina;
  • Navy Lieutenant Juanita Millán Fernández.
  • Mónica Cifuentes Osorio, legal director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace;
  • César Restrepo Flórez, director of Strategic Studies for the Defense Ministry;
  • Alejandro Reyes Lozano, advisor of the Office of the High Oficina Alto Comisionado para la Paz.

Increasingly, President Santos is seeking to reassure the military about their future, to address their concerns, and to engage them as allies.  Shortly after the launch of the technical sub commission, on August 29, President Santos announced the establishment of a high-level military Transitional Command for the Post-Conflict (Comando de Transición), to be headed by General Javier Flórez.  This week, Santos initiated a tour to military bases throughout the country to inform them of the role of the military in relation to the peace process and to assure their support.  The tour was in part a response to the loud criticism from the Democratic Center party, particularly ex-President Alvaro Uribe, regarding the participation of active-duty military in the peace talks, which Uribe suggested was unconstitutional.  (See “Presencia de los militaries“. )

President Santos responded to his critics at a meeting in Cartagena:  “I don’t really understand the criticism.  That the military are going to be humiliated for confronting the enemy at a table and agreeing on how the enemy will put aside their weapons?… Who better than them [the military,] who have been the ones to fight during all this time, can give advice, opinions on how to achieve an effective, controllable ceasefire, and how to guarantee that the setting aside of arms might be successful and real if not the military themselves?”  Santos continued, “[T]his should not surprise anyone, rather just the opposite.  It should be seen as a guarantee for the entire society and for the Armed Forces themselves.”

The presence of active-duty officers in Havana and the establishment of a transitional command in the heart of the Armed Forces reflects the seriousness and advanced stage of the peace process.  The issue of military engagement in the peace process and post-accord phase is being discussed in other fora as well.  In an historic, closed door session of 3 hours on Aug. 20, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and the heads of the Armed Forces and police met with the Peace Commissions of the House and Senate to discuss future scenarios generated by the peace accords in Havana.  According to press reports in Semana, the military presented a list of 15 concerns, of which one–mechanisms for applying justice for members of the military forces and police–received the most attention.  The report noted that one of the generals suggested that it “would not be right to have guerrillas sitting in the congressional seats while [military officials] sit in jail.”   Many of the Congressional leaders agreed that there would be a need to think through what kind of justice would be needed for the members of the armed forces.  Roy Barreras, one of the co-presidents of the Senate Peace Commission, assured those present that “Pardoning guerrillas while condemning military is not going to happen.”

Guerrilla Command for Normalization

Meanwhile, the government’s new Transition Command appears to have produced some consternation among the FARC.  In a September 2 communiqué (read it here), the FARC proposed a parallel guerrilla command (Comando Guerrillero de Normalización), to be headed by one of the top FARC military commanders, Joaquín Gómez, head of the Southern Bloc, to implement “mechanisms of normalization of the Armed Forces in order to secure their prompt return to their constitutional role of defending the borders.” (Read more here.)  FARC delegate “Pablo Catatumbo” noted on Tuesday, Sept. 2, “If the Transition Command has the purpose of undertaking the study of the ‘demobilization and disarmament of the guerrilla’, the Guerrilla Command for Normalization must “study the return of the military forces to their constitutional role [and] the dismantling of the counterinsurgency battalions in pursuit of such normalization.”

There are some basic tensions in the framing of what the international community has called DDR (demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration) for Colombia.  The language used is key and is highly sensitive.  In their Sept. 2 statement, the FARC noted that “concepts like ‘transition,’ ‘demobilization’ or ‘disarmament’ do not exist in the grammar of the accord in Havana, much less in the language of the guerrilla.”  In relation to the government’s creation of the Command for the Transition, the FARC statement clarified furthermore that “there is no way that the FARC would accept a military hierarchy to resolve matters that are by definition of a political nature,” and that “aspects as important as the laying down of arms also imply the demilitarization of the society and the State.”  The FARC have always resisted the notion that they would turn their arms over to anyone, and are likely to continue to insist that this process is not about unilateral disarmament.  In turn, President Santos has held firmly that military reforms will not be negotiated at the peace table in Havana, though he has also acknowledged that he does not envision the FARC turning over their arms to the Army.  A creative solution will need to be found that respects the red lines of both parties but also contributes to a real transition to peace.

