No Hedging of Bets for Colombia’s Plebiscite

September 9, 2016

Colombian rebel troops are heading to decommissioning centers and minors are set to leave guerrilla ranks on Sept. 10 as the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) begin implementing their peace accord ahead of an Oct. 2 plebiscite on the deal.

While a “no” vote on the referendum would formally invalidate the accord and send the parties back to the drawing board, the government and the FARC appear to be doing their best to make the peace plan irreversible. With just weeks to go, there is a clear effort afoot to speed up the timetable for securing the ceasefire that the decades-old antagonists agreed to even before the final deal, and to begin decommissioning the FARC’s weapons—with or without the plebiscite’s endorsement.

Plans for electoral reform and reintegrating FARC fighters into civilian life are also underway. The negotiators in Havana met with representatives of The Carter Center, the political science departments of the University of the Andes and Colombia’s National University, and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy to formalize an earlier request to those groups to assist in forming a special electoral mission. In the next six months, the mission will craft recommendations for making the electoral system “more modern and transparent,” offer greater guarantees for “political participation in equality of conditions,” and “improve the quality of democracy.” (See Joint Communiqué 97.)

In addition, this week the Colombian consulate in Havana was issuing identification cards to members of the FARC peace delegation—a first stop in their journey toward rejoining civilian life. The government and the FARC have also asked the National University to conduct a socio-economic census to help facilitate this reintegration.

Forging ahead with implementing the peace accords before the referendum is complete is legal under Article 22 of Colombia’s Constitution, which guarantees the citizenry’s right to peace. Holding a referendum on the deal, which was initialed by negotiators in Havana on Aug. 24 but will be formally signed by Colombia’s head of state, President Juan Manuel Santos, and the FARC commander-in-chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka “Timochenko”) on September 26 in Cartagena, was Santos’s political choice.  It marks the first time that any of Colombia’s many peace agreements with rebel groups is being put to a public vote.  The move isn’t required by law and some consider it extraneous. But others consider it key to legitimizing the mandate for peace and ensuring implementation of the accords beyond Santos’s tenure, which ends in 2018.

Polarization Over the Peace Accord

The campaigns for the “yes” and “no” votes are just getting into gear. While polarization over the peace accord remains intense, polls released by major media this week show that given the choice, 72 percent of voters would favor the agreement against 28 percent who would vote “no,” according to the news magazine Semana.

The government is running a vigorous campaign to sway public opinion, and so far appears to be having some success. Its negotiators argue that four years of talks have produced the best possible deal and that an innovative transitional justice system that puts victims at its center will not allow the parties to “exchange impunities,” a major concern of skeptics. They note that this is the only agreement in the world where the negotiators have agreed to forswear amnesties for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. They also cite successful reintegration of rebel forces in Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Nepal and South Africa as proof that political engagement of the FARC is the path forward. Voters should weigh a future of peace against the spectre of prolonging a war that has already lasted for 52 years, they say.

The “no” forces have strong backing from the still popular ex-President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), now a senator, and former President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), who led the last peace process with the FARC. The Council of State, Colombia’s top administrative tribunal, this week annulled the re-election of Alejandro Ordóñez, who has doggedly challenged the legitimacy of the peace process, to his position as Comptroller General, and the optics and the timing may inadvertently create a backlash favoring the “no” vote.

These powerful opponents of the accord contend that tougher terms for the FARC could have been (and should still be) exacted. They oppose in particular plans to give the FARC temporary seats in Congress and the transitional justice formula which they claim would allow FARC militants to avoid jail time for their crimes. While the issue of punishment resonates with the population, their argument distorts the arrangement; the agreement does allow prison sentences for the rebels where they don’t fully confess their crimes.

International Roles

The international elements supporting the peace process have also been busy.  The United Nations mission that will oversee the ceasefire and FARC’s decommissioning is already on the ground, ahead of schedule. Eighty leaders have just completed training for the tripartite mechanism to monitor those parts of the agreement. The government and FARC representatives have been putting protocols in place and FARC troops have begun to move toward some two dozen temporary locations where the troops will be concentrated in order to turn their weapons over to the U.N. and begin the transition to civilian life.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will oversee coordination of the departure of minors who were recruited as FARC fighters, which will involve a range of other international organizations, including the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF. These agencies have begun working with Colombian social organizations and others that will monitor the “reincorporation, comprehensive reparations and social inclusion” of the youths, who, under the protocols, are considered to be victims of the conflict.

Finally, on Sept. 7, negotiators in Havana announced that they had officially installed the Commission for the Implementation, Monitoring [and] Verification of the Final Peace Accord and for [the] Resolution of Differences. The commission is part of an impressive strategy, including the collaboration of numerous elements of the international community, to ensure that the final peace deal is put into motion immediately and that all agreements are monitored and implemented.

Challenges Ahead

The challenges ahead for the peace process are enormous and go beyond the plebiscite and the subsequent technicalities of approving, refining and implementing agreements. The lack of a peace deal with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, is perhaps the country’s most pressing threat to peace. Formal peace talks with the ELN announced earlier this year have yet to materialize. A new wave of ELN-related violence recently killed 30 Colombians in the ELN-dominated territory of Arauca on the Venezuelan border, sparking new calls for peace talks.

