Female Ex-Combatants Share Experiences with Colombian Negotiators

May 20, 2016

On May 18, some 13 ex-combatant women from around the world concluded a visit to Havana, where they were invited by the Colombian government and the FARC-EP to meet with the peace table and to share their reflections and experiences in other peace processes.  Participating in the meeting were female ex-combatants from Colombia’s Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT), M-19, Army of National Liberation (EPL), and Quintin Lame,  as well as ex-combatant women from around the globe– El Salvador, Guatemala, Uruguay, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Indonesia and Nepal.  The women had all set aside their weapons following peace processes and experienced the transition  from armed resistance to reincorporation within their respective societies.

In Havana, the women discussed these experiences in all their social, economic, and political dimensions.  Their reflections will provide important insights for the Gender Subcommission and the Technical Subcommission on Ending the Conflict, which are in the final stages of their work.  They will also be invaluable in informing the design of public policies, which have all too often failed to address the diverse needs and interests of demobilizing populations.  When armed groups are treated as homogeneous and a “one-size-fits-all” approach is used, the results frequently consolidate inequitable power structures and patterns of exclusion.  Yet a wide variety of experiences and models of reintegration among Colombia’s ethnic minorities (men, women, boys, and girls alike) can define a customized, differential approach that will be more effective.  Consultation with indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities that will be receiving excombatants, created can ensure that reintegration programs are sustainable and serve the needs of these various populations.

Following the joint meeting of the subcommissions, María Paulina Riveros, plenipotentiary for the Colombian government and co-chair of the Gender Subcommission   that was established two years ago, underscored some of the lessons she drew  from the encounter.  She emphasized in particular the different receptions that men and women receive when they turn in their arms and return to their families and communities, and she underscored the “spirit of strength” of the ex-combatant women in their desire to intervene for the implementation of peace agreements.  (Read her statement here.)

Victoria Sandino, the FARC co-chair of the Gender Subcommission, for her part noted that, “Peace must be the reflection of a just and equitable society that includes the citizenry in its entirety, above all those of us who have been excluded from development and the most basic human rights.”   She underscored the relationship of gender equity and peace.  “Peace requires the full participation of women in all stages of the design, signing, implementation and monitoring of the accords.  For us FARC-EP women,” she said, “peace represents the materialization of collective and individual dreams.”  (Read her statement here.)

Role of the Gender Subcommission

The negotiators in Havana established the Gender Subcommission in June 2014, and tasked it with reviewing all of the accords reached to ensure that they reflect gendered  perspectives and analysis, and meet the needs of men, women, boys, girls, and the diversity of genders in Colombia today.  (Read my earlier blogs on this topic.)  The subcommission (and UN-Women, which has provided key support and guidance), has played an important role in opening space for the direct participation of women at the table.  Beginning in Dec. 2014, the gender subcommission and the plenary of negotiators met with 3 delegations of representatives of Colombian women’s groups and the LGBTI community at the table in Havana.  Last August, the  subcommission received a group of researchers and women’s organizations to address the topic of sexual and gender-based violence.  Independent gender experts are no strangers to the table, and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent Security Council resolutions recognizing the international commitment to the inclusion of women and gender dimensions for the transformation of conflict have been an important reference point.

Belen IMG_6128

Belén Sanz, acting Resident Coordinator of the UN System in Colombia, and executive director of UN-Women, Colombia, with me in her Bogotá office, May 11, 2016

This week’s visit by ex-combatant women to Havana recognizes the important role that one particular group of women can play in building peace in Colombia.  In the context of current discussions on ending the conflict, setting aside arms, and establishing programs for demobilization (or alternative non-violent mobilization, more precisely) and reintegration, the voices of excombatant women are particularly important.  Such voices  can provide early warning to the negotiators about pitfalls to be avoided and policies to be emulated.  They can help ensure that the gender blindness of previous reintegration efforts is corrected and both men and women (and girls and boys) benefit from the peace.  These women likewise will be important allies as the FARC women seek to re-negotiate a new place in Colombian society.

As the gender sub commission works to complete its mandate, the table’s incorporation of the concerns of historically marginalized groups (which all include women) will be an indicator of how successful, and how sustainable, a transition to a new Colombia at peace is likely to be.




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The Beginning of the End of Colombia’s War: Agreement on Minors Reached in Havana

May 17, 2016

As the peace process in Havana enters its final stretch, decisions are coming at a fast pace and preparations for the end of the war are advancing.  Last Thursday, May 12, the Colombian government and the FARC announced a process to ensure that the final peace deal is approved by the Colombian Congress, the Constitutional Court, the Colombian citizenry, and the international community (via the Federal Swiss Council and the UN Secretary General). (Read details of the May 12 accord here.) Discussions on the process continue in the Colombian Congress this week.

New Agreement on Minors

This past Sunday, May 15, the parties in Havana announced further agreements that signal the imminent end of the war.  In Joint Communiqué #70, the parties announced a plan for separating minors from the battlefield and reintegrating all minors under age 15 currently in FARC camps into civil society.  (Read the joint communiqué here.)  The agreement represents a “crucial advance” and a “final stop” in the process of ending the war, noted Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator. (Read de la Calle’s statement here.)  Under this agreement, a road map and protocol will be established for the progressive separation , from armed life of every minor in the FARC rank-and-file, beginning with those under 15 years of age. (See Q&A here.)

The Colombian government does not know how many minors can be counted among the FARC’s current ranks.  According to Colombia’s acting Attorney General Jorge Fernando Perdomo, between 1975 and 2014, the FARC recruited 11.556 minors– 33 percent girls and 67 percent boys.  Of these, the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF) reported that it had assisted 5,969 boys, girls, and adolescents between Nov. 1999 and March 2016  Sixty percent of those youth were from the FARC, and most were from Antioquia, Caquetá, Meta, Cauca and Colima. (Read more here.)