Gender Subcommission

Another important development in this round of talks has been the installation on Sunday, September 7, of the subcommision on gender that had been announced three months earlier.  The commission’s mandate is to integrate the voices of women and gender perspectives in all of the accords reached at the table.  In a press statement on Sept. 7, Colombian government negotiator Nigería Rentería noted that the commission “seeks to guarantee inclusion, social equity, and bring us closer to an accord that represents the interests of men and women.” (Read her full statement here.)  The sub commission will include 5 members elected by the government delegation and five elected by the FARC.

FARC delegates to the gender sub commission have already been announced and include FARC-EP peace delegation members Yira Castro, Diana Grajales, Victoria Sandino, Alexandra Nariño and Camila Cienfuegos.  Government participants in the sub commission have not yet been officially announced, though press reports suggest that it includes both men and women, including government negotiators Nigeria Rentería, María Paulina Riveros, Elena Ambrosi, as well as Magaly Arocha D., Cuban gender advisor to the delegation. (Click here to read “Por un enfoque de género en los acuerdos parciales.”)

In a Sept. 7 press conference, the five FARC sub commission members held a press conference  in which they released their platform, “For a New Colombia without Gender Discrimination.” The statement noted that some 40% of the FARC are women, and underscored the FARC’s ideological commitment to equality and justice, including women’s rights, and women’s “irreplaceable contribution” to the creation of a “New Colombia.”  The women recognized that prejudices and patriarchal attitudes exist within the FARC-EP, but that mistreatment of women is “severely punished” and “not tolerated.”

The FARC delegation complemented the platform with its own statement of support for the work of the gender sub-commission.  It expressed disappointment that the commission’s mandate did not include a more explicit commitment to women’s rights, as expressed in many of the international instruments and advocated for by women and gender organizations in Colombia and around the world.  It also expressed the hope that the commission would produce real change for women and members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) communities.  “It will be up to us then, to try to include, beginning with [the gender subcommission's] limited mandate, the best initiatives that the peace accord will allow, not only suggestions, but real proposals for change that grant full rights to women and to the LBGTI sectors that have been segregated for so long,” the delegation observed.  (See their statement here.)

The government’s position has yet to be developed–or at least shared with the public.  Meanwhile, however, women in the Colombian Congress, lead by Senator Claudia López Hernández, have begun to demand that political reforms include measures to achieve gender equality.  In particular, she and others are backing a proposal to require 50-50 representation of men and women in the political party lists of candidates for public office. (See “Exigen incluir equidad de género en reforma política“.)

The Final Phase?

In his inauguration speech on August 7, President Juan Manuel Santos announced his Administration’s priorities for his second term–peace, equity, and education.  (View his speech here.)  Since then, Santos has shuffled and reorganized his Cabinet to support these priorities.  He noted the need to finish negotiating the agreements in order to enter the post-conflict phase, something that will require “great skill and knowledge,” and announced that his Administration is already beginning to plan for the post-conflict phase, as that phase is “perhaps even more difficult than the peace process itself.”


Convening of the Ministers’ Council. (Photo by Juan Pablo Bello, courtesy of SIG.)

On September 3, President Santos swore in a new team of minister-counselors and his Private Secretary.  In the ceremony, Santos confirmed General Óscar Naranjo, former head of the National Police, as the Minister-Counselor for Post-Conflict, Human Rights, and Security, a newly created position, and charged him with “formulating, structuring, and coordinating the policies and programs related to the post conflict, advising me on how to modernize the models for security, demobilization, and reintegration.” (Read the Santos interview on Cabinet changes and anticipated challenges for the second term here.)

Each of these developments in Havana and in Bogota is bringing the conflict closer to its conclusion.  As President Juan Manuel Santos announced, “We are already talking about the last phase of this process, about the last phase of the agenda.”  Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle echoed this perspective.  At the end of the last round of talks he noted, “We have entered decision-making moments in the process.  There are serious possibilities for ending the conflict.”

Major differences remain, and, as one FARC leader noted, “We are not yet in the final stretch.”