Finally, ELN troops and criminal bands including the “Usuga clan” (another looming threat to peace) are poised to take over the lucrative coca trade, illegal mining and extortion opportunities in areas being abandoned by the FARC. All signs show that peace without the ELN will be an “incomplete peace,” and that failure to bring the ELN to the peace table soon will undermine the long-awaited political solution with the FARC.

[This post was initially published as “Colombian Rebels, Government Accelerate Peace Moves Ahead of Vote: Proponents Leave Nothing to Chance,” at the U.S. Institute of Peace’s “Olive Branch”. ] 



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The War is Over!

August 29, 2016

The war in Colombia is officially over.  At zero hours this morning, a definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities went into effect, officially ending Colombia’s fifty-two year old internal armed conflict with the FARC.  President Juan Manuel Santos presented the final peace accord that negotiators had finalized in Havana last Wed., August 24, to Mauricio Lizcano and Manuel Ángel Pinto (presidents of the Senate and House, respectively).  As required by law, he announced his intent to hold a plebiscite on October 2, the symbolic date on which Gandhi was born, so that the Colombian people could have “the final word on peace in Colombia,” and he outlined the reasons for holding a plebiscite.  Although this may be the first time a peace accord is put to a public vote, a rather risky endeavor, President Santos has long argued that public endorsement would give the accords greater legitimacy and would give the Colombian people the final word.  He said, “Peace is always better than war.  Peace will remove the fear with which all Colombians have grown up…it will allow the displaced to return to their zones to have a dignified life.  Peace will open opportunities the the majority of Colombians have never seen or had,” he said.

Accompanied by a crowd of victims, peace organizations, politicians, Afro-Colombians, indigenous, women and others on the short walk from the Casa de Nariño to the Capitol building on the Plaza de Armas, President Santos announced that, “as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces,” he had “ordered the definitive ceasefire with the FARC to begin at 00:00 hours on next Monday August 29.” (Read the President’s statement here.)

Yesterday, FARC commander-in-chief Timoleón Jiménez (aka “Timochenko”) noted that the FARC-EP received the news of the President’s order with great emotion.  Timochenko issued a parallel order to FARC troops and combatants, noting the FARC’s “clear and definite vocation for reconciliation,” and announcing the war’s end.  “Let us live together as brothers and sisters,” he said.  (Read Timochenko’s statement here).

Watch here the video of the announcement from Havana on August 24, 2016:

Read my analysis of events as they were unfolding in articles that appeared last week on the Olive Branch, published by the United States Institute of Peace; and the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory.

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Colombian Negotiators Announce a Final Peace Accord

August 24, 2016

The suitcase has been ready and there have been several false alarms, but last night it was confirmed that tonight will be the night.  A final peace agreement, pending a few items, has been reached in Havana.  The negotiating teams are expected to spend the day today reviewing the final version and addressing a few pending details. The negotiators will announce the deal from Havana at 6 pm (7 pm EST) and President Juan Manuel Santos will follow with the official announcement tonight at 7 pm (8pm EST).  Then the negotiations in Havana will then shut down and the work will shift to Colombia, where Colombians will vote in a plebiscite on whether they are ready to close the chapter on a war that has lasted more than half a century.  A historic moment. Amazing to be here in Bogota and about to head down to 59th and 7a, where the big screens will broadcast to crowds these momentous events.

For days, the newspapers here in Bogota and the social media have been buzzing with the news that a final peace deal was about to be reached.  The buzz had gotten so loud that on Monday, August 22, the peace teams in Havana issued a joint communiqué advising that the teams had advanced but there were still some outstanding issues, and the public would know as soon as they had a final agreement. (See communiqué 92).

The teams have been working non-stop in Havana since August 17, with the instruction not to stop until they had a final agreement. Reinforcements, including key Congressional and administration leaders, had been sent in at the beginning of this session. (See my previous post.)  With a new methodology that delegated the remaining topics to different commissions, advances were mad.  Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo flew to New York to put the final touches on the arrangements for the UN political mission which will be launched with the signing of an agreement.

Clemencia Carabalí, from the Proceso de Comunidades Negras in Cauca, told me that six Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders from the Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights were tapped to travel to Havana yesterday to meet with the negotiating teams. These ethnic leaders hope to ensure that their  concerns about anticipated conflicts that a peace agreement could exacerbate could still be taken into consideration.  A communiqué from the commission issued yesterday read: “History would not understand that the Government had not taken measures on time to facilitate the participation of our peoples, in spite of our demands, the disproportionate violations of which we have been and continue to be victims, the calls from the international community, the conclusions of the negotiating table itself, and the large history of exclusion and racism to which our peoples have been subjected.” (Quoted in El Espectador.)  It is a hopeful and important sign that they were received today.

One of the biggest blocks was the theme of amnesty for the guerrillas. Last Friday, the negotiators, with the help of Enrique Santiago and Manuel José Cepeda, legal advisors for the FARC and government, respectively, found a solution that was accepted by both sides.  Under their formula, the FARC agreed that the amnesty law could be processed after the plebiscite.  The FARC had long resisted concentrating their troops and decommissioning their arms without legal safeguards provided by such a law.  More details should be forthcoming in tonight’s announcements.  In addition the issue of FARC participation in the Congress will be clarified. (See latest here.)


The plenipotentiaries are expected to sign the agreement tonight in Havana, but the official signing is not expected until after the FARC hold their tenth (and last) Conference.  Like the plebiscite where Colombians will vote on whether or not to accept the peace deal, FARC troops too will hear about and vote on the peace accord.