Youth Recruitment

Youth recruitment has long been a sticking point between the parties, as it continues to be between the Colombian government and the ELN.  Armed groups rely for their survival on the continued replenishment of their ranks with malleable young people.  In part because it is considered a crime against humanity under the International Criminal Court, child recruitment is often denied or hidden by the armed groups that practice it.  Fifteen is officially the minimum age established by FARC statutes for recruitment, and FARC leaders argue that they have provided refuge for poor youth, victims of paramilitary violence, and war orphans. (See more here.)

Considerable progress has been made in the context of the peace talks.  On Feb. 12, 2015, in what turned out to be a pivotal moment for opening the secret peace negotiations in Havana with the Colombian government, the FARC made a unilateral decision to stop recruiting minors under 17 years of age.  One year later, under pressure from civil society and the international community and in the context of progressive talks in Havana, the FARC announced that it would cease recruitment of minors under 18.  Under this week’s  agreement, FARC leaders have taken a quantum leap by agreeing to immediately turn over the 21 minors under age 15 currently living in FARC camps, as well as other minors who have left the camps in the last two years.  The minors will be returned to their communities under protective programs and accompaniment mechanisms being designed under the terms of the May 15 agreement.  (Read the FARC statement here.)

Summary of Commitments and Agreements

Within the next 15 days, the negotiating teams in Havana will establish a road map and protocols for the separation and reintegration of youth under 15 years of age associated with the FARC, and within one month, the government will then launch a comprehensive program to meet the differentiated needs of all minors, especially girls.  The program will include the full restitution of their rights.zerrougui2-int

Minors who have been engaged in Colombia’s internal armed conflict are considered under Law 1448 (The Law of Victims and Land Restitution, 2011) to be victims.  As such, they are entitled to reparations.  Under current Colombian law and the terms of the new agreement:

  • Youth under age 18 who leave the ranks of the FARC are entitled to full human rights, including the right to comprehensive reparations, the right to participate in decisions affecting them, and guarantees of protection and security;
  • Treatment of minors subject to this accord will be differentiated based on considerations of gender, ethnicity, and age, with special attention given to the rights of girls;
  • Minors under 14 years of age cannot be considered criminally liable for their acts;
  • 14-18 year olds who abandon FARC-EP camps under the terms of this agreement will be pardoned for rebellion and other related crimes, absent any other legal impediment under Colombian law;
  • Minors accused of or serving time for crimes that are not eligible for pardons or amnesties will have their sentences reviewed later on a case-by-case basis under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

Each party has taken on independent commitments under the accord.  The FARC, for its part, reaffirmed its commitment not to recruit minors under 18.  The FARC delegation also  agreed to identify and release minors under age 15 from FARC camps as soon as the protocol and transitory plan for attention and support are established, in principle, in the next two weeks.  The Colombian government, for its part, agreed to establish a technical working group to help design such a protocol and a transitory plan to guarantee the rights of minors.  The technical working group will be headed up by the Public Defender’s Office and the Human Rights Office of the Presidency (under the direction of Paula Gaviria, former head of the Victims’ Unit), and will include representatives of other specialized organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEP, and the Office of International Migration (OIM).  In two weeks, the working group will present its  recommendations to the peace table in Havana; within a month, it will present a special comprehensive program to guarantee the restitution of the rights of  minors who are separated from the war.

Guidelines for the Transition

The accord guidelines for the transition include privileging the preferences and best interests of the youth, and reintegration them as quickly as possible with their families and communities (or culturally similar communities).  The transitory plan for minors under 18 (including those who have already left the FARC camps since early 2015–some under the auspices of the ICRC) is expected to provide considerations for health care, education, productive projects, dignified housing, and opportunities for families and communities to participate in the program.

Accompaniment Mechanisms

The parties agreed to ask UNICEF and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to serve as guarantors of the process, and invited the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the Carter Center, Geneva Calls, and three other specialized organizations selected by the Peace Table to accompany and monitor implementation of the accord.

Leila Zerrougui, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, called the signing of the agreement “an important and vital step… but only the first step.”  (Read her statement here in English and Spanish.)  Zerrougui traveled to Havana for her third time on Sunday and applauded the initiative.  “I feel privileged to be here today with the Colombians and welcome this important commitment, which puts the issue of children at the heart of the peace process and promises to change their lives,” she said.  “This is an urgently needed step for children who have never known a country at peace. … The full implementation of the agreement will allow boys, girls, and adolescents to learn, grow, and prosper, and with time, to become adults who contribute to a Colombian society in peace.”


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New Breakthrough at Colombia’s Peace Table

Bogotá, Colombia

May 12, 2016

In what government negotiator Humberto de la Calle called a “highly important act”, yesterday afternoon, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP moved one step closer to a final peace agreement. (See his statement here.)  In a joint declaration, they announced from Havana that they had reached a new agreement on the endorsement mechanism for the final accord.  (Read it here.) The agreement, if implemented, will ensure the legal protection of the final peace agreement in Havana and will incorporate it as a Special Humanitarian Agreement under the terms of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions into the body of international law.  Yesterday’s agreement also anticipates the incorporation of the final peace accord into an annex to the UN Security Council Resolution 2261, which in January, committed to the creation of a tripartite peace mission in Colombia to verify the ceasefire and setting aside of arms following the signing of the agreement. The measures agreed to yesterday also include a popular referendum, the nature of which has yet to be determined in Havana.

The institutional mechanisms agreed to  yesterday will provide legal security to the Final Accord, assure that it is made part of Colombian law, and provide guarantees for its implementation in accordance with both Colombian and international law.  

