34th Round of Peace Talks Ends in Havana; De-Mining to Begin in Meta and Antioquia

March 30, 2015

During the 34th round of peace talks, which ended on Friday, March 27, the Colombian government and the FARC continued to work on two parallel tracks to reach agreements on victims and ending the conflict.  (Earlier provisional agreements on rural agrarian development, political participation, and illicit crops have already been reached.)


In this session, the parties discussed the sub-theme of “Truth” under the agenda item on “Victims.”  The parties have a number of important tools to guide their discussions and help them craft their accord on this topic.  Last June 7, they signed a joint declaration of principles on victims which promises that “impunities” will not be exchanged and that victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees for non-repetition will be respected.  The parties have now received testimony and recommendations from five delegations of victims and from  three delegations that included representatives of women’s and LGBTI organizations, as well as gender experts.  Finally, the parties continue to analyze the 800+-page report generated by the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (see my earlier post and links to the report here).  The report was released on February 10 and has been the subject of discussion and debate both in Havana and back in Colombia.

Ending the Conflict

On the second agenda item under consideration in the 34th round of talks–ending the conflict–the technical subcommission met, bringing together face-to-face the military leadership of each party to assist in shaping the terms of a definitive bilateral ceasefire.  The subcommission received visits from three experts on the peace process in El Salvador:  (ret.) General Mauricio Vargas, ex-guerrilla commander Jose Luis Merino  and (ret.) Colonel Prudencio García, and agreed that they would hear from experts on Sudan and Nepal in the next cycle, which is scheduled to begin on April 10.

Advances at the table and the FARC’s adherence to the unilateral ceasefire it declared last December prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to announce on March 10, the suspension of bombardments of FARC camps for one month.  The FARC for its part have warned that Army attacks on guerrilla structures are making it difficult to keep its troops from engaging.  In a March 10 interview, FARC commander and peace negotiator Pablo Catatumbo noted that “during the past 60 days the enemy has killed more than 10 of our combatants and has captured a further five who will almost certainly be sentenced to in excess of forty years of imprisonment. … We, the guerrilla movement deeply desire peace but we will not allow them to kill us or refrain from defending ourselves.” (See his statement here.)

De-Escalating Measures Agreed

During the recent cycle of talks, the parties in Havana announced new measures to reduce the intensity of the conflict.  They continued to refine their March 7 agreement to engage in a joint de-mining effort and received the visit of Norwegian Popular Aid (see my previous post on the agreement and NPA’s role).  In a joint communiqué on March 27, the parties announced that they would pilot the de-mining process in three unspecified areas of Meta and Antioquia.  They established three formal structures to undertake the work–a five-member Reference Group (Grupo de Referencia) that includes delegates of the Colombian government, the FARC, Cuba, Norway, and NPA; a steering committee (Grupo de Dirección) to coordinate the project from Havana; and a Project Management Group (Grupo de Gestión de Proyecto) to coordinate directly from the field.  It is estimated that half of Colombia’s 1102 municipalities have landmines, which have killed or injured more than 11,000 people since 1990.  The next cycle of talks is slated to include a workshop on the implementation of the de-mining measures.

There has also been progress at the table on the issue of child recruitment.  In February, the FARC announced it would end recruitment of youths under age 17.   The announcement came on the heels of the visit to Havana of a delegation of leaders of women’s and LGBTI organizations.  One member of the delegation, Fátima Muriel, appealed to the FARC to release 13 young recruits from the Putumayo region where she heads a woman’s organization; by the time she returned to Putumayo, it had been done and the announcement on ending recruitment had been made.

Still under consideration are other de-escalation measures, such as joint action on the issue of the disappeared.  All of the armed actors–guerrilla insurgents, paramilitary groups, and agents of the state– have used the practice of forced disappearances during the internal armed conflict.  The National Commission for the Search for Disappeared reports close to 90,000 missing persons between 1938-2014, of which the Attorney General’s office counts some 30,000 as victims of forced disappearance.

Iván Márquez, head of the FARC delegation in Cuba, has proposed a joint military-FARC commission to search for those fallen in combat. (Read more here.)  Roy Barreras, president of the Senate’s Peace Commission, underscored that peace in the country requires an agreement on forced disappearances and an accounting of where the bodies are, if any of the disappeared are still alive, and the truth about what happened to them.  The Peace Commissions of the Colombian Congress have called on the FARC to produce a map that would help locate the bodies of those who have disappeared.  (See more here.)  We can expect to be hearing more on this issue, which is of particular importance for victims of this horrific practice.

Gender Subcommission

The gender subcommission also met during the 34th round in Havana, where it received the visits and recommendations from three gender experts–Magalys Arocha, Mireia Cano and Hilde Salvesen.  The subcommission continues to work to ensure that the provisional agreements already reached and any future agreements are infused with gender perspectives.