The next big hurdle will be the Plebiscite, but for now, a pause for a moment of collective celebration and appreciation for all those who have worked so hard to make this possible.

Stay tuned for more…


(Lea aquí: Así es el cronograma y procedimiento de dejación de armas de las Farc)


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Peace Talks Resume following New Agreements and Preparations for Ceasefire

August 17, 2016

Today the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP resume the next round of what promises to be an extended marathon in their quest to secure a Final Peace Accord.  The government delegation arrived yesterday in Havana with instructions from President Juan Manuel Santos to work simultaneously in different commissions on a range of outstanding issues.  The commissions will include the participation of the plenipotentiaries as well as  the Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo, Adviser for Post-Conflict Affairs Rafael Pardo, and Director of the Colombian Agency for Reintegration Joshua Mitrotti. (See statement by Humberto de la Calle here.)

Recap of the Last Cycle

The last cycle began on August 3rd, and was marked by a rapid-fire series of new agreements, interspersed with joint technical field trips to the locations in Colombia  identified in the June 23rd ceasefire agreement as the zones where the FARC-EP will concentrate and where, under UN supervision, they will decommission their arms.  (See more here.) These recent agreements primarily address and refine some of the key items pending from earlier agreements.

Process for Appointing Judges Decided

One of the most anxiously awaited agreements refers to the process for selecting the magistrates to serve on the Special Peace Tribunal and chambers within the new justice architecture (SIVJRNR) established in the agreement on victims last December 2015.  In their joint communiqué last Friday, August 12, the parties announced their plan for a high-level committee–composed of the Pope, the UN Secretary General, the Colombian Supreme Court, the International Center for Transitional Justice, and the permanent commission of the State’s University System–to select the 24 magistrates for the Special Peace Tribunal and the various related chambers that will oversee and rule on crimes committed in the course of the internal armed conflict. (See communiqué and analysis here.) The various entities are studying the proposal and should confirm their willingness to participate in coming days.

“It is impossible to attain a selection committee of higher level, or greater moral authority,” noted Humberto de la Calle, the lead government negotiator. (See his statement here.) Enrique Santiago, legal advisor for the FARC delegation, noted, “The mechanism will guarantee the neutrality and impartiality of the selected judges and attorneys.” (See interview clip here.)

The communiqué furthermore spells out the rules governing the autonomy and independence to be enjoyed by the selection committee, an issue that many human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and DeJusticia had flagged as a major concern. Likewise, it specifies that the selection committee will be responsible for defining the application procedures and guarantees for transparency and monitoring of the process of judge selection.  Some of the selection criteria for the magistrates of the Tribunal and its chambers have already be established by the parties.  These criteria specify that the candidates for the positions must have a specialization in human rights and international humanitarian law and conflict resolution and that the selection process must consider questions of gender equity and ethnic diversity.  They also give a breakdown between the numbers of Colombian and foreign magistrates for the Special Peace Tribunal (20 Colombians and 4 internationals), as well as the other Chambers.  The selection process will begin as soon as possible after the Final Accord becomes operational.

Advances on the Statute for Political Opposition

On August 9, the parties issued Joint Communiqué 84, in which they appointed two experts–Sergio de Zubiría y Pablo Julio Cruz– to participate in a Commission to define the guidelines for a statute that will provide guarantees for political parties and movements that declare themselves to be opposition parties. (See the joint communiqué here.) This appointment brings the parties closer to fulfilling the promise they made in an earlier communiqué (#80) to convene such a Commission.  It appears that the remaining political parties and movements and representative opposition movements have yet to be convened.

Preparations for the Ceasefire Move Forward

On another front, following the momentous announcement on June 23rd that agreement had been reached on a ceasefire and the decommissioning of weapons (see my former post here), the parties made headway in fleshing out the details of the agreement and the protocols for implementing them.  On Friday, August 5th, the parties released 23 protocols and two annexes in Joint Communiqué #83. (Read it here.)

The protocols define 36 specific commitments regarding conducts and norms that will guarantee that the accords are not violated, and that the rights and freedoms of the civilian population are not affected in the concentration zones, what are known as the local transitional zones for normalization (Zonas Veredales Transitorias de Normalización – ZVTN) and the 8 transitory camps (Puntos Transitorios de Normalización).  The ceasefire will officially come into play once a final peace accord has been signed, although a de-escalation of military activity is already in effect.

The August 5 agreement outlines the phases for the planning and execution of the ceasefire, including the deployment of the new UN-led tripartite Mechanism for Monitoring and Verification (MMV) at the local, regional and national levels.  It also lays out a plan for the adaptation of a police presence on the ground; the operating procedures for the 23 local transitional zones for normalization (Zonas Veredales Transitorias de Normalización – ZVTN) and the 8 transitory camps (Puntos Transitorios de Normalización); and the specific timeline for procedures relating to the ceasefire and the decommissioning of arms. The ZVTNs will be established in order to “create the conditions for the initiation of the implementation of the Final Accord and the Setting Aside of Weapons and to prepare the institutional structures and the country for the Reincorporation of the FARC-EP into civilian life,” the communiqué notes. Humberto de la Calle clarified that last week’s technical teams would help prepare “the conditions for the temporary transition of the FARC while they set aside their arms and begin their reincorpoation into civilian life.”