The new agreement represents a major victory for the negotiators and creative compromises on both sides.  While it still has many hurdles and resistances to overcome at home, the agreement appears to satisfy the needs and interests of the parties at the table and those they represent, as a good agreement should.  It gives the Colombian Congress a role in formalizing the mechanisms for integrating the final accord into law, and requires approval by the Constitutional Court.  Likewise, it provides international guarantees through the parties’  commitment to deposit the Accord with the Swiss Federal Council (which oversees the Geneva Conventions applicable to internal armed conflicts) and proposes to annex the final agreements to the UN Security Council resolution signed last January.  These international mechanisms will imply a commitment to compliance by the parties of the accord, and would provide a kind of international stamp of approval (particularly for the transitional justice mechanisms in the final agreement) that could make the Accord less vulnerable to challenges from the International Criminal Court.

The agreement is highly technical, and it requires a series of immediate measures that put the peace process on a fast track.  Indeed, here in Bogota, there is a guarded and growing expectation that a full accord could be reached by the end of June.

The agreement will “require additional measures to give it solidity and stability over time,”  noted de la Calle.  These include “a popular referendum (refrendación), that still has not been agreed to in Havana,” and a series of legal instruments” to introduce the peace accord into Colombia’s legal system.  (See de la Calle’s statement here.)

While there are still items related to the final two points on the agenda in Havana, this new agreement is a huge step forward.  The agreement commits the government to presenting the specific modifications being called for to the Congress by next Wed. May 18.  A legislative act for peace, which has already been working its way through Congress, must be modified according to the particular language agreed to yesterday.  The agreement includes the specific language, based on the Colombian Constitution’s recognition (Art. 22) of the right to peace, to incorporation of the final peace accord into the Colombian Constitution.  The current legislative act for peace has already been approved by the Senate and has two of 6 rounds of debate remaining in the House before the bill goes to reconciliation.  Yesterday’s agreement requires the modified legislation to be approved by the Congress by June 20 at the latest.  It is anticipated that the final peace agreements would be signed around this time, and then, within two months of signing, a plebiscite would be called.

Before the plebiscite occurs, President Juan Manuel Santos would request the UN to annex the agreement to Security Council Resolution 2261.  If the majority vote in a referendum in favor of accepting the peace accords, 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.

Implementation, verification, and endorsement

The new agreement addresses part of the final topic (#6) on the agenda in Havana–implementation, verification, and endorsement.  The issue was taken up for the first time at the main peace table in Havana only in April.  The central question has been how a final peace agreement reached in Havana will become legally binding, and how it will remain so despite any future changes in policy or administration. Discussions in Colombia and only now in Havana have explored whether this might happen through the establishment of a Constituent Assembly, by the declaration of the President, or through other participatory mechanisms allowed by the Colombian Constitution.  These mechanisms include a referendum (used to approve or repeal a law), a plebiscite (to weigh in on a government  decision), or a popular consultation (for matters of local or national interest).  A bill currently working its way through Congress has

The government has long supported a plebiscite, and the Congress has passed relevant  laws to make it possible.  The FARC has long rejected a plebiscite, at least in part because it considered a plebiscite to be a unilateral imposition from the other side; in its stead it has  promoted a Constituent Assembly.  In addition, the FARC has long argued that Colombian state institutions are corrupt and has been disinclined to engage them in the process.  These positions have shifted in the course of the discussions at the table. Last Friday, May 6, FARC delegation leader Iván Márquez clarified that “No one has affirmed that the results of the negotiations should not be consulted with the populace.  But we want to do it well…” (See his statement here.) Yesterday’s statement opens the path for a consultation mechanism, which could be a plebiscite, and is a sign of the FARC’s willingness to work within the democratic frameworks that exist in Colombia.  It is a huge leap forward and a reminder of the importance of taking the time that is needed to shape agreements that truly reflect commitments to the process and the substance of what is agreed.

In addition to the mechanism for approval of the agreement, the new agreement also addresses the question of how the accords will be regulated by law.  This too has been the topic of much discussion and debate–mostly within Colombia, until the past cycle of talks in Havana.  The debates in Colombia have been heated.  As his term ended, Colombian Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre had proposed a formula that would give the accords the status of an international treaty and automatically convert any accords reached through the legally sanctioned peace talks in Havana into a constitutional mandate; he called on the Constitutional Court to weigh in with an opinion. (More here.) The court, in turn, called for briefs, including from the parties themselves, in effect giving the FARC legal standing to present its opinions, which in turn unleashed a huge polemic.  On May 5, Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez argued that the Court was not even competent to  judge the case and it should be sent to the Council of State to judge the case.

In the midst of these debates at home, on May 6th, the FARC then echoed Montealegre’s proposal with its proposal for a “Special Agreement”, a figure that is part of International Humanitarian Law under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which are part of Colombian law.  The Agreement would legally protect any accords reached in Havana and it has now been accepted by both sides as the path forward for ensuring that a new government that might come in would not have the capacity to alter the agreement that was produced in Havana.

With FARC agreement not to oppose a plebiscite, and the government’s acceptance of the special humanitarian agreement mechanism, the peace talks have overcome a significant hurdle and are poised to finish out the remaining agenda.



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Parties Resume Talks in Havana; Advances in Trust-Building Continue

April 21, 2016

Colombian government and FARC-EP representatives resume their 49th round of peace talks in Havana today.  There they continue discussions on ending the internal armed conflict that has plagued Colombia for more than half a century.  Negotiators had closed the session on April 14th with a joint communiqué noting their progress toward agreement on the terms for a bilateral, definitive cease fire and cessation of hostilities.  Their joint statement also noted advances related to the issue of setting aside arms and providing security guarantees for FARC ex-combatants.