This is a critical phase.  The new commissions and sub commissions are just beginning their work, the victims’ delegations over the coming cycles will continue to play an important role in bringing the country to healing, and education of the public on the peace process and its role in a transition is in its early stages.  This week’s annual peace education week, Semana por la Paz, initiated on Sunday, will offer important contributions toward this process.   The momentum for peace is growing and the process is on a good track forward.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims (CHCV)

September 3, 2014

In another Colombian innovation at the peace tables, on Thursday, August 21, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators installed a new Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV).  Shortly thereafter, the Commission issued its first communiqué (see Comunicado 1 de la comisión histórica CHCV), announcing that it had held its first meeting and organized a work plan and schedule in accordance with the mandate it had been given.  The communiqué notes that the commission has been jointly designed by the Colombian national government and the FARC-EP to contribute to ending the armed conflict.  Although each delegation nominated half of the members, the Commission would serve at the behest of the entire peace delegation.  The CHCV’s communiqué calls on the press, state agencies, and the public to “abstain from any commentary not supported by fact that might be inclined to stigmatize or delegitimize” Commission members.  It notes further that the Commission “will abstain from all media exposure and work with total discretion,” suggesting that we will be hearing little from this Commission until its work is complete.

The FARC delegation had long called for an historical clarification commission as part of the peace process, and both parties announced their agreement in a joint communiqué on June 7th to establish such a commission.  (See the communiqué here).  The CHCV is intended to provide inputs for discussions on the topic of victims, point 5 on the peace agenda, and would address three specific topics:

  • the origins and multiple causes of the conflict,
  • the principle factors that have facilitated or contributed to the persistence of the conflict, and
  • the effects and most notable impacts of the conflict on the population.

By early August, the parties had further developed the proposal for the CHCV.  In a joint communiqué on August 5th, they laid out their vision for the Commission’s mandate, and the principles and methodology that would guide its work.  They announced that the  CHCV would produce a final report within four months which would serve as “a fundamental ingredient for the comprehension of the complexity of the conflict and the responsibilities of those who have participated and had an impact in it, and for the clarification of the truth.  To that extent, it will be a basic component for a future truth commission and will contribute to reconciliation.”  It remained to identify the commissioners, half of whom would be named by the Colombian government and the remainder by the FARC-EP.

On August 21, the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims was installed and in a joint communiqué on August 22, the peace delegations released the names of the commissioners.  The body includes 12 respected academics and experts from across the political spectrum:

  1. Daniel Pécaut: French sociologist and expert on Colombia.
  2. Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín: Researcher and professor at IEPRI (Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales), Universidad Nacional.
  3. Gustavo Duncan: Researcher at the Universidad de los Andes.
  4. Jorge Giraldo: Dean of the School of Sciences and Humanities at EAFIT (Escuela de Administración Finanzas e Instituto Tecnológico).
  5. Vicente Torrijos: Professor of political science and international relations at the Universidad del Rosario.
  6. María Emma Wills: Researcher for the National Historical Memory Center.
  7. Renán Vega: Professor titular of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional of Bogotá.
  8. Alfredo Molano: Sociologist, writer, and columnist.
  9. Darío Fajardo: Professor of the Universidad Externado and promoter (gestor) of the Zonas de Reserva Campesina.
  10. Jairo Hernando Estrada Álvarez: Professor of the Department of Political Science of the Universidad Nacional.
  11. Javier Giraldo, S.J., Interecclesiastic Commission on Justice and Peace. (Earlier press reports had listed Malcolm Deas, Britsh historian specializing in Colombia.)
  12. Sergio de Zubiría: Philosopher, researcher and associate professor of the Universidad de los Andes.

The commissioners, which include only one women and mostly hail from Colombia’s capital city, will produce individual or joint reports in response to the three aforementioned points on its mandate, and will determine the time period to be considered in the reports.  (For more on the academic profiles of the CHCV, click here.)  They will then turn their reports over to two rapporteurs — Víctor Manuel Moncayo (exrector of the Universidad Nacional) and Eduardo Pizarro Leongómez (ex-President of the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation).  The rapporteurs are tasked with synthesizing the expert reports, identifying the areas of “consensus, dissent, and plurality of visions” among the experts, and producing a final report to be turned over to the negotiating teams.  The work of the commission is expected to be completed within four months.

The FARC delegation welcomed the installation of the CHCV, noting that, with its establishment, “the peace process is making a qualitative leap on the path toward reconciliation.”  It called the new commission a “key scenario for the clarification of the truth, based on the auscultation of the origins, causes, effects and responsibilities that provide the context for the development of the political, economic, social and armed conflict arising from poverty, inequality and the lack of democracy that have characterized our national life for over half a century.” (Click here to read the FARC communiqué.)

