Process with Victims Taking Shape

July 17, 2014

Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators have been meeting in Havana since  Tuesday, July 15, to develop the methodology for bringing delegations of victims to the peace table. This has proven to be a complex process, but in a joint communiqué today, the negotiators have outlined a process for moving it forward judiciously. (See communiqué here.)  Their joint statement recognizes that the victims’ voice “will be a fundamental input” in current discussions on the topic of victims.

Criteria for Victims’ Delegations to Havana and New Roles of Third Parties 

At the behest of the parties, the United Nations system in Colombia and the Centro de Pensamiento y Seguimiento al Proceso de Paz, a think tank of Colombia’s National University, have been charged with the process of organizing and selecting the delegations that will participate in the peace process in Havana.  These two entities are currently organizing the regional forums of victims under way, and spearheaded similar regional and national forums on earlier agenda items–rural agrarian development, political participation, and illicit crop cultivation and narcotrafficking.  Today’s announcement represents a vote of confidence on the part of the negotiators that the two organizations should continue to play a role in facilitating civil society inputs into the process.  (See my previous post on the forums here.)

Today’s joint communiqué provides specific instructions on the selection criteria for the delegations:

1.  Every delegation will be “balanced, pluralist, and discreet.”

2. Delegates should reflect the full range of human rights and international humanitarian law violations that have occurred in the trajectory of the Colombian armed conflict, “considering different social sectors and populations, as well regions.”

3. Delegation members should be direct victims of the conflict and participate in this capacity rather than as representatives of another identity.

4.  The delegations and their members will have complete autonomy to present their points of view.  The Table will take careful note of the approaches and proposals presented, with the goal of guaranteeing the best way to make material the rights of the victims of the conflict.

5.  The objective of the delegations’ participation is within a broader frame of ending the conflict and promoting reconciliation.

6.  The Table will review the functioning of the selection mechanism for delegates in each  visit and make recommendations as they are necessary.

The parties also provided instructions on the number of delegates and victims to be invited, noting that there is to be one delegation invited in each cycle of talks, during at least five cycles; that each delegation will include up to 12 people; and that the first delegation will take place on August 16th.

Catholic Bishops Given New Role

In addition, the negotiating parties have invited the Colombian Episcopal Conference to “accompany the process” and to help guarantee that the parties’ criteria for the victims’  delegations are fulfilled. This is the first formal role that the Church has been given in the current peace process, although the Church in Colombia has long played a fundamental role in peace building, peace education, and promoting processes of reconciliation, and has been involved in every other Colombian peace process in the last few decades.

Earlier this month, Msr. Luis Augusto Castro, archbishop of Tunja, replaced Cardinal Rubén Salazar, who completed his six-year term, as President of the Episcopal Conference.  Msr. Castro announced that peace and reconciliation will be at the center of his agenda and urged the government not to forget about the ELN process (see article here.)  Msr. Castro was bishop in San Vicente de Caguán under the Samper government, has been a mediator for the release of soldiers kidnapped by the FARC and the ELN, and has presided over the National Conciliation Commission since 2005.   His appointment is widely considered to be favorable to the peace process and reconciliation.

Victims at Center of Debates

The commitment of both parties at the peace table to put victims’ rights at the center of the debates is an important and unique feature of the Colombian peace process, due in part perhaps to the high numbers of victims (more than 6.5 million have registered with the government’s Victims’ Unit) and also to the extraordinary level of organization of the victims, particularly victims of state violence.  That said, some 60% of the estimated 5.7 million victims of forced displacement, the largest category of victimization by far, are not organized; nor are the 400,000 or so refugees who have fled Colombia because of the conflict.

Discussions on the theme of victims have a firm conceptual basis from which to begin.  The joint Declaration of Principles the parties announced last month (see post here) provides a useful comprehensive framework and will be useful for future discussions with the delegation of victims’ representatives who they have invited to Havana.  It has provided the basis for the generation of proposals from the victims in the current forums underway in Colombia.  The parties also have inputs generated from the regional workshops organized by the Peace Commissions of the Colombian Congress in late 2012 and 2013.  They will continue to receive inputs from the four forums on victims that are being held this month and next under the auspices of the United Nations and the National University. (See my last post here.)  Already, the systematization from the first set of  workshops in Villavicencio have been sent to Havana.

Washington, D.C. Event on Victims:  July 29th

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., proposals of victims of the armed conflict will be presented by four Colombian victims of different armed groups and regions at an event co-organized with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF), and hosted at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).   Come by or tune in to the webcast on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 from 10 am-12 pm (EST).  More details and RSVP information can be found here.  The link to the webcast will go live at the time of the event (in Spanish) and be available 1-2 days afterward in both English and Spanish.  Twitter questions welcome.  Hashtag will be provided.