Ending the Conflict 

In the remainder of the cycle, following their recent interlude, the parties will continue to work through their differences on issues relating to ending the conflict.  These include the particulars of a ceasefire, the concentration of FARC troops (how many zones, where, under what conditions), and the setting aside of weapons.  Other pending items on the agenda related to ending the conflict include the government’s commitment to intensify its fight against criminal networks, corruption, impunity, and organizations responsible for attacks against human rights workers, social movements, and political movements; and the review and implementation of institutional reforms and adjustments to meet the challenges of peace-building. (See the agenda in the framework agreement here.)

The remaining agenda in Havana includes some tough issues, but there are numerous creative proposals under consideration, and the parties seem confident that they can find workable solutions.  This week, President Juan Manuel Santos said that the process with the FARC is “irreversible,” and that an agreement will be reached “this year for sure, but as soon as possible.”  Sergio Jaramillo, the High Commissioner for Peace and one of the lead negotiators for the government, agreed.  He was in Europe last week, where he met with the Foreign Ministers of the European Union at its Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg to update them on the status of the talks.  (See more here).  In Spain, Jaramillo affirmed that an agreement could be achieved within the next few months.  “More than a few difficult themes have been left for the end, but we are certain that we will conclude the talks soon,” he told the Spanish Foreign Minister.

Talks with the ELN are slated to begin in Ecuador next month, and much preparatory work–the naming of delegates, process design issues, coming to agreement over conditions of engagement–is still in process.  The difficulties of launching the process in the midst of heightened violence are clear.

Implementation, Verification, and Ratification

In Havana, the parties can be expected to initiate discussions on the final outstanding  point on the agenda–implementation, verification, and the ratification of the accords.  The latter is a topic that has been much discussed in the Congress in Bogota, and there appears to be consensus that the Colombian populace will have the opportunity to ratify the agreements.  However, Havana has yet to officially take up this final point of the framework agreement to decide what the mechanism will be for this process.  This week, President Santos tapped Senator Roy Barreras to join the negotiating team in Havana for the duration of the talks. (He has also been asked to serve as a plenipotentiary to the ELN process. (See more here.)

Senator Barreras will be instrumental in moving forward discussions in Havana on the legal aspects of ratification and implementation from his new role on a technical sub-commission for endorsement issues (subcomisión técnica para los asuntos de refrendación).  As the president of the Partido de la U, Barreras has been a strong Santos ally in the Congress and author of key legislative proposals for ensuring that any accords signed in Havana can be enacted into law.  These include the legal framework for peace known as the Marco Jurídico para la Paz and the laws regulating the holding of a plebiscite.  Although the Colombian Congress has held debates over the plebiscite in Bogota, the discussions are still in their infancy in Havana and have yet to be on the formal agenda at the table.

Confidence-Building Measures

As the parties continue to negotiate their differences in what appears to be the final stretch of the negotiations, they have departed somewhat from their initial resolution that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” and have begun jointly to implement a number of confidence-building agreements reached thus far during the negotiations.  These include measures to de-escalate the conflict, such as joint pilot projects to clear land-mines and remove explosive devices, to address the issue of those who disappeared during the conflict, and initiatives to release prisoners jailed for belonging to or collaborating with the FARC and to transfer military prisoners from ordinary jails to military garrisons.  (See my earlier blogs on these issues.)


Progress on de-mining has been made on two fronts. Yesterday, the joint de-mining effort between the Colombian Army and the FARC guerrillas established by the Havana negotiators in May 2015 (see agreement here), and begun last August, entered its final phase in the village of Orejón, in Briceño, Antioquia.  Delegates of the Colombian government and the FARC, accompanied by Norwegian People’s Aid, have now overseen consultations and development programs with residents of the area, and as of late March have destroyed 5,230 explosive devices and munitions there.  (See more here.)  Likewise, a the de-mining process has been expanded to the Department of Meta, where it is in its early stages in the municipalities of Vista Hermosa, Uribe and Mesetas–three of the five municipalities designated as priority areas for de-mining by the government’s Directorate  Against Mines (Dirección Contra las Minas).

The de-mining agreements reached in Havana have been given a boost by the global de-mining initiative announced by President Barak Obama when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited the White House in early February.  Lead by the United States and Norway, the initiative seeks to rallying donor countries and technical expertise to expedite efforts to eradicate land-mine contamination.  So far, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom have joined the lead nations in pledging support. The United States has already committed $33 million over the next three years and will support Colombia’s mining agency, DAICMA.  The initiative anticipates a meeting of international experts in Colombia in May to assess needs and national priorities, and a Ministers meeting at the UN General Assembly meetings in September to keep the process moving forward. (See more here.)

The Search for the Disappeared

Finally, the issue of the disappeared is acknowledged to be a particularly painful modality of violence that has left a tragic legacy for many families of conflicts throughout this hemisphere.  The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Disappearance, has defined the practice of “enforced disappearance” as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” (Article 2)  Nowhere has the tragedy of enforced disappearances been so pervasive or occurred over such a long period of time as in Colombia.  The numbers range from 30,000 (active prosecutions registered by the Prosecutor General/Fiscalía), to 45,799 (registered direct victims with the government Victims’ Unit), to 113,044, of which 22, 261 are reported as forced disappearances by SIRDEC, the Information System for the Network of Disappeared and Corpses of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences/Sistema de Información Red de Desaparecidos y Cadáveres – SIRDEC).  (Statistics reported in the “Recomendaciones y Propuestas de las Víctimas,” by the Working Group on Forced Disappearances; see additional statistics in my earlier blogs on this topic.)

–Agreement #62

In a joint statement signed by the parties on October 17, 2015, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP committed to a two-part strategy to address the issue of the   tens of thousands of people who disappeared in Colombia.  Agreement #62, as the joint statement has come to be called, would “alleviate the suffering of the families of persons deemed as missing” and “contribute to the satisfaction of their rights.”  (View Joint Communiqué #62 in English or Spanish.)  The accord calls for both long-term structural measures and immediate complementary measures to improve the responsiveness of the government to victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  (See more here.)  The measures are intended to complement and be consistent with the transitional justice framework the parties established in the Agreement on Victims they signed last December 15.