The Aug. 5 communiqué also lays out the details of the composition, scope of responsibility, rules of conduct, and contingency plans for the MMV to oversee and guarantee implementation of the ceasefire and decommissioning of weapons.  This UN political mission, as already mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2261 (2016), will be headed by United Nations, and include representatives of both the Colombian government and the FARC, as well as unarmed observers primarily from (CELAC). Although preparations for the UN mission are well under way, the mission will officially begin 30 days from the signing of a final peace accord.

Finally, the agreement lays out specific measures to guarantee security and protection for those engaged in the monitoring and verification tasks, as well as the civilian population, State employees, and FARC-EP members.  It establishes protective protocols for moving people and weapons across the terrain and for the handling, storage, transportation and control of arms, munitions and explosives.  Unarmed civilian authorities are granted authority in the ZVTNs and contingency plans are established in case of conflicts.

Ethnic Concerns Heard

In a separate August 8th letter to the “Ethnic Authorities, Organizations and People of Colombia,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo and High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo recognized the importance of coordinating efforts between the national government and the municipal and regional authorities, as well as the ethnic authorities and organizations in the territories.  They gave reassurances that the zones where the initial demobilization and reintegration will take place will be temporary and function for a maximum of 180 days, and will be located neither inside indigenous resguardos nor on lands where Afro-Colombian communities hold collective titles. They promised that once the concentration zones have been defined, they will create timely opportunities for dialogue with ethnic authorities and organizations, and will establish with the indigenous authorities in the region a “channel of direct communications that will permit a culturally appropriate handling of the concerns and circumstances that might arise before and during their operation.”

Visits to the ZVTN and Transitory Camps

On Sunday, August 14, the peace delegations  issued from Villavicencio, in the department of Meta, their ninety-first joint communiqué.  It announced that they had completed six days of technical visits to all but one of the agreed 23 rural areas (ZVTN) and 8 other camps that the parties had proposed earlier as transitional zones.  The zones were located in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, Caquetá, Chocó, Cesar, Córdoba. Guaviare, Guajira, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Tolima, and Vichada.  A final decision on the precise areas where demobilizing FARC troops will be concentrated and where local operational headquarters will be established will be made in coming days by the parties based in Havana based on the surveys conducted of each zone this past week.

The technical review of the zones was a serious undertaking that engaged 150 people, including delegates of the National Government, Brigade and Police Commanders, the Generals who participated in the technical sub commission for ending the conflict, 33 members of the FARC-EP plus the regional front commanders, international observers of the UN Mission in Colombia, delegates of the guarantor countries, and the local governors and mayors. The  teams traveled to all but the municipality of Caldono in Cauca; they will nonetheless work to ascertain the location of the ZVTN in that municipality by other means.  The teams–which included engineers, map-makers, and topographers–surveyed and photographed the zones, met with local residents and authorities, engaged in their own peace pedagogies, and assembled information that will assist the parties in taking decisions going forward.

In an interview with El Colombiano, Mónica Cifuentes, legal advisor for the peace process and the government’s representative in the technical visits, noted that the technical visits will allow the parties to determine where the camps and headquarters for the MMV will be located, and give them a chance to clarify with local residents and authorities key issues, such as the content of the ceasefire agreement, the purpose of the ZVTNs, the process by which the FARC-EP will lay down their weapons, and the preliminary steps for reincorporating the FARC-EP into civil and political life. (See more here.)

Pending Issues at the Table

A few more items can now be checked off the list of pendientes, but as the next round of negotiations begins, there are still significant issues to be resolved.  The remaining agenda includes, among other things, the particularly sensitive issues related to the FARC-EP’s reintegration into Colombia’s political life and its social fabric, and agreements around the implementation and monitoring mechanisms for the accords. Polls in Colombia have consistently shown that at least 75% (and most recently, 88% in the Ipsos Napoleón Franco poll) of those queried oppose the idea of members of the FARC-EP running for elected office and serving in the Colombian political system.

In a statement yesterday, government negotiator Humberto de la Calle underscored that the reintegration of the FARC-EP is not just the responsibility of the peace table but will require Colombian society engagement.  “We believe that the central purpose of a peace process is to cast aside weapons and open up political space,” noted de la Calle.  (See his statement here.)  Increasingly, one can see that the work at the table in Havana will soon take a second place to the discussions at home in Colombia.  There the campaigns for the “yes” and “no” vote in the plebiscite that will be required to transform any final agreement into reality have been unofficially launched.  Similarly, the FARC-EP will have an upcoming Conference where the leadership in Havana will similarly need to sell their agreement to their own constituency.  While knowledge of the accords is essential to an informed electorate and in preparation for the plebiscite, pedagogies that go beyond the technical aspects to the deeper traumas and fears that have been cultivated through decades of war will be increasingly important in preparing the landscape for a successful transition to peace.



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Gender on the Havana Agenda

July 26, 2016

At 10 am on Sunday, July 24, the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP filed into the Protocol Room of El Laguito in Havana.  There a distinguished group of gender experts had assembled to hear the results of the subcommission on gender that the parties had established on September 11, 2014.  Special invited guests included Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN-Women (the UN organization for gender equality and women’s empowerment);  Zainab Bangura, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Sexual Violence in Armed Conflicts; Luiza Carvalho, the regional director for the Américas and the Caribbean for UN-Women; Belén Sanz, country director for UN-Women in Colombia; and Ambassador María Emma Mejía, Colombia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.  In addition, Martha Ordóñez, President Juan Manuel Santos’s special advisor on equity for women,  European Union Special Envoy Eamon Gilmore, and the accompanying delegations from Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, and Chile, as well as nearly two dozen representatives of Colombian women’s and LGBTI organizations attended the event.   (A quick nod here to Hilde Salvesen and Magalys Arocha and their teams.)