Future Schedule of Havana Talks

On July 25, the delegations will meet to prepare the Historic Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims.  The next round of talks will begin on August 12, and the first delegation of victims should arrive shortly thereafter.

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Update on the Peace Talks

July 11, 2014

After a period of intense activity and major breakthroughs in content and process at the peace table in the weeks before the presidential elections on June 15 (and with a period of national celebration for Colombia’s outstanding performance in the World Cup in Brazil), the Havana peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP will resume next Tuesday, July 15.  In early June, the parties had announced an invitation for a delegation of victims to join the table when they convened for their discussion on victims, the next item on the agenda in the Havana talks.  Government and FARC delegates held preparatory meetings in Havana on July 6 and 7th to discuss the format for participation of victims at the table.  (See their joint communiqué here.)  The parties have already reached agreement on rural agrarian development, political participation, and drug trafficking and illicit crops.

Victims at the Table

The question of which victims will participate in the delegation to Havana and how is a complicated one.  The participants in the delegation are in the process of being identified.  With more than 6.5 million victims registered with the government’s Victims’ Unit, and tremendous diversity among them, it will be difficult to ensure complete representation at the table.

At this point, it seems likely that 15 delegates of the National Victims Table (Mesa Nacional de Víctimas) will join the peace talks in Havana.  Three types of representation appear likely.  First, representation of a sample of different kinds of victimization–forced displacement or eviction, forced disappearances, destruction of homes and personal effects, injury or death from land mines, kidnappings, torture, sexual violence, homicide, and recruitment of youths.  Second, the delegation will include representatives from diverse sectors that have been victimized (such as women, indigenous, Afro-Colombians).  Third, the delegation will include victims of different actors–paramilitaries, guerrillas, and the State.  Regional representation will probably need to be addressed as well.

The victims’ groups are meeting and working to come to consensus about who will go to Havana and what proposals will be put forth.  Some victims are urging the table to broaden the participation to include more than 15 representatives.  Others are calling for the creation of a sub commission on forced disappearances and another on those who have been kidnap victims.  Others are hoping to present questions about particular cases.

Victims’ Forums

In addition to the invitation for a victims’ delegation to join the peace table Havana, the peace delegations had asked the National University and the United Nations to conduct a series of forums to give victims in different regions the opportunity to make recommendations to the table.  On July 4 and 5, the two entities held the first of four forums on victims in Villavicencio in the department of Meta.  The Villavicencio forum was attended by about 400 victims, who produced some 450 proposals.

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Additional regional forums are being held in Barrancabermeja today and tomorrow (July 10 and 11), and in Barranquilla on July 17 and 18.  A national forum will be held in Cali from August 3-5.  These forums are being held at the request of the Havana delegations to generate inputs for the peace talks.  Some 1,600 victims of all of paramilitary, guerrilla, and State violence are expected to participate in the forums.

Polls Show Increased Support for Negotiations

New polls done in late June suggest that public sentiment favoring the peace talks has gained ground.  A Gallup survey showed an increase between May and June from 64% to 72% in the number of respondents who favor negotiations.  The survey also showed an increase from 45% to 55% during the same time frame of those who believe a peace agreement will be signed. A Datexco poll showed similar findings, with respondents who believe the process will produce results rising from 30% to 52% since March. (For more information on the surveys, click here.)  The increased support for the peace talks may be related to the Colombian government’s accelerated campaign effort to educate the public about the peace process, the announcement that victims’ proposals would be considered at the table, and, not to be underestimated, Colombia’s glowing performance in the preliminaries for the World Cup.

Marcha Patriótica

In the meantime, ex-Senator Piedad Córdoba, leader of the Marcha Patriótica, denounced an attack by the Colombian Army on the home of Angel Torres, a member of the directorate of the Marcha Patriótica, a social-political movement of the left legalized two years ago.  In January this year, Córdoba had reported 29 deaths of Marcha Patriotic members and 3 disappearances.  On Wed., July 9th, she noted that she has documented an additional 30 killings in the past six months, and noted that the Marcha Patriótica threw its support behind President Juan Manuel Santos in exchange for the promise of a more protected space to engage in politics.  This is a key point related to an earlier item on the peace agenda–that of guarantees for exercising opposition.  A worrisome trend, indeed.




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World Cup Craze

July 3, 2014

Everyone has World Cup fever, but perhaps nowhere more than in Colombia, where that country leads the world in activity on social media around the 2014 World Cup matches.   This is of course fanned by the fact that Colombia has been doing so well.  It won all of the games in the preliminaries–taking on Greece (3-0), Cote d’Ivoire (2-1),  Japan (4-1), and, today, Uruguay (2-0).  Tomorrow Colombia will take on host country Brazil at 4 pm EST.