Shifts in Havana

On March 16, President Santos announced that, given the continued work of the subcommission and the participation of active duty generals in Havana, general Jorge Enrique Mora and General Óscar Naranjo would be taking on new tasks related to the talks.  (See Santos’s statement here.) General Mora has already begun to accompany the President in a series of meetings with members of the Armed Forces to educate them about the peace process and look toward the future role of the Armed Forces in a post-Accord era.  (See more here.)  General Naranjo will shift his efforts toward his role as Minister Counselor for the Post-Conflict, Human Rights, and Security.  The two will remain as plenipotentiaries. (See here.)

Advisory Peace Commission Established

President Juan Manuel Santos announced the formation of an Advisory Peace Commission (Comisión Asesora de Paz) to generate more consensus on the peace process.  (See Santos’s announcement here.)  The Commission met for the first time on March 16 and included former President Andrés Pastrana, Cardinal Rubén Salazar; ex-presidential candidate Antanas Mockus; Polo Democrático president Clara López;  (ret.) general and exminister of Defensa Rafael Samudio; Banco de Colombia president Carlos Raúl Yepes; former M-19 leader Vera Grabe, indigenous leader Ati Quigua, and the president of the National Confederation of Workers Julio Roberto Gómez. Exminister of Defense Marta Lucía Ramírez and exminister of Culture Paula Moreno were out of the country and unable to attend.  ExPresident Alvaro Uribe was invited, but did not attend.

Santos explained that “to the extent we can bring in more and more people, even those who have been critical of the way we are seeking peace, people who have opposed that process, we will have greater strength to achieve that peace and this is the idea [behind] the Advisory Commission.”  He noted that the commission includes “people who were not affiliated with” or “inside the Government.” (See President Santos’s statement here.)

Rapprochement with the Right?

There are sporadic signs of efforts to build bridges between the Santos government and followers of exPresident Alvaro Uribe.  On March 13, lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that he had met with the Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez, a long-time critic of the peace process who has shown increased openness to find common ground.  De la Calle outlined three areas of agreement with the Inspector General:

  • there will not be peace with impunity,
  • the setting aside of arms will need to be effective and transparent, and
  • once an agreement is signed, “the full, loyal, transparent reincorporation of the guerrilla into civil society, without arms and in democracy” should be produced.

President Juan Manuel Santos has also expressed his willingness to dialogue directly with former President Uribe about the peace talks in Havana.  Such efforts will be needed to ensure that a peace agreement reached in Havana is not overturned before it can take root in Colombia.  (See the latest video on “territorial peace” from last Friday’s event, now available in my previous post.)


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Evento/Webcast sobre “Paz Territorial” DISPONIBLE ACÅ

23 marzo 2015

Mientras los diálogos de paz avancen en La Habana, el Alto Comisionado para la Paz, Sergio Jaramillo, ha llamado para la “paz territorial.” Este concepto reconoce que la firma de un acuerdo de paz no es suficiente para garantizar la paz sin un compromiso más amplio que reúne las instituciones regionales, las autoridades locales, y la sociedad colombiana en su diversidad. El próximo Colombia Peace Forum del Instituto de Paz de los Estados Unidos (USIP) explorará este tema. Esperamos que nos puedan acompañar—en vivo o por webcast. El evento se dará el viernes, 27 de marzo, de 3:00-4:30 pm (EST)–(2-3:30 hora colombiana).

Para más información o para RSVP, haga clic aquí.   El programa de este viernes incluirá a los siguientes expertos:

  • Andrés Santamaría Garrido
    Presidente, Federación Nacional de Personeros (FENALPER)
  • Adela Aguirre
    Personera de Pasto, Departamento de Nariño
  • Marino Córdoba
    Consejo Nacional de Paz Afrocolombiano (CONPA); Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados (AFRODES)
  • Representante (invitada)
    Departamento de Meta, Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo- Colombia (PNUD)
  • Diego Bautista
    Asesor para Paz Territorial y Arquitectura Institucional para el Postconflicto, Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz, Presidencia de Colombia
  • Virginia M. Bouvier
    Alta Consejera para Programas en América Latina, United States Institute of Peace (USIP)

En este evento se analizará cómo un acuerdo firmado se pudiera aplicar en las distintas regiones de Colombia y los desafíos que se presentan.  ¿Cómo se va a liderar y organizar el proceso? ¿Cómo se puede aprovechar de los esfuerzos preexistentes para construir la paz y asegurar que el proceso es lo más participativo e incluyente posible?  ¿Cuáles son los mejores mecanismos para apoyar la construcción de la paz desde los territorios? La discusión también abarcará temas relacionados a los vínculos entre las regiones y Bogotá, los derechos y necesidades de los ciudadanos en las regiones, y cómo apoyar la participación efectiva de los ciudadanos desde los territorios.

Se dará el programa en español, con interpretación simultánea en inglés para los y las que nos acompañan en nuestra sede en Washington (2301 Constitution Avenue, NW). La preinscripción para el evento en vivo está requerida.  El webstream estará disponible en español durante el evento aquí; el video en inglés estará colgado a partir del lunes 30 marzo.  El hashtag para los que quieren tuitear el evento será #ColombiaPeaceForum.



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Colombian Government Announces Temporary Halt to Bombings of FARC Camps

March 11, 2015

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that Army bombardments of FARC camps would be suspended for one month.  This announcement comes in recognition of FARC compliance with the unilateral ceasefire they had declared on December 18, 2014.  It also recognized progress at the peace table, including the new humanitarian accord reached this week by the government and the FARC that will initiate de-mining in some of the regions most severely affected by the scourge of land mines.  “Anti-personnel mines are a wound in the heart, a shame for Colombia, that we are going to eliminate,” declared President Santos in his statement.  View the President’s remarks here:


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Productive Cycle Comes to a Close in Havana–De-Mining Measures Agreed by Colombian Parties

March 8, 2015

On March 7, the government of Colombia and the FARC completed their 33rd round of talks.  The cycle produced progress on a number of fronts:  an accord on a joint de-mining initiative, unprecedented engagement in the peace process of six active-duty Colombian military officers at the peace table, and the visit to Havana by the third delegation of civil society representatives to meet with the peace delegations at the behest of the Gender Subcommission.  During this past cycle, the visits to Havana of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the new U.S. Envoy to the Peace Talks Bernie Aronson, and a visit to Bogota of a high-level  signaled increased interest on the part of the international community.  Peace talks will resume on March 17th, when the parties will focus their discussion on the topic of victims and justice.

Historic De-Mining Plan Agreed

In their joint communique at the end of the cycle, the parties announced an unprecedented agreement for joint action on de-mining — the “Accord on the Sweeping and Decontaminating of the Presence of Anti-personnel Landmines, Improvised Explosive Devices, and Unexploded Munitions or Explosive Remnants of War in General in the Territory.”  The parties proposed the initiative as part of a larger plan of de-escalation of the conflict.  Civil society has been calling for concrete de-escalation measures for many months, and politicians welcomed the move. (See El Colombiano here.)  The parties plan to secure the assistance of the Norwegian People’s Aid organization to “lead and coordinate implementation” of the initiative.  The agreement lays out mechanisms for selecting sites to be cleared, gathering relevant technical information, and establishing multi-task teams to carry out the demining and risk-education efforts in affected communities.  The accord contains provisions for dialoguing with the local communities during the sweep and de-contamination process, and calls for verification efforts to be accompanied by 2 representatives of the Colombian government, 2 delegates of the FARC, and 2 representatives of the affected communities.  It makes provisions for swept areas to be formally turned over to the local community authorities. (See their joint statement including the agreement here.)

Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle noted that the accord represents a “new and decisive step in the de-escalation of the armed conflict” that will “bring relief to the zones most affected by decades of violence.”  As the first concrete action involving joint action by the government and the FARC, it represents a historic breakthrough.  De la Calle underscored that FARC representatives will participate in the demining, without uniform or arms, and with the temporary suspension of pending arrest warrants (as determined by Colombian law) in order to provide the required information and accompaniment to the demining process.  (See De la Calle’s statement here.)

Ret. General Oscar Naranjo, Minister for the Post-Conflict and a member of the government’s team in Havana, called the demining accord “an indisputable advance” and a sign the “negotiations are beginning to produce concrete effects.”  He noted that Colombia is the second most mined country after Afghanistan, and that clearing the country of mines, which have been registered in 688 municipalities of Colombia, will cost millions and take a decade. (See El Colombiano here.)

FARC leaders also celebrated the accord and the gesture it represents in advancing the de-escalation of the war.  They noted that the parties are delivering “a humanitarian accord that will initiate the clearing and decontamination of our countryside of mines and the explosive remains of war.”  (See the FARC statement here.)

Military Leaders Convene in Havana

In another historic move, from March 5-7, the technical subcommission on the end of the conflict met in Havana with a half-dozen active-duty members of the Armed Forces. “The presence of members of the Armed Forces should only give confidence and tranquility to the Colombian public.  The men who have lived the war are the ones who will help to build the transition toward peace,” De la Calle noted.  The participation in Havana by active-duty military officers is another important landmark in the path toward peace.  The military are charged with “working on the recommendations that the Armed Forces will make to the Government delegation regarding a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and setting aside of arms.”  De la Calle clarified that the Subcommission will be an advisory body and will not be engaged in actual negotiations.  (See De la Calle’s statement here.)  The FARC delegation noted that the subcommission had begun to function “at a good rhythm, with a frank approach and trust among the combatants.” (See their statement here.)

Gender Subcommission

The third of three delegations of representatives from women’s organizations and the LGBTI communities traveled to Havana during the 33rd round of talks to meet with the parties and with the Gender Subcommission, chaired by Maria Paulina Riveros for the government side, and Commander Victoria Sandino for the FARC side.  The delegation included representatives of five women’s organizations and the leader of an organization that defends the rights of the LGBTI community.  Mayerlis Angarita, one of the delegates, noted that the delegation is calling on the parties to agree to a “bilateral ceasefire” and demanding the “immediate de-escalation of the conflict, especially the violences against women.”  (See “Mujeres piden.”) On behalf of the delegation, Angarita called for a commitment by the parties to make “an explicit statement against discrimination of the LGTBI population” and to “include a women’s rights perspective, especially as it relates to sexual violence, in an eventual Truth Commission.”

The parties expressed their appreciation for the visits from the delegation.  De la Calle noted that “it was indispensable for the Table to be able to rely on their participation with the purpose of helping to give expression to the concept of gender and a pluralist vision in the accords that have been reached and in those that we hope to reach.” (View De la Calle’s statement here.)  Likewise, the FARC delegation noted that the parties “had listened to the voices of important leaders from the profound Colombia who are defending women’s rights and the rights of the LGBTI population and communitarian sectors, who are  speaking for respect for diversity and inclusion in function of a Colombia without discrimination.” (View the FARC statement here.)  In a separate International Women’s Day statement, the FARC also called for ensuring a more permanent presence of women in the peace process. (See their statement here.)

(View the press conference by the civil society delegation here):

International Support Deepens for the Process

International support for the Colombian peace process reached a new level in this cycle.  In addition to the meetings of U.S. Special Envoy Bernie Aronson with both the government and FARC delegations in Havana, and the visit to Havana of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (see my former post), U.S. support for the peace process was reiterated with the visit to Colombia of U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall.  Sewall traveled to Bogota from March 4-7, 2015 to meet with a range of Colombian government officials and non-governmental representatives.  Sewell’s trip was meant to underscore “continued U.S. support for the Government of Colombia’s efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace that will result in greater security and prosperity for its citizens” and “to advance transitional justice, consistent with the rule of law, as it pertains to the ongoing peace process.” (See communique here.)

From the Hill, there was also support for recent developments at the peace talks. On learning of the new de-mining accord, Cong. Jim McGovern (D-MA), long-time supporter of peace initiatives in Colombia, issued an immediate statement congratulating the parties.  (View his statement here.)

Polling Favors Peace Process

Back in Colombia, the peace process got a boost with the announcement of the results of the latest Invamer Gallup poll, which showed that public support for the peace process is at an all-time high.  Some 72% of those surveyed support the government’s decision to initiate negotiations with the  FARC.  This represents an increase of ten percentage points from two months ago, and may reflect a growing effort by the government’s team to take a more aggressive stance in defense of the process inside Colombia, where skepticism remains high nonetheless.

On March 8, a broad-based “March for Life”–convened for by former Bogota mayor Antanus Mockus, and supported by President Juan Manuel Santos and a wide diversity of other politicians, and by women (who were also celebrating their own International Women’s Day)–was said to bring some 100,000 Colombians into the streets of Colombia’s major cities.  (See Semana article here.)  Another large public demonstration for peace is anticipated on National Victims’ Day on April 9.

The latest developments in Havana, along with the growing manifestations of support in Colombia, suggest that the process is on solid ground.  As continued agreements to de-escalate the conflict are put into practice, support for the process is likely to grow.

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Colombian Peace Talks Resume with Decisive Backing from the International Community

Feb. 25, 2015

As the Colombian government and the FARC-EP resumed their next round of talks in Havana today, they received a strong boost of support with the designation of Bernie Aronson as U.S. Special Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process.  He already has plans to meet with the parties in Havana during this round, which ends on March 7.

The announcement of Aronson’s  appointment came on Friday, Feb. 20.  In a midday press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry introduced Aronson, noting his distinguished diplomatic career in hemispheric affairs, and his role in helping to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua, for which he earned the State Department’s Distinguished Service Medal.  Aronson was former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs from 1989-1993 under Presidents Bush and Clinton.  

The decision to appoint a special envoy to the peace process, according to Sec. Kerry, responded to a request by President Juan Manuel Santos last December.  Kerry noted, “After careful consideration, President Obama has come to the conclusion – which I share, needless to say – that first, while significant obstacles remain, a negotiated peace in Colombia is absolutely worth pursuing and absolutely worth assisting if we are able to; and second, as Colombia’s close friend and ally, the United States has a responsibility to do what it can in order to help Colombia to achieve that peace.”

Watch the press conference and view the announcement here:  http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2015/02/237688.htm.

President Santos was quick to express his appreciation for the appointment of the envoy, and for the prestige that Bernie Aronson brings to the job as a business man and as someone with experience related to peace processes. (See Santos’s statement here.)

The FARC, which has been calling for U.S. engagement in the peace process since the talks began, also welcomed the appointment.  In a statement released shortly after the announcement, the FARC-EP peace delegation sustained that a more direct role for the United States in the peace process is a “necessity,” given the “ongoing presence and impact of the United States in the political, economic and social life of Colombia.”  They noted that the United States can now “contribute to the establishment of social justice, real democracy, and the overcoming of inequality and misery, which is the way to open the certain path to peace.” (Read the communiqué here.)

Reactions in Colombia

Here in Bogota, U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker told me he thought Bernie Aronson was an “ideal” choice, given the strong bipartisan support he enjoys in the United States, his long-standing experience in the region, and his experience as a negotiator.  In the NGO community, there is a strong sense that this is a good move and it is understood as a bold statement of support for the peace process.  I announced the news as it was breaking to a meeting I was facilitating with our partners at the National Autonomous University of Bucaramanga of some 30 women mediators from 9 regions all around Colombia.  The women’s reactions were favorable.  They were nonetheless curious about who Aronson is and what the role of the special envoy might be.  In more than five decades of war and four peace processes with the FARC (and numerous others with other groups), this is the first time the U.S. has appointed a special envoy, a sign that the process is seen as solid and likely to produce results.  (The U.S. Institute of Peace published a special report on the role of special envoys that can be viewed here; view the program here.)

Most people I have talked to here seem to be pleased with the news.  The feeling is that the United States has been a strong support for the Colombian government in its execution of the war, and it should be a part of its solution.  Many hope that the appointment will send a message to exPresident Alvaro Uribe that the United States–both Republicans and Democrats– is no longer interested in a military solution to the conflict and is putting its full weight behind a diplomatic solution.

Issues at Stake

The issues that are on the table in this round of talks include some of the toughest yet to be encountered.  The solutions reached may require U.S. (and international) support.  At  stake, for one, is the fate of the insurgents following the signing of an accord.  FARC negotiators reiterated in the press this week their longstanding position that they would not negotiate their way into jail.  All of the FARC Secretariat have pending extradition orders.  There is understandable concern that they could be extradited to a U.S. jail, as were a dozen paramilitary leaders following their demobilization some years ago.  Some feel that the United States might be able to give assurances that if a deal is reached on this point, it will be honored.  “If Aronson is capable of ensuring that those who have the capacity to promise that there will be no extraditions in his country do so, this hurdle will be overcome,”  noted one analyst.  (See La Silla Vacía).

Another theme in the conversations in Havana is how to handle drug-trafficking charges and whether the United States will accept the framing of drug trafficking as a political crime.  The FARC have asserted that narcotrafficking has helped to finance their insurgency, which, under Colombian law, could classify it as a crime related to rebellion. Pres. Santos has endorsed this position, but the Colombian public has found it hard to swallow, given the extensive nature of the crime.  U.S. support for Santos’s position, which would allow FARC leaders to engage in politics in the future, could help unblock this particular issue.

There is also the general issue of what the international community will accept in terms of transitional justice measures.  This is the first peace process to be conducted in the shadow of strict regulations of the International Criminal Court that limit negotiators from offering general amnesties and require States to investigate, judge and sanction war crimes.  The threat of ICC action in the aftermath of a peace agreement that is not sufficiently punitive could help ensure that victims get their due, but finding a solution that will not cause the FARC to leave the peace talks is tricky.

In a forum this week sponsored by the newspaper daily, El Tiempo, and the Universidad de El Rosario, lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle discussed the problem of public opinion.  With some 80 percent of the Colombian population favoring jail terms for the FARC, on one side, and the FARC reiterating its longstanding position that they will not serve one day of jail, on the other, the challenges for finding a solution that will be acceptable to the Colombian public and the international community are vast, and solutions have yet to be agreed to.

View the program in Spanish here:

Today, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was in Bogota, where he has been speaking in support of the Colombian peace process.  I am off to hear him speak a forum on truth commissions–another pending issue for Colombia’s negotiators–sponsored by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).  They will launch the release of ICTJ’s publication, Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes, in Spanish.

 (A version of this article was posted earlier today on the U.S. Institute of Peace Olive Branch blog.)


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32nd Cycle Ends in Havana

Havana, Cuba

February 16, 2015

On Thursday, Feb. 12, the latest cycle of peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC in Havana came to a close after 10 days of discussions that focused on the final two substantive items on the agenda — victims and the end of the conflict.  I was in Havana doing research on the peace process and had the opportunity to talk with the parties and to attend a number of related events.  

2015-02-09 chvc mesa occidental-miramar 22.26.21

The government delegation awaits the presentation of the report by the Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims. (Photo by Bouvier).

Visiting Havana, one can’t help but be impressed by the seriousness of the process, the commitment of both parties to finding solutions to end the conflict, and the climate of dialogue and engagement that has been created between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.  The kind of mutual respect, active listening, consideration, and give-and-take between the parties–at the service of ending the conflict once and for all–that is occurring in Havana provides a model for what is needed in Colombia.  Gerson Arias, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, told me that in earlier peace processes, each side came armed with its own list of agenda items.  This time around, he said, the parties put aside their individual agendas to start fresh in the creation of a common agenda, and they defined a framework agreement with an agenda they believed would be possible to complete, and an explicit commitment to ending the conflict.  This new approach seems to be yielding positive results that could be seen in the latest round of discussions in Havana.

2015-02-12 CUBA TALKS SIGN 00.09.58-1In the 32nd round, reports by the historical commission on the conflict and its violence, the sub commission on gender, and the technical sub commission on ending the conflict show that the talks continue to make steady progress.  In addition, in this round, the parties received representatives of women’s and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex) organizations, and the FARC announced that it would stop recruiting youth under 17 years of age.  Finally, leaders of Colombia’s leftist alliance known as the Broad Front for Peace visited Havana to discuss the monitoring and verification of the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire, which began on Dec. 20, 2014, and the FARC announced that it would continue to uphold the ceasefire.  (See the Broad Front’s last monitoring report on the ceasefire here). 

Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims

2015-02-09 CHCV22.34.43

Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims presents its report to the peace table in Havana. (Photo by Bouvier).

On Tuesday morning, Feb. 10, the 12 commissioners and 2 rapporteurs of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (HCCV) presented their long-awaited reports to the negotiating teams in Havana. (Click here for a list of the commissioners.)   Later that day, Eduardo Pizarro and Víctor Manuel Moncayo, the two rapporteurs, presented an overview of the commission’s work at a press conference at the Hotel Occidental in the Miramar section of Havana.

View the press conference here:

The reports of the commission address the topics mandated by the Colombian government and FARC delegates to the peace table last August, namely:

  • the origins and causes of the conflict,
  • the factors accounting for the persistence of the conflict, and
  • the impacts of the conflict on the population.

The rapporteurs were charged with synthesizing the reports and producing a final report on the areas of consensus and disagreement they found therein.  It proved impossible within the four-month time frame assigned (later extended to six months) for the two rapporteurs to reconcile the twelve reports and produce a single common narrative.  Instead, the rapporteurs each produced their own additional report.  (Download the final reports here.)

The Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims is the thirteenth commission on the Colombian violence established since 1958.  Nonetheless, it is unprecedented in a number of ways.  It is the first such commission to be established jointly by two parties at a negotiating table as part of a peace process.  Unlike a truth commission, it was established in the midst of the conflict, without benefit of any prior peace accord.  Construction of trust has proven difficult but not impossible in this context, and appears to have been more successful in Havana than in Colombia, where the ongoing war continues to generate skepticism and polarization about the process, as well as growing efforts to dialogue and find convergences.

Me and María Emma Wills, commissioner on the Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims

Me and María Emma Wills, commissioner on the Historical Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims

Secondly, the mandate of the HCCV is unique.  Truth commissions are often established after peace accords are signed as a measure of symbolic reparations and fulfillment of the victims’ right to truth.  The primary purpose of the HCCV was to help the negotiating teams define the nature of conflict violence in order to craft better agreements to address the rights of the victims.  Implicitly, the process was also expected to shape the political context within which a final peace accord could be reached.  A better understanding of the complexity of conflict violence necessarily broadens the scope of discussion beyond the FARC to analyze the full range of all of the  state and non-state actors that bear responsibility for the conflict and its perpetuation.  This re-positioning of the FARC as one of numerous actors with responsibility for the conflict and its perpetuation should open the possibilities for new agreements, and greater measures of truth, justice, and reparations for a larger number of victims.

Third, both the process and participants engaged in the HCCV were unique.  While truth commissions generally entail extensive participation of and testimony by victims of the conflict, often with some benefits from a cathartic process, the HCCV did not engage or seek to engage victims as part of its process.  Instead, the HCCV was designed as a vehicle for independent academics to provide their objective assessments of the conflict based not on new research but on their accumulated knowledge and prior research on the Colombian conflict. (See the profiles of the commissioners here.)  While victims might be expected to benefit from the findings in the reports, or the particular recommendations that might be generated, Colombian victims were the audience, not the agents, of the HCCV process.

Clearly, there  is and will be no “official story” of the conflict.  The reports reflect the conflict in all its complexity, the multiplicity of interpretations to which this complexity has given rise, and the infinity of responsibilities yet to be assigned.  The reports should help the parties move forward in drafting the chapter on victims for the final accord and defining responsibilities, reparations, and guarantees that the violence of the conflict will not be renewed.  The HCCV may also provide analysis and data that could serve as inputs for a future truth commission.

Both sides expressed pleasure at the process and in the results.  The expectation is that these reports will pave the way for further dialogue and truth-telling, and will open a national dialogue in Colombia about the causes and consequences of violence, and the ways to prevent it.  As María Emma Wills, the sole woman on the Commission, told me, “The way out is through the recognition of the gray areas.”  (La salida se da por el reconocimiento de los grises.)

There will be much intellectual and emotional work needed to break through the polarization of positions, and the work of the HCCV should help give momentum to this process. (For a more detailed analysis of the content of the report, click here.)  

Peace Commissioners Receive Women and LGBTI Representatives

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Bibiana Peñaranda, Red Mariposas (Photo by Bouvier).

On Wed., Feb. 11, the peace teams of the government and the FARC re-convened at El Laguito, a high-security complex of diplomatic residences in Havana, where they heard testimonies from the heads of five Colombian women’s organizations and one organization that works for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual (LGBTI) persons.

The delegation was the second in an anticipated series of three delegations to Havana organized by the Sub commission on Gender.  (The press conference from the first delegation in December 2014 has been newly posted here.)   This session’s delegation included:

Nelly Velandia, ANMUSIC, and Ruby Castaño, Coordinación Nacional de Desplazados

Nelly Velandia, ANMUSIC, and Ruby Castaño, Coordinación Nacional de Desplazados. (Photo by Bouvier).

  • Nelly Velandia, Association of Peasant, Afro-Colombian, and Indigenous Women (ANMUCIC);
  • Ruby Alba Castaño, the Women’s Department of the National Coordinator for the Displaced
  • Fatima Muriel, the Weavers of Life Alliance, Department of Putumayo;
  • Bibiana Peñaranda, “Butterflies with Wings” network;
  • María Eugenia Vásquez, National Network of Women ExCombatants of the Insurgency;
  • Wilson Castañeda, of the Affirmative Caribbean Corporation.
María Eugenia Vásquez, Red Nacional de Mujeres Ex Combatientes de la Insurgencia

María Eugenia Vásquez, Red Nacional de Mujeres Ex Combatientes de la Insurgencia. (Photo by Bouvier).

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Belén Sanz, head of UN-Women-Colombia (Photo by Bouvier).








Wilson Castañeda, Caribe Afirmativo. (Photo by Bouvier).

Wilson Castañeda, Caribe Afirmativo


On Wed. afternoon, the delegation held a working session with the sub commission on gender chaired by María Paulina Riveros for the Colombian government and Commander Victoria Sandino for the FARC.  They were accompanied by international gender experts Belén Sanz (head of UN-Women in Colombia), Magalys Arocha, Hilde Salvesen, and María Emma Wills.

Members of the Gender sub commission after the press conference with the Colombian delegation of women and LGBTI leaders.

Members of the Gender sub commission after the press conference with the Colombian delegation of women and LGBTI leaders.


Later in the day, the delegation held a press conference and urged the parties at the peace table to consider a bilateral ceasefire.  They called on the Santos government to declare an indefinite truce and to accelerate talks with the ELN and the EPL insurgencies.

Read the delegation’s  communiqué here and view their press  conference here:


Technical Sub Commission

In a joint communiqué on Feb. 12, the delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC announced that they had reached agreement on the guidelines and rules for the technical subcommission on ending the conflict. (Read the guidelines here.)  The subcommission (see its members here) is charged with analyzing experiences and generating initiatives and proposals on the bilateral ceasefire and the setting aside of arms.  It will be receiving experts on these topics when it meets on Feb. 27 in the next round of talks, which starts on Feb. 23.

On Fri., Feb. 14, Colombian government negotiators on the Technical Subcommission joined members of the Colombian military high command and dozens of high-level officials for their own high-level meeting in Cartagena.  There they listened to international experts on DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) from Nepal, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, among others.  (See Semana’s analysis of the meeting  here.)

The new guidelines recently established for the technical sub commission also make provisions for creating whatever mechanisms might be necessary to consider the other themes which the 2012 framework agreement identified as integral to the “end of the conflict.”  These topics include:

  • Guarantees for the reincorporation of the FARC-EP into economic, social and political aspects of civil life, according to their interests;
  • The review of the situation of persons deprived of liberty, accused or condemned for belonging to or collaborating with the FARC-EP;
  • Intensifying the fight against criminal organizations and their support networks, including the fight against corruption and impunity;
  • The review, reform, and institutional modifications necessary to confront the challenges of peacebuilding;
  • Security guarantees; and
  • The clarification of the phenomenon of paramilitarism, among others.

 FARC Announces End to Recruitment of Minors Under 17 Years Old

In a press conference on Thurs., Feb. 12, the FARC-EP peace delegation announced that the FARC would unilaterally cease recruiting youths under 17 years old.  View their announcement here:

The announcement created a mixed reaction.  The gesture was seen by many as an important step toward de-escalating the conflict.  It clearly responded to growing demands from civil society groups for the insurgencies to stop child recruitment.  It was symbolic in that it was made on the fourteenth anniversary of the enactment of the Protocol for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Yet many questioned why the FARC was stopping at age 17 and what would happen with the child soldiers already in the FARC ranks.

President Juan Manuel Santos noted that his government “valued” the FARC’s gesture as “a step in the right direction,” but that it was “insufficient,” considering that the established age for minors is 18 years of age.  “I don’t understand why they stopped half way,” he said.  (See Santos’s statement here.)

In discussions with the FARC leadership following the press conference at the Palacio de Convenciones on Thursday morning, FARC commander Iván Márquez had predicted that their gesture would be considered insufficient. “Everyone always wants more,” he said. “But we need gestures from the government too.”  I asked what kind of gestures they wanted. “We want them to respect conscientious objectors and to stop the ‘batidas,'”  he told me, referring to a recruitment practice the Colombian military have used in poor neighborhoods, and “to stop using minors under 15 years old to infiltrate the guerrilla.”  (Read the FARC press statement here.)

The gestures requested by the FARC echo some of the demands of civil society as well.  A recent decision by the Constitutional Court of Colombia ordered the Army to resolve the situation of Reinaldo Aguirre, a conscientious objector who has been accompanied by the Mennonite organization, Justapaz. (See the Court finding T-455-14 here.)  The sentence constitutes an important advance and sets a precedent for the recognition of youth who wish to exercise their rights for reasons of conscience (C.O. status) and avoid obligatory military service. (Read the Justapaz press release on this topic here.)

Final Observations 

Some parties in Havana privately expressed frustration that the visits last year of the five delegations of victims and the visits of representatives of women’s and LGBTI groups have delayed progress on reaching agreement on the final points of the agenda.  Yet such visits play a critical role in ensuring that the peace process will be brought to a successful conclusion and that peace accords will lead to sustainable peace.  First, it is no secret that there is a disconnect between the advances being made in Cuba and the skepticism reigning in Colombia.  The visits of the victims, like those of the women’s and LGBTI organizations, can help to bridge this divide and give civil society a greater stake in the process.  These visits also constitute symbolic collective reparations to groups that have faced historical exclusion, discrimination, and persecution.  In addition, such visits are an important investment in the future.  The communities and networks the delegates  represent are critical multipliers in educating the public and generating support for the peace process.  The more they know about the process, the better able they will be shore up support for it, and the more effectively they will be able to assist with the ratification process and the implementation of any agreements reached.

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Colombia Peace Forum Program on Reintegration: Join USIP Live

Jan. 27, 2015

As representatives of the Colombian government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) and their teams prepare for the 32nd round of negotiations to be launched on February 2nd, two substantive issues remain on their agenda.  First, the parties need to establish processes that ensure that victims of Colombia’s decades-long internal armed conflict will be able to secure their rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees that violations won’t be repeated.  A second item relates to the steps needed to end the conflict, including the mechanisms for setting aside arms and facilitating the transition of former combatants and their associates back to civilian life.  While reforms in the security sector reforms are ordinarily an integral part of most peace processes, they are explicitly off the table in Havana, but they (and the implementation of any peace accords reached) will be an important part of  the broader context of transitioning Colombia from war to peace.

The next session of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Colombia Peace Forum will address these themes in a program on “Paths to Reintegration” in Colombia.  The event will take place at the U.S. Institute of Peace (2301 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037) on Thursday, Jan. 29 from 2-4:30 pm.  Join us in person or virtually in real time (connect here), or join the conversation via Twitter at #ColombiaPeaceForum.  RSVPs are required.

At this event, participants will engage with policy makers and discuss the successes, pitfalls, and challenges of DDR processes in Colombia.  An initial panel will analyze Colombia’s past demobilization and reintegration efforts, and a second will discuss policy recommendations presented in a new International Crisis Group report, “The Day after Tomorrow: Colombia’s FARC and the End of the Conflict.”  (Read the report here).

The program will feature:

  • Virginia M. Bouvier
    Senior Advisor for Latin American Programs, United States Institute of Peace
  • Alejandro Eder
    Former High Commissioner for Reintegration
    Former Alternative Plenipotentiary at the Havana Peace Talks
  • Mark Schneider
    Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America, International Crisis Group
  • Katie Kerr
    Deputy Director-Colombia, International Organization for Migration
  • Sandra Pabón
    Team Lead, Reintegration and Prevention of Recruitment Unit, Office of Vulnerable Populations, U.S. Agency for International Development-Colombia
  • Michael Duttwiler
    Legal Analyst, Transitional Justice, Mission to Support the Peace Process, Organization of American States
  • Kimberly Theidon
    Senior Fellow, Latin America Program,  Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Adam Isaacson
    Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Washington Office on Latin America

Hope you can join us!  

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