In Sunday’s ceremony, the Colombian government and FARC-EP delegations reported on the gender sub commission’s review of the provisional agreements reached thus far at the table.  In a joint statement, they explained that the integration of the sub commission recommendations will help “to create conditions so that women and persons with diverse sexual identities can have equal access to the benefits of living in a country without armed conflict.”  (See their statement here.)  They noted, “At the peace table, we are conscious that the transformations that the country needs to build peace will not be possible without a society that recognizes and respects differences and where the stigmatizations and discriminations for reasons of gender remain in the past.”

Mandate of the Gender Subcommission

The subcommission was mandated “to review and guarantee, with the support of national and international experts” any peace agreements that are reached, and to ensure that they “have an adequate gender focus.” (See more here.)   Co-chaired by María Paulina Riveros for the Colombian government, and Victoria Sandino Palmera for the FARC-EP, the subcommission was comprised primarily (but not exclusively) of women from the two peace delegations.  Colombian government negotiator Nigeria Rentería (who stepped down from her post to run for governor of Chocó) noted when the subcommission was installed that its goal was “to guarantee inclusion, social equality, and bring us closer to an accord that represents the interests of men and women.” (See her statement here.)  The FARC delegation for its part expressed the hope that the commission “would produce real change for women and members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) communities” and “grant full rights to women and to the LBGTI sectors that have been discriminated against for so long.” (See full statement here.)

Gender Inclusion in Eight Key Areas

In her comments to the assembly, co-chair María Paulina Riveros noted that there was considerable discussion among members of the sub commission about what it means to adopt a gender focus in the accords.  (Read her statement here).  Ultimately, the sub commission came down on the side of inclusivity and citizenship rights as fundamental aspects of a democratic society and its recommendations were geared toward recognizing and incorporating equal rights for women and LGBTI sectors into the peace agenda that has been under negotiation in Havana since late 2012.  The particular measures announced on Sunday aim at creating equal opportunities and overcoming stigmas and historic discrimination and inequality faced by women and LGBTI populations.  Riveros summarized eight areas where the delegations have accepted the affirmative measures recommended by the gender sub commission:

  • Equal access to and formalization of rural property for women;
  • Guarantees of economic, social and cultural rights for women and persons with diverse sexual identities in the rural sector;
  • Promotion of women’s participation in “spaces of representation, decision making, and conflict resolution” and a balanced representation of women in the highest decision-making positions in bodies created by the peace accords;
  • Prevention and protection measures that address the specific risks faced by women–these measures include reducing stigmatization for reasons of gender and sexual orientation, special protections for women exercising their political rights or defending human rights, and improved psychosocial attention for victims, especially victims of sexual violence;
  • Access to truth and justice, and measures against impunity–these include the creation of a working group within the anticipated truth commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la no Repetición) that would address the differential impact of the conflict on women, provide technical and research support, and prepare gender hearings; specialized methodologies for dealing with the victimization of women and LGBTI individuals; a special investigative unit on sexual violence within the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP); and not giving amnesty for crimes of sexual violence;
  • Public recognition, an end to stigmatization, and broad dissemination of women’s  political work–this includes the promotion of a culture of participation and peace, and the eradication of stereotypes that incite gender-based violence;
  • Institutional actions to strengthen the political participation of women’s organizations (especially those of rural peasant women) and LGBTI movements;
  • Information systems that disaggregate data by gender, particularly in the case of the land cadastre and related to illicit crop cultivation activities.

For more details, watch the following video:

A Modern Colombia

Humberto de la Calle, the head of the Colombian government peace delegation, underscored the impact that these eight points will have in building a new country–“a modern Colombia… founded on the recognition of rights.”  (See his statement here.)  De la Calle alluded as well to the important role that women will have in the reconciliation of the country.  “Women have been very important peace builders in the middle of the war: they have prepared their social nuclei for reconciliation, they have been essential in conserving the memory of the acts of terror as well as the traditions and cultural roots of their peoples,” he said.  “Peace is possible.  Let us prepare for peace.  The torch of reconciliation will rest in the hands of Colombia’s women.”   Listen to him here:

Strengths, Accomplishments, and Limitations of the Subcommission

Colombia’s sub commission on gender is a peace process innovation with few global precedents and it has already had an impact.  In particular, the sub commission opened Colombia’s peace process to women’s and LGBTI organizations, and to the concerns of the broader civil society they represented.  Under the sub commission’s direction, between December 2014 and March 2015, three delegations representing women’s and LGBTI organizations (18 people) participated directly in the peace talks table and presented their analysis and proposals to the negotiators in Havana.  Of the five delegations of victims invited by the table to Havana, 60 per cent of the participants were women.  They too were an important resource for the sub commission. In addition, the sub commission brought to the peace tables in Havana 10 Colombian experts on sexual violence. The gender sub commission was also instrumental in bringing to Cuba representatives of various UN agencies and representatives to work on particular issues.  These visits helped shape agreements related to sexual and gender-based violence and child soldiers, including agreements on increasing the age of guerrilla recruitment and the separation of minors from FARC ranks.  The role of the sub commission in putting the issue of sexual violence and victims rights on the peace agenda was critical.