Washington is clearing out for potential hurricanes and in preparation for the 4th of July holiday and everyone seems to be moving into mid-summer mode, with the heat and humidity at an all-time high.  Here is a bit of light entertainment in honor of the season from the Alfa 8 in preparation for tomorrow’s match:

And on a more serious note, I would highlight an interesting initiative beyond the regular sports news.  The Colombia team has been collaborating in promoting the campaign, “It is Not Time to Be Silent”, an initiative to educate the public and address the issue of violence against women.  Journalist Jineth Bedoya, herself a victim of sexual violence, launched the initiative in 2009 (see ‘No es hora de Callar’).

Finally, here is a piece that features an initiative to use soccer as a mechanism to teach conflict resolution and peace at the local level.



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Post-Electoral Assessments

June 20, 2014

Attached please find an interview that appeared on Al-Jazeera English on June 16 with commentary by me and two colleagues, Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas; and Christian Voelkel, Colombia representative for the International Crisis Group:

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Politics from Bogota

June 14, 2014

Just back from a week in Bogota, where I was able to partake of some of the capital’s  political culture in the final days before Sunday’s presidential elections.  It has been an exciting time, but also one of extreme tension and uncertainty.  The candidates are in a deadlock, polls give both candidates an even chance of winning, and there is no consensus even among peace groups as to the likely winner is.  It is unclear what impact ex-President Andrés Pastrana’s eleventh-hour endorsement of challenger Oscar Iván Zuluaga as is likely to have.  (See Semana article here.)

On the peace process side, these days have brought news of important breakthroughs.  Last Saturday morning, the parties in Havana wrapped up their 26th round of talks and announced a number of advances: a Joint Declaration of Principles on how they will address victims’ rights, an invitation for victims to join the talks, the establishment of a historical clarification commission, and the creation of a gender subcommittee to ensure gender concerns are adequately considered in all of the final agreements (see my prior blog here).  Likewise, on Tuesday, June 10, the government confirmed that exploratory talks with the ELN were underway.  (See my forthcoming blog post on this).

All of the parties across the political spectrum are revved up and engaging their machinery for the elections.  Santos and Zuluaga were out campaigning across the country until last Sunday, after which time Colombian law prohibits further public campaigning by the candidates.  The presidential contenders went head to head in two more  presidential debates this week, before Zuluaga got laryngitis and cancelled the remaining debates.

I won’t try to be comprehensive here, but let me give just a couple of examples of the mobilizations taking place on behalf of peace.

Broad Front for Peace 

On Thursday night, June 5, major figures of the left gathered before a standing-room only crowd at the Gonzalo Jiménez Convention Center in Bogota to announce the launch of Colombia’s Broad Front for Peace and to throw their support behind the incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos.  The Convention Center was packed with a diverse group of young and old, different genders and ethnicities, and representation of a wide spectrum of  the Colombian left.  It was a virtual “who’s who” that included leaders of the Alternative Democratic Pole, Communist Party of Colombia, the Patriotic Union, Patriotic March, the Green Party/Alliance, the Progressive Movement, the Liberal Party, and a variety of social movements–the National Indigenous Organization (ONIC), the Animalist Platform, the Hip Hop Movement.

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“We come from our differences to build a proposal for peace in Colombia that will end the conflict,” noted Jorge Rojas, Bogota’s Secretary for Social Integration, on leave to join the Santos campaign, and a leader of the new Broad Front for Peace.  “We are giving a mandate to candidate-President Santos to carry the peace process to its conclusion, but it is not a blank check,” intoned Rojas.  He emphasized that the peace agenda is an agenda for change that goes beyond the negotiators at the table.

The left has struggled to define its position in the presidential elections scheduled for this Sunday, June 15th. This meeting to launch a new political movement of the left included  those who have chosen to cast their lot with President Santos.  Missing from the line-up was Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, of the Independent Revolutionary Workers’ Movement party, MOIR), one of the Democratic Alternative Pole parties, and others who are opting for a protest vote.  Robledo is one of the leaders of the call to cast blank ballots, a position that has enjoyed considerable support in the course of these elections and that reflects both the widespread disillusion of the electorate with electoral politics that have been marked by mudslinging and scandals, and the left’s disappointment with neoliberal policies that are advocated by both of the presidential incumbent candidate, Juan Manuel Santos, and his challenger, Oscar Iván Zuluaga.