I think the most innovative and interesting part of the commission’s work is likely to be the identification of areas of consensus and disagreement in the telling of the historical narrative of the war.  Just as the peace table in Havana has been a model for laying out differences and then finding common ground, so too the CMCV will need to engage in an exercise of discernment–one that represents the best academic practice of critical thinking.   While beginning with the reports of the Historical Memory Commission as a starting point for the critiques might have proven more expeditious, peace talks are all about process, so there are likely numerous purposes served in the approach that is currently playing out that respond to the particular political needs of the parties  at the table.


CHCV Will Not Replace Truth Commission

All of the parties at the table have been clear that the CHCV will not replace a truth commission.  The CHCV “does not substitute as a mechanism for the complete clarification of the truth, which would need to rely on the participation of everyone, especially the victims,” the parties declared in their June 7th statement. (See the joint declaration here in Spanish and here in English.)

Humberto de la Calle elaborated on some of the differences between the CHCV and a Truth Commission in his August 22 statement: “The work of this Commission neither substitutes for nor predetermines any element of a future Truth Commission.  This is not about establishing who did what on the basis of evidence and testimonies, as usually occurs with a Truth Commission.  This group of experts will not rely on the participation of the victims or of the society more generally …  Nor will this group formulate recommendations, as would a Truth Commission.”

De la Calle noted furthermore that the major difference between the CHCV and a truth commission is that a legitimate truth commission functions after the conflict has ended, while the CHCV was established to provide inputs to the peace talks themselves.  The CHCV will not establish individual responsibilities, free anyone of responsibilities, or engage in original new research.  It is instead an academic body that will use academic methods.  Its mandated goal is to contribute to a broader understanding of the historical context of the conflict in order to generate conclusions that can help establish remedies to end the conflict and produce a an accord that will contribute to a durable peace.  The work of the CHCV is expected to provide inputs for a truth commission when it is established, however.

Establishing a clarification commission during the negotiations to help inform the negotiators is unprecedented.  While truth commissions are often established within the context of a final peace accord, the usual pattern is to sign a peace agreement that ends the war and signals the intent to establish such a commission.  In the Colombian process, however, the parties have determined that identifying the range of interpretations of the conflict is a necessary pre-condition to forging agreements on how to satisfy the victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.

Unlike in many other conflicts where a government is negotiating with an insurgent group, Colombia’s internal armed conflict is not simply between the two parties at the peace table.  The Colombian conflict includes a broad range of social, political, and economic actors and issues, as well as other armed actors who are not present at the peace table in Havana.  An agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government that does not address this broader context is likely to prove inadequate to the long-term task of ending the cycle of violence in Colombia.  The CMCV therefore may be an important mechanism in helping ensure that the deeper causes of the conflict are addressed in a way to ensure that peace is sustainable.


Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mediation Perspectives: Innovative Approaches in the Colombian Peace Process

August 28, 2014

See my post published yesterday for the International Relations and Security Network of ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology:

Mediation Perspectives: Innovative Approaches in the Colombian Peace Process.


Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

27th Cycle Closes with Unprecedented Advances

Friday, August 22, 2014

There is hardly time to read about all that is happening with the Colombian peace talks, let alone write about it.  The summer pace in Washington is inversely proportionate to the relatively rapid pace of developments in Havana.

After a wave of violence in recent months that caused President Juan Manuel Santos to warn on July 30 that the FARC were “playing with fire and the process could end,” (a concern he repeated again last week), the talks between representatives of the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP moved into high gear, belying the fears that the peace process could come grinding to a halt.  It is worth noting that violence often spikes in peace processes at critical moments of progress at the peace table, and it appears that the Colombian peace talks have entered such a stage.

Talks Finish their 27th Cycle

On August 22, the peace talks in Havana finished their 27th cycle.  In the past few months, particularly in this most recent cycle which began on August 12th, the negotiating teams have adjusted their methodology to streamline work on the remaining agenda items (victims and ending the conflict).  Following four preparatory sessions that culminated in an intensive working meeting from August 3-5, the parties announced  procedural agreements on four fronts:  victims, a historical clarification commission, ending the conflict, and gender. (For details of each, see especially the August 5th joint communiqué here.)

Following the most recent round of talks, the parties disclosed progress on the first three topics.  Of particular note, the parties established a mechanism for unprecedented direct conversations with victims at the peace table and received their first delegation of victims in Havana on August 16th.  Also of note, on August 21, the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV) was appointed.  Finally, on August 22, the parties installed a technical sub-commission on ending the conflict, and the first active-duty military officers from Colombia briefly joined the table in Havana for the installation.   On the final point, the anticipated constitution of the gender sub-commission, no mention was made of advances.