Among other things, Agreement #62 calls for the establishment of a new Search Unit for the Disappeared once an Accord is signed.  To that end, it required the existing Search Commission (Comisión de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas) to produce recommendations for the new entity within four months, a task which was undertaken and completed.  The Search Commission submitted its report to the authorities in Havana in March. (See the report here).

Agreement #62 likewise called for immediate complementary measures to search for, locate, identify, and return the remains of those who disappeared in the conflict to their family members. These measures are being coordinated by the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía), the Victims’ Unit, and the National Institute of Legal Medicine, in coordination with victims’ organizations. Progress has been made on this front as well.


Ceremony for families of disappeared, Villavicencio, April 15, 2016                                  (Photo Courtesy of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace)


Search efforts have intensified since the signing of the accord and are beginning to bear fruit.  Victims’ organizations and The Orlando Fals Borda Collective, working with government institutions, have lead efforts from civil society that have resulted in the handing over of the remains of 34 people who were considered to have disappeared.  Organizations such as Dipaz (Diálogo Intereclesial por la Paz, an ecumenical alliance for peace), worked with the Collective to ensure that appropriate religious ceremonies and accompaniment form part of the remedies being provided to the victims’ families in these processes.  In December 2015, the remains of 29 people located in cemeteries in La Macarena, Granada, Vistahermosa, and San José del Guaviare were identified and turned over to an initial group of families. (See my earlier post here).  Last Friday, April 15, a second group of family members learned of the fate of 15 of their loved ones who had disappeared in Colombia’s armed conflict and been buried without name (classified as N.N.) in cemeteries of the Eastern plains (Llanos Orientales).   These families received the remains of their loved ones in public and private ceremonies in Bogotá, Apartadó, Bucaramanga, Tunja, and Villavicencio. (See more here.)  Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace, spoke of the importance of addressing the question of the disappeared in the Colombian conflict:

“We must give a response to the millions of victims that the internal armed conflict has left, and among these victims, the victims of disappearance occupy a special place.  Searching for the missing people is the first obligation, in the law and in international humanitarian law when a conflict ends,” Jaramillo told the family members who attended ceremonies to receive the remains of their loved ones.

Victims’ Proposals

Victims continue to come forward with their own proposals and to fulfill their mandate to  design and implement measures to satisfy their rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  On March 15, the Working Group on Forced Disappearances (Mesa de Trabajo sobre Desaparición Forzada) of the Coordinating Committee of Colombia-Europe-United States (CCEEU) presented the recommendations and proposals of hundreds of victims, victims’ groups, and human rights organizations to the table in Havana. (See the “Recomendaciones y Propuestas de las Víctimas,” by the Working Group on Forced Disappearances.) These will be presented at tomorrow’s Colombia Peace Forum event at 10 am (EST).  (Click here for more information and to tune in.)

Implementation of Accord #62

At tomorrow’s Colombia Peace Forum in Washington, we will hear about some of the specific challenges for the implementation of Agreement #62 on the disappeared.  We hope to generate ideas for how to address these challenges, as well as lessons for the negotiators as they think about the design of mechanisms for effective implementation.

Implementation of these agreements is in its early stages. The effective implementation of such agreements is probably the best way to generate confidence in the peace process. Providing  quick and effective remedies to those individuals and communities harmed by the conflict will also be important building blocks for the implementation of the final peace agreements.

Please join in here tomorrow for the Colombia Peace Forum.

Tweet your questions to @usip, @vmbouvier, @lawg, or share your thoughts at #ColombiaPeaceForum.

Hasta mañana…

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Se discute en Washington el Acuerdo #62 sobre desaparición forzada: EVENTO EL VIERNES 22 ABRIL

21 abril 2016

Mañana, el 22 de abril, en el Instituto de Paz de los Estados Unidos, analizaremos el acuerdo sobre la desaparición forzada suscrito en La Habana el 17 de octubre por las delegaciones de paz del gobierno de Colombia y las FARC-EP.  Este evento del “Colombia Peace Forum” se co-auspicia con el Latin America Working Group Education Fund.  Los panelistas son:

  • Ulianov Franco, Director Ejecutivo, Familiares Colombia
  • Carlos Eduardo Valdés, General Director General, Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal
  • Diana Arango, Directora Ejecutiva Director, Equitas (grupo forense independiente)
  • Christoph Harnisch, Jefe de Delegación, Colombia, Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja (via Skype)

Lisa Haugaard, Directora Ejecutiva del  Latin America Working Group Education Fund, servirá de comentarista, y yo serviré de moderadora del panel.

Es un evento público en la Sede del Instituto de Paz (2301 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.).  Se dará un “webcast” en vivo en la página del USIP desde las 10 am -12 (Eastern Standard Time), con una pequeña pausa en el medio.  Los y las panelistas se presentarán en español; habrá traducción al inglés.  El archivo del evento incluirá las ponencias en español e inglés y será disponible algunos días después del evento.

El hashtag para el evento es #ColombiaPeaceForum.  Favor de copiar los tuits @USIP @vmbouvier @lawg.

Ojalá pudieran acompañarnos.  Si están en Washington y piensan asistir al evento, favor de registrarse aquí.

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Colombia Peace Forum to Focus on Implementation of Agreement #62 on the Disappeared

April 21, 2016

This Friday, April 22, at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, we will take an in-depth look at the status of the agreement on disappearances reached by the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP in Havana last October 17, 2016.  The Colombia Peace Forum event will be co-sponsored with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund.  Speakers will include:

  • Diana Arango, Executive Director, independent forensic group, Equitas
  • Ulianov Franco, Executive Director, Familiares Colombia
  • Carlos Eduardo Valdés, General Director, National Institute of Legal Medicine
  • Christoph Harnisch, Head of Delegation, Colombia, International Committee of the Red Cross (via Skype)

I will be moderating the event, and my colleague, Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, will provide commentary.