Leaders of the Broad Front are clear that a vote for Santos is a vote for peace–not a vote for a Santos program.  At the rally, the speakers unanimously supported the peace process, but many underscored the ongoing role they expected to play as an opposition force that will hold the government to any agreements it makes at the table in Havana, and that will continue to challenge Santos’s economic and social policies.

Piedad Córdoba, a long-time peace advocate, received the strongest acclaim from the crowd.  She called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire, humanitarian gestures including commitments to de-mining, and the opening of negotiations with the ELN and EPL.  “Peace is ours,” she said.  “We declare war on war… We are the hope of the country.”

Juvenal Arrieta from the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) announced that this week, shamans from 29 departments would call on their indigenous gods to pray for peace in Colombia and he urged all Colombians and indigenous communities to vote for peace.

Rep. Iván Cepeda (and newly elected Senator) underscored the “dignified resistance of our people.”  He said, “Let us close the path of war and social authoritarianism. …. They have tried to convince us that peace is secondary, but we have suffered innumerable crimes against humanity.  [Colombians] wake up and go to bed with the worst scenarios of violence, massacres, sexual violence.  We will not allow a paramilitarization of the country.  We want democracy.”  Cepeda urged the parties to “end to the blood bath” once and for all.

Rep. Angela María Robledo spoke on behalf of Colombia’s women:  “We women are peace. We have resisted war and care for life.  We have the ethical reserve for peace.  We will vote for Santos for peace,  democracy, and social justice.”   Robledo also spoke eloquently about the youth who have been picked up  in the streets of Bogota and persecuted for their status as conscientious objectors.  She called on Santos to make good on his promise to make military service voluntary.

Bogota City Counselor Diana Alejandra Rodríguez spoke on behalf of the LGTBI community and animal rights groups, which have recently become quite active in Bogota.  She urged the government to embark on negotiations with the ELN as well.

While President Santos did not attend the forum, Liberal Party and Minister of Labor Rafael Pardo spoke on his behalf.  Pardo said that Santos recognized the political significance of the Broad Front in the current political context and beyond.  He noted that peace goes beyond a question of the armed groups, and that the Broad Front will need to last beyond a peace agreement.  “Santos is not asking you to share his government’s program, but the Broad Front is an important force for the legitimacy for the peace process,” Pardo said.

Social and Labor Movements Support Peace 

photo 5On Monday, June 9, representatives of the majority of the organized labor movement–Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) and the Confederación de Trabajadores de Colombia (CTC) and the independent federations and unions–officially endorsed Santos.  Labor movement leaders, like leftist politicians, have made it clear that despite their differences with Santos over economic and development models, they will vote for Santos in order to support the peace process, a democratic opening, and social and labor rights.  They have now launched a campaign with the theme, “With peace we will do more on the social and labor [fronts].”

On May 29, five large organizations representing virtually the entire indigenous population in Colombia–the Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), the Confederación Indígena Tayrona (CIT), the Autoridades Tradicionales Indígenas de Colombia Gobierno Mayor, the Autoridades Indígenas de Colombia por la Pacha Mama (AICO), and the Organización de Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Colombiana (OPIAC)–announced the creation of a broad social and political front for peace.  The groups announced their commitment to a stable and lasting peace, called on the populace to vote for an end to the armed conflict in the upcoming elections, and invited other social sectors to join their effort to “protect the end of the conflict and not to permit “the return to eras of intensified insurgent and paramilitary violence that has caused Colombians so much harm.”  (See “Los indígenas llaman a un ‘frente’ por la paz.”)

Peace Pedagogy

Finally, there has been a recent flurry of extraordinarily well done pieces from the office of the President of Colombia as well as by private individuals and organizations to educate the public about the peace process.  High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo spoke before the Peace Commissions in the Colombian House and Senate. (See his remarks here.)  Likewise, below is a sample of some of the outreach being done by Jaramillo and lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle from a series of interviews available on YouTube from the program, “Crystal Ball.” (Urna de Cristal):

I provide another link below to one of my favorites.  This one comes from a group of Colombians and friends in the United Kingdom who have been carrying out peace breakfasts to “surround the process” (rodear el proceso) and contribute to a culture of dialogue.  (See their webpage here.)

Clearly, there is tremendous social activism and the emergence of the beginnings of a pedagogy of peace.  I invite my readers to share some of what you are seeing, hearing, experiencing…

In the meantime, I am off to watch the World Cup.  Colombia takes on Greece in just a few hours…

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Could Colombia’s Election Kill Its Peace Process?

Check out my latest article in here.

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As Colombia’s Elections Approach, Peace Process Finds Itself in Race Against Time


To see my just published article at the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, click here: As Colombia’s Elections Approach, Peace Process Finds Itself in Race Against Time.



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