The CHCV and the technical sub commission will work in parallel as the delegations move forward simultaneously on the issue of victims.  One senses the transcendental importance of each of these developments, as they collectively edge the process closer to completion.  This is also a time that is highly vulnerable to violence, so the parties should take care not to let themselves be sidetracked, and civil society leaders must be prepared to weather any storms on the horizon.

Addressing the Issue of  Victims

The emotionally charged issue of how to repair the victims and satisfy their rights has become central to the conversations in Havana and increasingly important within Colombia.  This is one of the most difficult items on the peace agenda because of the large number of affected persons and communities, the range of victimization acts, the harm and deep-seated trauma incurred, the tremendous displacement and interruption of livelihoods caused by the violence, and the variety of perpetrators.  How these ongoing patterns and legacies of violence are dealt with–the seriousness with which the victims’ proposals are treated, the level of respect given to victims in the discussions, and the willingness of victimizers and their representatives to face the victims, accept responsibility for wrongs incurred, ask forgiveness, accept responsibility, and provide guarantees of non-repetition–have enormous repercussions for the prospects of peace and reconciliation in Colombia.

The parties in Havana have made substantial progress in recent months in laying out a  framework for addressing these difficult issues. (See my earlier post here.)  Their June 7th joint declaration of principles on victims–based largely on principles of human rights and international humanitarian law, satisfying victims’ rights, and guaranteeing non-repetition of the conflict–continues to be an important touchstone and may prove to be a model for other conflict zones.  (See the declaration of principles here in Spanish and here in English.)  In addition, the parties have created mechanisms and opportunities for victims to be heard both directly at the peace table in Havana and in other forums.  On July 17, the parties recognized that the voice of the victims “will be a fundamental input (insumo) in the discussions” on victims, and announced more specific details for how victims would participate in the peace process, including directly at the peace table.  (See the joint communiqué here.)

Third Parties Tapped

The parties in Havana charged the UN system in Colombia and the Center for Thought and Monitoring of the Peace Process of the National University–in consultation with the different victims associations in Colombia, and with the Episcopal Conference as guarantor of the process–with organizing five delegations of up to a dozen victims each to  travel to Havana to participate in the 27th cycle and each of the subsequent four cycles of talks.  The parties also called on the UN and National University to organize four forums of victims to generate inputs for the process (as they had done on earlier agenda topics).  The UN and the National University accepted the mandate, and under their auspices in July and August, thousands of victims participated in a series of three closed regional forums in Villavicencio, Barrancabermeja, and Barranquilla, and a national victims’ forum in Cali.  From these forums, the organizers have now synthesized and presented to the table more than 3,000 proposals on how the peace accords might help satisfy the victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  A further 5,000 proposals on the theme of victims have been sent to the table in Havana for consideration by the negotiating teams.  (See Comunicado Conjunto 41.)

On August 15, the organizers released the names of the 12 victims selected to participate in the first delegation to Havana.  In a press release that day, they discussed how they had interpreted the mandate given to them by the government and FARC negotiators, as well as the criteria they had used to select delegation members.  (See their statement and the list of delegation members here.)  Recognizing the difficulties inherent in selecting a dozen victims who could represent a universe of 6.7 million victim, the organizers admitted, “Any selection can be debated, and … criticized.”   The negotiators in Havana had asked the UN and the National University to pay particular attention to questions of “balance, pluralism, and sindéresis” (defined by the Dictionary of the Royal Academy as “discretion and natural capacity for good judgement”) in carrying out their task.

There were criticisms of the process, particularly before it took place.  (See “Doce víctimas que todos hirieron.”) The question of inclusion of victims by groups other than the FARC was not to the liking of many FARC victims, including Rep. Clara Rojas.  ExPresident Alvaro Uribe and the Democratic Center Party roundly condemned the process and the broad interpretation of victims of the conflict as opposed to victims of the FARC.  (See former President Alvaro Uribe’s statement on “Las víctimas y sus victimarios.”).  “Iván Márquez,” the FARC delegation head, noted that the FARC delegation appreciated the effort of the organizers to ensure that the entire universe of victims were heard, but noted that the delegation included a disproportionate number of FARC victims, while the preponderance of victims were perpetrated by the State and paramilitary forces. (See Márquez’s press statement here.)