  • For more information and to RSVP for the event, click here.
  • See the Agenda.
  • See biographies of the speakers here.

The event is open to the public and will be webcast live at the USIP website from 10-12.  Speakers will present in Spanish; audio in both English and Spanish will be posted shortly thereafter.  Hashtag for the event is #ColombiaPeaceForum and tweets should copy @USIP @vmbouvier.

Hope you can join us!  RSVP required for in-person attendance.

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ELN Talks Announced Last Week; Havana Talks Resume Today

April 5, 2016

Last Wednesday, March 30, representatives of the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) met at the Foreign Ministry offices in Caracas, Venezuela, to sign a framework agreement that would serve as the basis for launching formal peace talks between the two groups.  The joint agreement, read by the delegation leads–Frank Pearl for the government and Antonio García for the ELN–laid out the agenda for peace talks to be launched in Ecuador on an unspecified date. Ecuador, along with Brazil and the countries that currently accompany the FARC process in Havana (Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, and Norway), will serve as guarantors for the talks. The Latin American nations among them will host the different sessions.  (See the framework agreement here in Spanish.)


Delegates of the Colombian government and the ELN meet in Caracas, Venezuela to announce formal peace talks to begin in Ecuador. (Photo Courtesy of Presidency of Colombia)


The March 30 announcement came just before the Colombian government and the FARC returned to Havana, where they are meeting today to begin their next ten-day cycle of talks. (See my previous post.)  At the end of their last session, each of the delegations in Havana met separately with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was accompanying President Barak Obama on his historic visit to Cuba.  In the visit with Sec. Kerry, which was viewed as productive by the various parties, Kerry offered assistance in ensuring security for demobilizing ex-FARC, an offer which was viewed as productive.

After postponing their self-imposed deadline of March 23rd for reaching a final peace deal, FARC and government negotiators now have before them the final two agenda items–ending the conflict, and defining procedures and mechanisms for ratifying, verifying and implementing the accords.  Sunday, government negotiators met in Bogota with President Juan Manuel Santos and yesterday, with the jurists’ commission that helped to craft last December’s agreement on victims, to “advance their work on themes relating to ending the conflict and setting aside weapons.”  (See Santos’s statement here.)  During this next cycle, their job will become increasingly complex as they work to craft a quality peace agreement, persuade an impatient public that the process is on track, and navigate a new  relationship with the peace table being established with the ELN.

As President Santos noted, “The processes with the FARC and the ELN are different, but there is only one end of the conflict.”  The March 30 framework agreement for talks with the ELN thus states explicitly that there will be coordination mechanisms established between the two tables.

Challenges at Home

While many recognize that postponement of a final agreement with the FARC was the best move given the differences that still remained to be negotiated at the table (see my prior post), the delay exacerbated skepticism about the peace process, and contributed to a generalized crisis of governability in the country. Following a national strike in mid-March, President Santos’s popularity rates have dropped to unprecedented lows—24 percent according to one poll released this week. (View more here.) Corruption, taxes, health care, access to education, inflation, crime, and generalized discontent over economic issues have sparked a series of national and regional strikes, and demonstrations have polarized parts of the country.  Paramilitary activity is on the upswing, as are attacks and threats against human rights defenders. (See more here.)

Furthermore, opposition to the peace talks is once again gaining traction. On March 31st, paramilitary forces that call themselves the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (aka the “Clan Úsuga” or the “Urabeños”) shut down parts of Antioquia, Chocó and Córdoba with an armed strike.  They reportedly sought to intimidate citizens into supporting rallies that had been called for Saturday, April 2, by former President Alvaro Uribe and the Centro Democrático party.  The Colombian press reported that between 60,000-300,000 Colombians participated in rallies throughout the country, often calling for Santos’s resignation and casting aspersions on the peace process.

An Integrated Peace

While the delay of the March 23 deadline for a peace deal has cost the government politically, it has nonetheless bought time for the negotiators to craft a more integrated peace, “una paz completa”. While peace processes with the FARC and the ELN will not resolve all of Colombia’s problems, if quality peace deals with both insurgent groups are achieved and implemented, and if the broader public can be brought along to support them, these agreements could ensure that fifty years of armed conflict comes to an end. The engagement of the populace will be key.

There are numerous reasons why a peace process with the ELN is needed to end Colombia’s internal armed conflict:

  1. A peace agreement with the ELN would eliminate a potential landing spot for FARC recalcitrants. Colombian experience shows that the territories of those who demobilize are usually taken over by those who remain armed.  Similarly, the remaining armed actors also take over the illicit activities that financed demobilizing armed groups.
  2. Historically, the demobilized themselves end up being targeted by those who remain in arms. Thousands of demobilized FARC were killed following peace accords in the 1980s; likewise with demobilized members of the M-19 and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and later, the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). (See article by León Valencia on this point.)
  3. The presence of an active ELN will make it difficult to provide security for those who demobilize and the communities where they relocate.
  4. If all of the insurgencies agree to give up their arms, the Colombian government could begin to shift its counterinsurgency priorities toward investments that will address the drivers of conflict. This will provide the best guarantee that war will not return.
  5. The FARC and the ELN each have a discourse that reflects a political agenda favoring greater justice. War long ago distorted these early visions with abductions, violence, drug trafficking, disappearances, and a trail of harmful consequences. If the insurgents set aside their arms and assume responsibility, as both sides say they are prepared to do for their crimes, and if they are allowed and encouraged to work toward the changes they purport to desire for Colombia within the political system, they have the potential to help transform Colombia into a more pluralist and democratic society.
  6. Finally, as long as the ELN remains active, social movements and advocates for change will continue to be viewed with suspicion by Colombian security forces, which have been trained to fight the internal enemy.  It will prove difficult to change this mindset  with an active insurgency at large.  Once peace with the insurgencies is achieved, however, the Colombian state will be freed up to re-conceptualize its national security strategy and the role of its armed forces, as well as its attitude and practice toward non-violent social protest and opposition politics.