Furthermore, in the context of recent discussions on ending the conflict, the gender sub commission invited 10 female ex guerrillas from South Africa, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, Uruguay and Colombia to share their experiences of reintegration.   These visits will undoubtedly shape the agreements on ending the conflict and provide elements that ensure that agreements to end the conflict address the differentiated needs of male and female ex-combatants, victims, receiving communities, LGBTI individuals, and the families of the aforementioned.  Ideally, these agreements will also address the differential needs and rights of Colombia’s Afro-descent, indigenous, palenquero, raizal, and rrom women and girls.  (Here it will be important to work in tandem with recent efforts at and around the table to review all documents from an ethnic dimension in the wake of the June 2016 visits of ethnic delegations.)

With the work of the gender sub commission, the peace accords reached thus far now presumably use more inclusive, specific, non-sexist language–an important advance in and of itself.  Furthermore, the accords recognize that war has a differential impact on men and women, and they address issues relating to the particular problems and risks that women and LGBTI individuals have faced in the context of the conflict as well as those anticipated in a post-conflict era.  The new gender-infused agreements appear to be particularly strong in addressing the need to  promote and protect the rights and lives of rural women and women’s organizations.  This is not surprising given the centrality of agrarian issues as a root of Colombia’s internal armed conflict, and the particularly harsh victimization of the peasants and their efforts to organize in the course of the war. (Recently, the Colombian government granted the first collective reparations were granted to the historic National Association of Small Peasant Farmers, ANUC.  See more here.)

Recommendations for Strengthening the Agreements on Gender

There are a number of areas where the gender dimensions of the agreements presumably might be strengthened, though I acknowledge that the full documents have not been made public and the agreements are not completely finished.  I comment nonetheless based on the documents, statements, and summaries that have been shared publicly, in the hope that the following points might merit greater attention in the final documents or in the implementation agreements to come.  I likewise invite my readers to add their own  comments and corrections.

The summary of the agreements presented Sunday gives a nod to the political roles that women play and the need for a more inclusive political culture in Colombia.  Yet there is a clear historical deficit here that the peace accords might better define and address, ideally with concrete actions and measurable goal posts.  Colombian women are half the population, yet in 2015, they held just under 25 per cent of the House and Senate seats, and occupied under 10 per cent of regional and local elected positions, such as governors, mayors, and city council officials.  The gendered peace agreements fall short of advocating or proposing measures for increasing women’s presence in such elected posts, eschewing temporary directives or quotas that have become commonplace in many countries around the world to help even the playing field for women in politics more quickly. More aggressive action seems warranted.

Likewise, there was little reference in the summaries of the eight areas highlighted to the differential needs, experiences, and capacities of women and LGBTI individuals.  Ethnic and territorial rights, which are fundamental rights for indigenous and Afro-descent populations, are not mentioned in these summaries.  There is no reference to special protections (or reparations, which presumably have not yet been fully defined) for widows young girls, or single heads of households.  Ethnicity, age, class, and marital status, among other things, matter in how a person experiences war and peace. Ideally, these will be addressed in future reviews of the accords.

Finally, it would seem that the peace agreements on disappearances were not reviewed by the gender sub commission.  Nonetheless, this might be worth doing, as they could be strengthened by inclusion of a gender component.  Complementary gender-sensitive protocols regarding investigations and documentation of sexual violence, dignified returns, accompaniment and psycho-social supports when gender-based violence is in evidence could strengthen this important set of agreements as well.

What’s Next?

The peace delegations noted that they have now incorporated the recommendations from the gender sub commission in the agreements reached in the peace process thus far on integrated rural reform, political participation, and illicit drugs. (See their statement here.)  Discussions of the remaining agenda items — victims and ending the conflict–have already included a gender perspective in their construction, they noted.  Presumably, separate  review by the gender sub commission will not be solicited but gender concerns are clearly already a part of these discussions.  The final agenda item under discussion at the peace table– the implementation, verification and endorsement of the accords–is a key area with regard to women’s meaningful and symbolic participation.

In the ceremony on Sunday, the parties noted that the gender subcommission will continue to work “so that the agreements that are reached guarantee inclusion and the exercise of rights in equality of conditions for the whole society and especially for women and the LGBTI population.” (See statement here.)  A number of areas remain on the gender agenda when the parties return to the table on July 30th.

It would appear from the statements made on Sunday that the work of the gender sub commission has contributed to a deeper understanding about the connections between historic patterns of exclusion and discrimination, and violence.  Likewise, it has offered solutions that reside in greater respect for differences, greater recognition of and protections for the rights of women and LGBTI individuals, and a recognition that inclusion and a culture of human rights are the requirements for a modern  democracy.  The key here, as always, is implementation and mechanisms to ensure accountability for the agreements reached.  Only if agreements are implemented will they help to advance women’s empowerment and women’s rights, and contribute to furthering the rights of LGBTI populations in Colombia.  The process is not yet finished, but the results thus far are promising.