Likewise, there was some debate over whether the military, police, and insurgents, could be appropriately considered as victims of the conflict.  Members of ACORE, the retired military officials’ association, participated in the recent victims’ forums sponsored by the United Nations and the National University.  There ACORE members discussed their sense of victimization and presented their proposals for the peace table.  In the forum that I observed in Barrancabermeja, one ACORE official acknowledged openly that he had been terrified to attend, and he was surprised that he had been listened to and treated with respect by the other victims.

President Santos defended the table’s mandate for a broad, inclusive delegation of victims.  Santos said, “If we want peace in this country, we cannot begin to divide (segmentar), only these victims, or these yes and those no.  The conflict is one conflict, and the solution to the conflict is one solution.  Therefore all of the victims must be heard… if we want peace we must listen to all of the victims.”  President Santos applauded the selection process, and underscored the meed for all of the different victims to travel to Havana and “say what they want, how they see the process, how they would like to see their condition of victimhood recognized and their rights defended.”

Historic Meeting in Havana

The historic encounter between the victims and the negotiators began at 9 am on Saturday, August 16.  It opened with a prayer and a moment of silence to remember all of the victims of the conflict.  The two heads of the peace delegations–Humberto de la Calle for the government and Luciano Marín (“Iván Márquez”) for the FARC–made initial remarks, then each of the victims had 15 minutes to present their individual testimonies, proposals, and recommendations for the final peace agreement.  The session lasted nearly 9 hours.  For some victims, it was the first opportunity to face their victimizers or their representatives, and the reverse was also true.

In a powerful press conference at the end of the day, the twelve victims read from a joint statement they had prepared.  They were united in their call for peace and reconciliation, underscoring their disposition for unity–“without exclusions or silencing”–and their belief that truth will form the foundation for peace.  Watch the press conference in its entirety here:

The complexity of the conflict was reflected in the complexity of the victims’ delegation.  The delegation was characterized by its diversity and pluralism.  It included seven women and five men from a multiplicity of backgrounds, social sectors, ethnicities, political ideologies, and eight regions plus Bogotá.  The delegation included victims of abuses by all of the armed actors in Colombia’s internal armed conflict–insurgents, paramilitaries, drug traffickers, State, security forces, and unknown assailants.  Delegation members or their relatives had experienced assassination, displacement, torture, extrajudicial execution (falsos positivos), gender violence, kidnapping, massacres, and disappearance.

Deftly finessing the debates around whether the military, police, or guerrilla members could be considered victims, the organizers noted, “Members of the Armed Forces (Fuerza Pública) and their relatives, as well as members of the guerrilla groups and their families,” can be considered as victims, provided “they suffered damage of substantial injury to their rights as a consequence of manifest violations of their rights or international humanitarian law.”  (See “Doce víctimas que todos hirieron se fueron a Cuba“).

One victim of the delegation, Alfonso Mora León, was a retired sub official of the Army whose son was a FARC member, assassinated in a massacre perpetrated by the State, after having been kidnapped and tortured with 5 other youths.  Nelly Gonzalez was the mother of a police commander who was assassinated by the FARC and was a victim of forced displacement.  María Eugenia Cruz was a victim of gender violence, forced displacement, and persecution by different armed groups for her work on women’s rights and victims of sexual abuse.  Debora Barros was an indigenous survivor of a massacre by paramilitaries that claimed five women in her family and forced her displacement.  Angela María Giraldo lost her brother in a kidnapping of 11 Congresspeople in Cali.  Constanza Turbay, had lost 8  family members, including two brothers and her mother, at the hands of the FARC.

While in the Colombian press, attention in recent weeks has focused largely on divisions and differences among the victims, what was striking about the victims’ delegation in Havana was not their differences, but what they had in common.  All could reach beyond their pain for a greater vision of a country at peace.  UN Coordinator Fabrizio Hochschild noted that all twelve victims were united by their pain and as survivors, and that, as citizens, the victims “had demanded that the signing of a peace accord stop the cycle of violence that continues to produce new victims every day.”  They also demanded that victims should not “be stigmatized, discriminated against, divided, or used.”

