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.
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.)