In sum, peace agreements with both the FARC and the ELN, while adding complex new logistical and political challenges, will make it possible to end Colombia’s internal armed conflict once and for all. (See my previous posts for more background to the exploratory process with the ELN.) The establishment of a peace table with the ELN is a critical first step.


A Table of Their Own  

Past government efforts to bring the ELN to the table on the coattails of a FARC process have all proven unsuccessful, and the ELN has consistently maintained that it wants its own peace talks. As organizations, the FARC and the ELN have different ideologies, origins, structures, constituencies, decision-making processes, geographic roots, demographic origins, and ways of working with communities.  In a speech to announce the first stage of formal peace talks with the ELN, President Juan Manuel Santos referred to the unique identity of that insurgency.  “As you know, the ELN was born more than 50 years ago.   It is an organization with its own history and its own identity. … And just as we have confronted the ELN in the military field, we also believe that it can and must play a role in the construction of peace.” (See Santos’s speech here.)

With an estimated 1,500 members and many more followers, the ELN is about one-fifth the size of the FARC. Both insurgent groups were founded in 1964, and the current membership is just one-third of the members each had at their height. The ELN has complex urban roots that draw from liberation theology, the Cuban revolution, Marxist theory, and a profound sense of Latin American sovereignty and solidarity. On the other hand, the FARC’s rural base and ideology has shaped its organizational priorities. Unlike the ELN leadership, FARC leaders participated in electoral politics during the Patriotic Union. The FARC’s rigid hierarchy and highly disciplined command-and-control structures contrast sharply with ELN decision-making processes that are more consensual in nature and guided by collective decisions taken at their National Congresses.

These differences impact both the form and substance of each group’s engagement in a  peace process.   The agenda for the ELN process is novel in that it seeks to open the peace table to the broader participation of civil society on each of the agenda items, in effect, promoting a national dialogue that will complement the peace table with the FARC. Ironically, such spaces have been insufficient in the Havana process, and part of the reason that the Colombian populace has felt itself alienated from the talks in Havana.  As a Colombian colleague once told me, “Hay que darle pueblo a la paz,” roughly, “You’ve got to put people into the peace.” The consultative processes being encouraged by the process with the ELN should complement the peace-building processes envisioned in the preliminary peace agreements already reached with the FARC.  They could also build on the engagement that was initiated during the various forums and regional meetings that have taken place throughout the Havana process.  These forums in general served more as consultations, but could be reconfigured to generate dynamics of dialogue.

The Process with the ELN

Between January 2014 and March 2016, the government and the ELN engaged in some two dozen rounds of secret exploratory talks in Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela.  On the brink of a formal peace process, the ELN and the government have now resolved a number of impasses.  Antonio García, the lead negotiator for the ELN, noted that the government and the ELN had reached agreement on the agenda late last year, but that there were key elements relating to the functioning of the peace talks and where the talks would be held, as well as the structure for the participation of the international community.  These issues  were decided only at the end of March and have now allowed the parties to move forward to formalize talks. (See video interview here.)

As the parties announced last week, talks are anticipated to begin in Ecuador, but the cycles are expected to move among the four other Latin American guarantor countries once a schedule has been defined. The ELN had been pushing hard for Venezuela to be the site of the talks, in recognition of the support provided to the Colombian insurgents by Hugo Chávez and later Nicolás Maduro, who as Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, had supported the exploratory talks between the government and the ELN.  Chávez had long argued that armed struggle was no longer the proper revolutionary path and been providing the Colombian insurgents from both FARC and ELN with protection and security. The Colombian government, for political reasons, did not want Venezuela to host the talks. Agreeing that Venezuela would launch the talks but that other nations would provide future venues has allowed both sides an acceptable alternative.

Other impasses that appear to have been overcome include agreement on the primary goal of the talks.  Both parties for the first time have explicitly manifest that the goal of the talks will be “a final agreement to end the armed conflict and agree on transformations in the search for a Colombia in peace and equity.”  (See my previous post.)  A transition from bullets to ballots is part of this mutual commitment.

Perhaps the major challenge in the exploratory talks was to develop a workable agenda.  Despite vast differences over what should be negotiated in the talks, the parties have now  developed a common agenda of six points–the participation of society in peace building, democracy for peace, transformation for peace, victims, end of the conflict, and implementation.  The ELN had long sought a broader agenda that would address the social and economic inequities of the country, as well as issues of national sovereignty, natural resources, extractive industries, mining and energy policies, and economic development models.  The government for its part, has had a number of red lines, which they also have  in the Havana talks, namely, that negotiators will not tackle Colombia’s economic or political system, the issue of private property, or themes related to military doctrine or the armed forces.  In the talks with the ELN, the compromise appears to be that these taboo topics will be taken up by civil society in their discussions, but not at the table itself. Theoretically, other mechanisms for addressing the broader social justice agenda could be created outside of the formal talks.

Agenda for Talks with the ELN

The first three of the six agenda items–the participation of society in peace building, democracy for peace, and transformation for peace—complement the FARC agenda. Rather than focusing on concrete substantive themes, these are broad process questions—still somewhat undefined—and they could provide a vehicle for communities to assist in developing, grounding, and fleshing out the concept of territorial peace and potentially help build a stronger constituency for peace in the country. In a press conference in Caracas, ELN leader Antonio García noted, “The ELN is interested in being able to link the whole society to a peace process that carries with it implicit changes, transformations in politics and the life of Colombians.  A negotiations process is not an accord that is signed but a process that takes time and that must introduce to the whole society new dynamics for searching for postponed solution.  This is why the ELN is mainly interested in generating dynamics for political participation.” (See video interview below.)

One of the first items on the agenda when the parties meet in Ecuador will be to define how society will participate in this process. “Instead of spending a lot of time at the [Peace] Table drawing up detailed accords point by point, we want to promote participatory processes in the regions that will serve as a basis for agreements with the ELN on measures that will contribute to the construction of peace,” noted President Santos. Frank Pearl, who will be the government’s lead negotiator in the process, underscored this point at a press conference at the Casa de Nariño, noting, “[T]his will not be a process in which we sit down to write pages and pages of agreements, rather it will give priority to citizen participation and to social organizations so that they might state their positions on the items on the agenda.”

The government was clear nonetheless that the mechanisms for civilian participation would be limited, and there are likely to be some differences here that have yet to be negotiated. Government negotiator General (ret.) Eduardo Herrera Berbel explained, “We must make clear that it is not a tripartite table, it is a table of direct conversations between the National Government and the Army of National Liberation,” he said. (Read statement here.)

The ELN and FARC processes are likely to be quite complementary.  The ELN clearly has its own imprint to give to the talks and to the process of engaging Colombia in a peace-building process, but there is likely to be a fair amount of convergence that can build on some of the agreements that have already been made with the FARC.   The final three agenda items—victims, ending the conflict, and implementation of the agreements–are topics on the agendas of both the FARC and the ELN.  Frank Pearl, the lead for the government negotiating team with the ELN, noted that the first item of agreement in the exploratory phase was that victims should be at the center of the process, as they have been in Havana.  “Ending the conflict … we won’t have more victims in Colombia.  We must recognize the victims, restore their rights, and that is why we are establishing in the accord the principles of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.”  (See Pearl’s statement here.)

President Santos has stated that the two processes would converge around issues of transitional justice and the path to citizenship for ex-combatants.  He has also implied  that there will not be a new Truth Commission, or a second Peace Tribunal, separate ceasefires or cessations of hostilities, or separate international verification mission, though presumably the ELN will also need to agree to this.  (See Santos statement here.)  As with the FARC, the ELN has also insisted that they will not negotiate their way into prison, but that they will accept responsibility for crimes committed.

Pending Issues for the Parties

No start date has yet been specified for the talks.  Antonio García noted that the logistical and security arrangements, as well as the selection of delegates to the talks could take a few weeks, but will likely be less than two months.  President Juan Manuel Santos for his part said that the process with the ELN would begin “as soon as some humanitarian issues, including kidnapping, have been resolved.”  (See Santos’s speech here.)  Likewise, Frank Pearl, head of the government delegation, reiterated that it would not be acceptable to talk with the ELN while it continued to hold kidnapped persons.  “We are trying to resolve this issue and it is a condition that must be met to be able to advance in the public phase.”  He added that he believed the ELN would show its “true vocation for peace” in “acts of peace.”  (See Pearl’s statement here.)

The issue of kidnapping, which has been a critical source of funding and political leverage for guerrillas in Colombia, has long been an obstacle to political solutions.  The Colombian Center for Historical Memory documents 6,789 victims of ELN kidnappings from 1978-2015, and it is not known how many people might be currently in custody by the ELN.

On the other side, the release of those who have been captured can help move negotiations forward.  When the FARC released the last of its military and police retainees and announced in February 2012 that they would renounce the practice of kidnapping, the exploratory phase of the peace process with the FARC was launched.  Last month, the ELN’s release of officer Óscar William Calvo, and a few days later, its release of the civilian Ramón Cabrales, appeared to be key in helping the parties break through an impasse.  A few hours after the government and the ELN signed the framework agreement, Pablo Beltrán, one of the ELN negotiators, announced that the ELN would be releasing police guard Héctor Germán Pérez Monterroza, who was kidnapped on March 20 in the south of Bolívar.  This should be seen as a good faith gesture, and an ELN announcement of a policy shift to reject kidnapping could help foster support in the incipient peace process with the ELN.

As talks move forward, we should not be surprised to see more releases.  Nonetheless, the negotiators should also be prepared for more kidnappings, attacks, and efforts at self-enrichment through kidnapping and extortion.  The current rules of the game are that the talks will take place within the context of a war and without benefit of a ceasefire.  The ELN would be wise to consider a unilateral ceasefire–if they have the capacity to reign in their troops and the potential spoilers within the ELN who have much to lose from a peace deal.  A coordinated and decisive response on the part of the negotiators when violations occur, and strong verification processes, will be necessary to help ensure that such incidents, when they occur, do not derail the process.

Civil Society Support

Many groups in civil society had been urging the ELN and the Colombian government to formalize talks.  Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz and Clamor Social por la Paz, which have been playing a good offices role since the secret talks were made public on June 10, 2014, issued a statement welcoming the announcement of the launching of talks with the ELN as an event of national and international importance.  (See their statement here.)  Academics and think-tanks have been working both publicly and privately to identify and help address impasses between the government and the ELN and create solutions.  A public campaign– “For a Complete Peace!”–heightened its activities in recent weeks, with numerous seminars and a march in front of the Apostolic Nuncio in Bogotá calling for the Pope’s intervention to get the parties to the table.  Fundación Nuevo Arco Iris and the Javeriana University have been promoting discussions to identify the blockages and move peace talks with the ELN forward.  Likewise, a group of ELN political prisoners has sought to build consensus for formal peace talks.  Quiet diplomatic efforts from the international community have also encouraged the parties to move toward a political solution to their differences.  All of these efforts appear to have contributed to President Santos’s conclusion that, “With this new step, we are advancing in a decided way toward a complete peace. …This complete peace is finally showing itself to be possible.”


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