In answering questions from the press, Constanza Turbay told of her encounter with “Iván Márquez,” the head of the FARC delegation.  Márquez had approached her after the session and said that what happened to her family members was a mistake, and he asked for her forgiveness.  Turbay called Márquez’s act of recognition the “most important” and “transcendental” meeting in her life, and she called for a deeper commitment to resolving the conflict.  “If we, who have been affected by the violence, can take this determined step, why can’t the rest of the country?” she asked. (See “‘Si nosotros damos un paso, por qué no el rest del país': víctimas.“)  José Antequera, another victim, son of an assassinated leader of the Unión Patriótica party, spoke of evolving interest among the victims in establishing a broad-based victims’ movement that would unite victims across the political spectrum in an alliance for peace. This kind of alliance of victims of the different armed actors was what opened the possibility for negotiations in the Basque Country between ETA and the Spanish government.  Such an alliance could be significant in forging the path for broader reconciliation within Colombian society.

Reactions to the Meeting 

All those engaged in the process appear to have been deeply moved by the delegation’s visit to Havana.  In a joint statement, the peace delegations thanked the victims for their “testimonies, opinions, and proposals that were expressed with great courage and candor.”  (See Comunicado Conjunto 41) “We received their demonstrations of pain and their demands as an ethical and moral imperative to successfully conclude these [peace] talks.”  (See more on their visit here).

Humberto de la Calle noted following the meeting, “The visit of this first delegation of victims was perhaps one of the most transcendental moments of the process, and in any case, the most emotional.  Their testimonies brought home why Colombia deserves and needs us to end the conflict, why we must unite to confront the past, overcome it, and work for the construction of a stable and lasting peace, and thus contribute to reconciliation.”  (See De la Calle’s statement here.)

The FARC delegation issued its own response, noting also the “transcendence” of the meeting, “in which the protagonists, supported by their own pain, generously opened  their hearts to the most beautiful sentiment of peace.”  (See statement by FARC delegation here.)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called the peace talks between the first victims’ delegation and the parties “unprecedented.”  Pillay noted that empowering victims as agents of social change is a process that is transforming the power dynamics in Colombia and transforming victims into survivors and subjects with rights.  Those who violated the rights of victims are now obliged to restore those rights.  Pillay said, “Listening first-hand to their [the victims']  pain is a very good start, because it demonstrates the significance of assuming responsibilities, putting an end to the violations, and restoring the rights of the victims.” (See interview with Pillay here.)

Victims hold hands at encounter in Havana.  (Photo courtesy of Prensa Latina)

Victims hold hands at encounter in Havana. (Photo courtesy of Prensa Latina)

The delegation was accompanied by civil society representatives from the United Nations system in Colombia (including the resident coordinator Fabrizio Hochschild, and Belén Sanz, head of UN-Women in Colombia), the National University (including Alejo Vargas and Marco Romero), and the Colombian Episcopal Conference (including the president of the bishops’ conference, Msr. Luis Augusto Castro, and Dare Echeverri).  Hochschild noted that the victims’ visit to Havana had been “one of the most moving experiences” in his 30 years of accompanying peace processes in conflict zones on every continent.  (See “‘Si nosotros damos un paso, por qué no el rest del país': Víctimas.“)

Concluding Remarks

The impact of the Havana meeting should not be underestimated.  It has provided the negotiators with moral and ethical support for their work and a mandate to recommit to a successful conclusion of the peace process.  It brought home to all of the negotiating team members the tremendous pain that the conflict has inflicted upon a wide variety of Colombian citizens, and the urgency of ending the conflict once and for all.  It also provided the negotiators with a range of new ideas to be considered as they craft their final agreements.

For the victims too, the visit was important.  Their participation in the process constitutes a form of symbolic reparation and a recognition of their moral authority by the broader Colombian society.  For some, their participation restored or strengthened a sense of personal dignity, the hope that their voices matter and will be heard, and that they have a role in bringing peace to their country.  The visit provided victims with an opportunity to share their grief with others across the political divide who have also experienced deep loss.  Participation in the delegation has also planted the seeds for a broad coalition of victims that could be critical in a longer-term reconciliation process.

[Author's Note:  Future posts will analyze the new Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims and the technical sub commission on the end of the conflict.]

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Has Colombia’s time come?

Ginny Bouvier:

Take a look at my piece at the Global Public Square of for a few thoughts on what lessons from other conflict zones might offer Colombia.

Originally posted on Global Public Square:

By Virginia M. Bouvier, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Virginia M. Bouvier is senior program officer for Latin America at the U.S. Institute of Peace and editor of Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War. The views expressed are the author’s own. 

With violence exploding in Gaza, airstrikes in Iraq, armed groups terrorizing Nigeria, Syrian extremism spilling into Lebanon, and the return of war in Sudan, the cause of peace can seem daunting. Closer to home, however, there is cause for hope.