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Constitutional Court Approves Plebiscite for Colombian Peace Accords

July 20, 2016

On Monday, July 18, in an anxiously-awaited decision, Colombia’s Constitutional Court unanimously approved the statutory law establishing the plebiscite as the mechanism by which the Colombian electorate will approve or reject the Havana peace accords negotiated by the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.  (Read it here.)  This is the first time in the history of Colombia’s many peace accords that an agreement between the government and an armed group will be subject to the approval of the Colombian populace.  In an earlier advance on June 23, the parties had announced that they would accept the ruling of the Constitutional Court regarding the appropriate endorsement mechanism for the Accords. (See more here.)  This acknowledgement by the FARC-EP of the authority of a State institution was unprecedented, and a clear sign of change on their part.  View the public hearings in late May organized by the Constitutional Court as they reviewed the law:

In this week’s decision, the Constitutional Court found no procedural irregularities in the statutory law.  It ruled on a number of aspects of the law.  First, it approved the proposed required threshold of 13% for the Accords to be approved.  This means that at least 4.5 million voters–13% of the electorate–must vote “yes” in the plebiscite for the President to be bound to implement the Accords.  The Constitution establishes no minimum threshold of votes for a plebiscite, but the court found the 13% threshold to be “reasonable,” according to María Victoria Calle, the president of the Constitutional Court.  (See more here.)  Colombia’s voter turnout is traditionally extremely low–in the last Congressional elections, 59.9% of the qualified electorate did not vote, up only slightly from 2011.  (More here.) Blank votes will not count toward the threshold for the plebiscite.

Second, the court ruled that, for this one time only, the prohibition on the participation of public employees in campaigns relating to the plebiscite, will be temporarily lifted.  (This countered the recommendation of Judge Luis Ernesto Vargas, who, in his massive brief to the Court (see my prior post) had proposed more stringent limits on government employees’ involvement in the plebiscite campaigns.  Nonetheless, in its current finding, the court maintains some limits–in their campaigning, public employees will be not be allowed “to incorporate content that promotes a party, political movement or significant group of citizens or that relates to the promotion of candidacies to popularly elected offices.”  (More here.)

Third, in accordance with the Constitution, the court established that the publication of the final peace agreement will be realized “simultaneously with the presentation of the report of the President to the Congress regarding his intent to convene a plebiscite, so that the Congress and the people can know in a timely way the content of what was agreed.”  (See more here.) The accord must be available to disabled and non-Spanish speaking populations in Colombia as well.  The Congress then has a maximum of one month to approve the report, after which Santos has up to four months (from the time he presented the report to Congress) to convene the plebiscite.

Finally, in a 7 to 2 vote, the court established that the vote will be binding for the President of the Republic, but not for the other legislative or judicial powers.  María Victoria Calle, the president of the Constitutional Court, explained that a plebiscite approving the peace accords does not automatically incorporate the accords into the Constitution or into Colombian law.  (See more here.)  A favorable vote in the plebiscite will, however, initiate a fast-track procedure to do so under the Legislative Act for Peace approved in the last Congressional session.

Legislative Act for Peace

The Legislative Act for Peace, approved on June 15 after eight rounds and nine months of oft-times contentious debate, is, according to President Juan Manuel Santos “one of the most important constitutional reforms in our history.” (Read his statement here.)  It is this law that provides the mechanism by which the Peace Accords signed in Havana will become law.  (See background here.)  The law grants the president extraordinary powers to issue legally binding decrees to implement the peace accords, shortens the time required for Congress to enact statutory laws and reforms, and grants the Peace Accords the status of a Special Accord, protected under the Geneva Conventions.  (See more here.)

In the final hearing to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the draft legislation, ex-President Alvaro Uribe made a last-ditch effort to torpedo the bill, arguing that the Government was turning the country over to the FARC, and that the plebiscite would not give the citizenry sufficient opportunity to weigh in on the individual aspects of the peace deal.  He also objected to the special fast-track powers given to the President to implement the accords. (More here.)  The Senate plenary approved the bill, nonetheless, with Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo underscoring that the law would not go into effect unless and until the Accords were ratified by the electorate.  Only at that point will the peace accords will be incorporated into the body of protected legislation known as the “Constitutional block.”  See below the closing arguments of Senator Uribe and Interior Minister Cristo:

The overall package must be weighed in its entirety against the costs of continuing the war.  Voting piecemeal on the Accords through a multi-question referendum would seemingly undermine a carefully crafted, integrated package that in the course of four years of negotiations has sought to find a balance of justice and truth for victims, while also recognizing that the peace agreements are the product of a negotiated settlement, not an imposition by one winning party over a losing party.

What Next?  

Today, July 20, a new legislative year begins in Colombia.  The Congress will have a full plate, with an agenda that will include overseeing the implementation of the changes that will be required for peace in Colombia to be sustainable.  The agenda will include an ambitious package of laws and constitutional reforms to translate into reality the agreements reached in Havana to put an end to half a century of war. (See “La legislatura de la paz.”)  A fast pace will be required, as the special legislative procedures approved earlier cut in half the time needed to approve draft laws, make Constitutional reforms, and incorporate the accords into Colombian law.  “This is unheard of, unique, and special, and it will be historic, because we will have the opportunity to process, in a short time, a profound transformation in national life,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo was quoted as saying. (See more here.)

With the Congress back in session, the Constitutional Court must now forward its decision–Sentencia C-379/16– to the Presidents of the Senate and House.  They in turn will forward it to President Santos.

The ball is now in the court of the peace delegations in Havana.  Before any of the mechanisms that are now in place can be engaged, the parties must produce a final agreement to end the hostilities and put an end to Colombia’s internal armed conflict. Rafael Pardo, Colombia’s Senior Presidential Advisor for the Post-Conflict, announced in Washington last week that he expected the agreement to be reached in the latter half of August. (Download his presentation at the Wilson Center or view the session here.)  Only once the parties have signed (or at least initialed) the agreements, can the President present his report on the Accords to Congress, announce his intent to hold a plebiscite, and begin dissemination of the content of the Accords.  Then the electoral infrastructure will kick in, establishing equitable norms for equal media access and such for each campaign.

With a “yes” victory of the minimum required votes, the Accords will then be transmitted to the Constitutional Court, which will rule on the constitutionality of the particular provisions of the Peace Accord, including for example, the transitional justice components. Once reviewed by the Constitutional Court, the Congress will be required to make the required legislative changes to allow implementation of the agreements.  If a “no” vote wins, i.e.,  the plebiscite fails to garner the required threshold of 4,6 million votes, the President will not be bound to the Accords; although others can still implement the agreements. (See more here.)

As the guns on the battle ground go silent, a new battle for the ballots is just beginning…



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Preparing for Peace in Colombia

July 12, 2016

Preparing for the Ceasefire and Setting Aside Weapons

The process in Havana has picked up speed since the June 23 agreements, and word here in Bogota is that a final accord is not far away.  As Humberto de la Calle told us yesterday in a meeting of international experts gathered for a summit on reconciliation, reintegration and peace building, “We are at the point of seeing the face of peace.”

In the last session of the 50th cycle in Havana, in addition to the political participation agreements reached (see my prior blog), the working group on the separation of minors presented the Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations with a proposal for a comprehensive program for minors who leave the FARC camps. (See more here.)  Many of the confidence-building measures, including joint pilot programs in demining;  joint programs in crop substitution (initiated in Briceño this week); efforts to advance the search, location, identification, and dignified return of the disappeared; and reconciliation initiatives continue to move forward.  In early July, a delegation of victims traveled to Havana from Bojayá to continue discussions relating to an ongoing reconciliation process with the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.

The technical subcommission on ending the conflict has continued work to refine and elaborate the terms of the June 23 agreements on the definitive, bilateral ceasefire, and the cessation of hostilities, as well as the decommissioning of weapons.  These details include defining the size of the camps where the FARC will be concentrated, and security and monitoring mechanisms.  A group of FARC members arrived in Havana to receive training in the tasks they will undertake as part of the verification mechanism for the ceasefire working with the UN political mission, the government and the Colombian military.  (Read more here.)  Likewise, the parties are beginning technical visits to prepare the concentration zones and to explain the peace accords and the proposed reintegration process to those inhabiting the zones. (See more here.) There was an incident last week in which the Colombian Army attacked FARC delegation members, who inadvertently showed up in the wrong place; it is unclear exactly what happened, but immediate action on the part of the parties in Havana seems to have resolved the issue in the short term. (Read statements by FARC delegation here and by Humberto de la Calle here.)

Colombia Prepares for Peace

Within Colombia, advance preparations for the political mission established by the UN Security Council last January, under the direction of Jean Arnault, are already well underway.  On June 28, the first group of 23 international observers arrived in Bogotá; a second contingent was right behind.  These unarmed observers, mostly from Latin America, will complement the 20-member advance team of civilians that is already in place.

The Plebiscite

The issue of the referendum has been turned over to the Constitutional Court, and the Court’s decision, by mutual consent of the parties in Havana, will determine whether the final peace accords will go to a plebiscite, and under what conditions.  Still to be agreed by the parties in Havana are the mechanisms for overall implementation and verification of the accords, international accompaniment of the post-Accord phase, a timetable, budget, and communications tools.

In the meantime, the Constitutional Court’s decision is being anxiously awaited–and may well come this week.  The court will determine if the draft statutory law on the referendum approved by the Colombian Congress late last year is constitutional.  In January, Constitutional Court magistrate Luis Ernesto Vargas was selected to write the brief for the court and he invited briefs from different social sectors.  The Court has also invited opinions, and on May 23, heard testimony from 23 witnesses, including President Juan Manuel Santos, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo, and the lead negotiators for the government and the FARC (Humberto de la Calle and Iván Márquez, respectively) as well as members of the legislative and judicial branches, academics, and victims.  (More here.)  On June 17, Constitutional Court magistrate Luis Ernesto Vargas submitted his 300-page brief for consideration by the full body of the court.

Key aspects to be determined by the court include whether a plebiscite is the most appropriate mechanism for endorsing the accords, if reducing the required electoral threshold to 13 percent (from 50%) to approve the accords is constitutional, and if the peace accords will be binding.  In addition, the Court must rule on the nature and extent of participation by public employees in the prior campaigning for the plebiscite, the role of the media in educating the public about the plebiscite on the one hand and about the peace accords on the other, and the use of public funds for conducting the referendum.  (More here.)  Vargas’s finding backs the constitutionality of the statutory law and introduces a number of refinements, introducing restrictive conditions under which the referendum must be conducted. Debate began in the Constitutional Court on June 23, and a decision should be forthcoming soon.

Once the agenda has been completed and the final accords are signed, President Santos will have one to four months to call a plebiscite.  If the majority vote in a referendum in favor of accepting the peace accords and they total more than 13% of the electorate, the legislative act for peace will enter into force.  The Constitutional Court will then have 15 days to review the law to be sure it meets all standards of constitutionality and Colombia’s international obligations.  Additional laws will then need to be developed that legalize and put into practice particular provisions of the final accord.


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