Prospects for peace in Colombia are looking better than they have in years. If successful, the current peace process would put an end to an internal armed conflict that has lasted half a century. The conflict has taken the lives of some 200,000 Colombians, forcibly displaced 6 million more (granting Colombia the dubious honor of world record holder for the highest number of displaced), and…

View original 831 more words

Posted in Colombia | Leave a comment

Inauguration Day

7 August 2014

President Juan Manuel Santos is sworn in today for a second term.  Watch the inauguration ceremony live from Bogotá:

The Colombian Constitution requires the president to take office and be sworn in when the Congress is in full session.  Following the opening of today’s parliamentary session at 2 pm EST, the Congress adjourned to the Plaza Núñez, in an area between the Casa de Nariño and the Capitol, for the swearing-in ceremony.  Before more that 2,000 invited guests, including 128 delegations from 105 countries and 23 multilateral organizations, President Santos is expected to focus his inauguration speech on “national unity for peace,” and the need for internal and international support to advance an agenda for social change.  Santos’s first term was marked by an effort to launch and consolidate peace talks with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) and later the National Liberation Army (ELN).  Formal talks with the FARC have enjoyed steady advances and produced important agreements.  Talks with the ELN are still in an exploratory phase, which began in January of this year, produced an initial agreement, but have yet to develop into formal peace talks.  Santos’s first term was also marked by the passage of legislation to address the demands of victims and their claims for restitution of lands.  Today’s ceremony is expected to be marked by gestures and symbols of peace, including a hymn for peace.

New Congress Elected  

On July 20, 2014, as Colombians celebrated Independence Day (see my earlier reflections here),  the 102 Senators and 166 Representatives who were elected to the Colombian Congress last March 9 took office.  President Juan Manuel Santos urged the 2014-1018 Congress to make the necessary reforms so that it would become the “Congress of Peace” and initiate the post-conflict period in Colombia.

Indeed, if a peace accord is reached in the next four years (and there is every reason to assume it will be), this Congress will set in place the laws to regulate a range of related issues, including transitional justice benefits, political participation for demobilized excombatants, military privileges and jurisdiction and implementation of policies relating to other agreements reached in Havana, such as rural development, drug policy, and ratification mechanisms for the accords.  Indeed, the FARC and the ELN issued a joint communiqué calling on the new Congress to “make effective the constitutional right and obligation to peace” and to “move from rhetoric and empty words to a period of transition, in which the Congress of the Republic legislates for the entire Colombian society and not just privileged minorities.” (Read the communiqué here.)

“Peace must be adopted as a state policy, so that in the future no one will dare to reverse the eventual reconciliation accord,” noted Timoleón Jiménez (“Timochenko”) y Nicolás Rodríguez (“Gabino”), commanders of the FARC and the ELN respectively.  The communique recognized the complexity of the discussions around peace as a “challenge that we all hope to confront in order to have peace and social justice definitively.”

Before an audience that included Alvaro Uribe Vélez, exPresident and newly elected Senator for the Democratic Center party, Santos called on Colombia’s social and political forces to “make common cause in the search for peace,” and he set a conciliatory tone for the coming period, underscoring that as President he was elected to serve not just those who voted for him, but all Colombians (see Santos’s speech here.)

President Santos’s task will clearly be more challenging than it was in his first term, when Santos’s ruling coalition held 90% of the Senate and some 80% of the Congress.  The ruling coalition garnered 47 of the 102 seats in the newly elected Senate and 52% of the new Congress, thus Santos will need to make alliances to move his legislative agenda forward and overcome opposition from both the right and the left.  The Democratic Center party, headed by now-Senator Alvaro Uribe, holds  20 seats in the Senate and 18 in the House.  The Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA) holds 8 seats, and the Green Alliance has 11.  (See here.)  La Silla Vacía published a useful guide to the Members of Congress, including background on each member and graphics showing the political balance of power in each chamber (click here).

The press in recent days has made much of the possibility that ex-president Alvaro Uribe and the Senators and Representatives representing the Democratic Center party would boycott the inauguration ceremony. (See “Uribe no estaría en la posesión de Santos“.)  The most difficult decisions with respect to the peace process remain ahead for this next legislative period, and, as some have suggested, it will be more difficult to sustain peace with the ex-militants of armed groups if reconciliation between the politicians cannot be forged.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment