Basta Ya! Report Illuminates Issues at Crux of Colombia’s Peace Talks Breakthrough


Colombia’s government and the FARC movement achieved their September 23 breakthrough in peace negotiations by setting down basic principles on the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition. USIP’s next Colombia Peace Forum, on September 30, will analyze the role of historical memory in these transitional justice issues.

As policymakers and analysts consider how the new breakthrough might be consolidated, Colombian researchers will present a report, central to these issues, to a U.S. audience for the first time. The report—Basta Ya! Colombia: Memories of War and Dignity—was produced by Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory. Its authors will join other scholars and practitioners to examine lessons that might contribute to the creation of the national truth commission and other architectures as part of the peace process.

The event will be co-sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Washington Office on Latin America, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The discussions will take place in English and Spanish with simultaneous interpretation in both languages. The event will be streamed live without interpretation; webcasts will be posted later in both languages.

To participate via Twitter, use the hashtag #ColombiaPeaceForum.


  • Ambassador William B. Taylor
    Executive Vice President, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Virginia M. Bouvier
    Senior Advisor on Latin America Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Michael Reed Hurtado
    Senior Lecturer, Yale School of Law
  • Kimberly Theidon
    Henry J. Leir Professor of International Humanitarian Studies, Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • David Tolbert
    President, International Center for Transitional Justice
  • Cynthia Arnson
    Director, Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Carlos Quesada
    Executive Director, International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
  • David Crocker 
    Senior Research Scholar, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Lisa Laplante
    Associate Professor of Law, New England Law | Boston,  and Director, Center for International Law and Policy
  • Andrés Suárez
    Lead Researcher, National Center for Historical Memory
  • Martha Nubia Bello
    Lead Researcher, National Center for Historical Memory, and Director, National Museum of Memory
  • Anthony Wanis- St. John 
    Associate Professor, American University
  • Elizabeth “Lili” Cole
    Senior Program Officer, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Adam Isacson
    Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Washington Office on Latin America
  • Juan Méndez
    Professor, Washington College of Law, American University, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture
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Q&A: Colombia Breakthrough a World Model for Peace Talks; Transitional Justice for Victims Breaks New Ground

September 25, 2015

Yesterday’s breakthrough in peace talks between Colombia’s government and rebels reveals the outlines of a final deal and puts the grueling process firmly back on track, says USIP’s Virginia Bouvier. The agreement may serve as a model for resolving conflicts elsewhere in the world, according to Bouvier, who heads the Institute’s Latin America programs.


Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Alejandro Cortes


Here are Bouvier’ edited comments, in response to questions about the developments:

The breakthrough yesterday involves the treatment of victims in the conflict. Why was that so important and difficult to arrive at?

There are 7.6 million registered victims in Colombia created during a half-century conflict that has touched most households in the country. That is the scale of reconciliation Colombia faces. Public opinion polls have long shown a widespread desire for the FARC [the Spanish-language acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] to serve jail time, demands for the FARC to disarm, and resistance to the FARC’s incorporation into political life. But it has been clear, for example, that the FARC were unlikely to sign a peace deal that would land them in jail. In the joint communiqué, we see a solution that shows important compromises and commitments from both sides.

How did the FARC and the government arrive at this accord? 

The agreement on victims is a clear example of how process affects outcome, and how inclusion of marginalized sectors can improve agreements. The talks included visits by delegations of dozens of victims over the course of six months. The United Nations and the National University created forums, at the behest of the peace table, for victims’ voices to be heard. Some 24,000 victims presented proposals to the talks. In addition, women’s and LGBTI organizations have made their proposals known through a Gender Subcommission and direct participation at the peace table.

These inputs in no small part have shaped the commitment of both sides to accept responsibility for damages inflicted and to promote the rights of the victims to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. How these acknowledgements of wrongdoing, which have already begun on both sides, will translate into real reparations, we don’t yet know, although the parties tell us that they have reached important agreements on the issue of reparations that will be disclosed soon.

You have called the agreement historic and innovative. How so? 

There is no other peace process in the world where victims have occupied such a central role. We have here a design for transitional justice that is historic and innovative.  It gives priority to truth-telling, but it does not eschew the need for justice. The model is innovative in its inclusion of restorative justice and its focus on repairing the damages inflicted on individuals and communities through a process of dialogue and healing.  This bears watching as it could provide new models for other conflict zones seeking to find a way out of war.

What are the highlights of the agreement and the implications for a final deal?

Here are the key points:

  • For the first time, the FARC recognizes the authority of the Colombian state and new judicial mechanisms that will be established to address crimes committed as part of the war.
  • The parties agree that the transitional justice regime will apply to all of the actors engaged in the internal armed conflict.
  • The FARC agreed to lay down arms 60 days after an accord is signed. Once that’s done, the government will back the group’s full incorporation into Colombian political life.
  • The FARC has agreed to alternative sentences with yet-to-be defined conditions that will restrict the ex-guerrillas’ movement and guarantee victims will never again face violence.
  • By admitting wrongdoing and contributing to truth-telling, potential defendants can see sentences reduced to five to eight years. Failure to come clean can result in 20-year terms.
  • The agreement underscores the commitment to meet fully Colombia’s commitments to national and international human rights and international humanitarian law standards.

Colombian President Santos said yesterday that it’s impossible the agreement will satisfy those most dedicated to justice and those most concerned about peace. If the deal does bring peace, what kind of justice will victims get?

The proposed justice courts and peace tribunal, in conjunction with other still-undefined structures, will seek to balance the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition with the government’s obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish crimes committed as part of the war. But of key importance, there will not be impunity—no pardons or amnesty will be granted for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. These are specified in the agreement to include the taking of hostages, torture, forced displacement or disappearance, extrajudicial executions, and sexual violence.

At the same time, there will be generous amnesties for political crimes and related activities. Such activities are in the process of being specified, but could easily include drug trafficking and money laundering. This formula is an advance for everybody—for the victims who will get some justice and whose voices will prevail.

What is the scale of accusations involved? 

In an interview on following the announcements from Havana, Colombia’s Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre, said his office has pending accusations against some 38,000 FARC members for crimes including international humanitarian law, sexual violence and recruitment of minors, and an additional 50,000 cases of forced displacement. Of these, he believes that some 15,000 could be classified as political and related crimes, and that they and an additional 1,689 FARC members who have already been convicted could receive amnesty under the Special Judicial Process for Peace. He announced that his office would continue with investigations, but halt the imputations of charges. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as the Special Process will also have jurisdiction over crimes committed by the Public Sector, including the Armed Forces, economic and political elites who supported the commission of violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws, and other armed groups, such as the ELN guerrilla organization, which is close to being brought to its own peace table.

What are the implications for a successful conclusion of these talks that could end the war? 

The presence in Havana of President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known as “Timochenko” presents compelling evidence that there is political commitment of both sides to end the conflict once and for all. It underscores the seriousness of the process and should help to erode the skepticism of the Colombian public, which has long complained that it’s taking too long. In light of this agreement, a ceasefire and details for the setting aside of arms should not be far behind. It will make little sense to continue to prosecute a war that both sides have agreed is ending.

What are the remaining issues before the FARC will demobilize and turn in their weapons? 

The parties need to nail down the terms by which the rebels will set aside their arms, demobilize their rank and file, and be reintegrated  into Colombian society. Security here will be key.  There are some pending issues on all of the three provisional accords that have been reached—on land reform, political participation and illicit drugs.

In addition, the terms and mechanisms for the endorsement of the final accord by the Colombian populace still needs to be ironed out.  But, as Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator noted yesterday, “We are now in the final countdown of the war.”  Then the real work will begin.

Photo courtesy of AP

Photo courtesy of AP

What was the role of Pope Francis, who during his visit to Cuba this week said negotiators couldn’t afford to let this opportunity slip away?  

The Pope’s words had a strong impact on the people who were sitting at the table and perhaps President Santos and Timochenko themselves, who are ultimately responsible for the final agreement and its implementation. The Pope’s warning that the country and the world were looking on and that the country and the world could not afford yet another failed process on the road to peace and reconciliation undoubtedly hit home and may have given a final push to an agreement that was already well under way.

Re-blogged from U.S. Institute of Peace
September 24, 2015
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New Justice Accord Signed, Agreement Made to End War in Six Months

11:30 pm

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Word that something was up in the Colombian peace talks began filtering out quickly this morning.  A government colleague warned me to stay tuned for an announcement later today.  A friend in academia told me there was a pending agreement on the justice issue. By 8 am, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos had put out a tweet blast that he was adding a stopover in Havana to meet with the negotiators before his scheduled trip to New York for the UN General Assembly meetings.  Minute by minute, expectations grew.  “Timochenko,” the FARC’s top commander, had arrived on the island and rumors flew of an impending tete-a-tete.  By 11 am, when Santos’s military jet departed for Havana, it carried not only Santos and his presidential team, but also the heads of the Colombian Senate and Congress, and leaders of virtually all of the major political parties and movements.  Only one party was conspicuous by its absence–that of former President Alvaro Uribe, whose Centro Democrático party has been a long-time opponent of the peace talks.  By noon, the Colombian media was announcing that a long-awaited agreement on “victims,” the fourth of six items on the peace agenda, was imminent.  News leaked later that President Santos was expected to announce the deadline by which the half-century long conflict would officially conclude.

By evening, the stage was set.  From the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana, a special ceremony, carefully choreographed and rich in symbolism, unfolded with all the major players dressed in white.   An unidentified woman from the Cuban Foreign Ministry welcomed the guests of honor.  Raúl Castro, Cuba’s President of the Council of State and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba was flanked by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on his right and FARC Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka “Timochenko”) on his left.  Also present were Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez; the representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP peace delegations; and representatives of Cuba, Norway, Chile, and Venezuela, the  nations that served as guarantors and accompanied the process.  The moderator turned the floor to Rodolfo Benitez and Dag Nylander, guarantors from Cuba and Norway, respectively, who read the joint communiqué that the peace delegations had crafted.  (Read the full text of the communiqué in Spanish here or view my English translation:  Joint Communiqué 60 on the Accord for the Creation for a Special Judicial Process for Peace.)

Following the reading of the agreement, lead negotiators Humberto de la Calle for the Government of Colombia, Iván Márquez for the FARC, the Cuban and Norwegian guarantors, and the Chilean and Venezuelan delegates all signed the agreement.  Cuban Council of State President Raúl Castro turned the podium over to Santos and Timochenko for their comments.  They each underscored their commitment to ending the conflict. President Santos announced that they have instructed their negotiators to produce a final peace agreement within the next 60 days.  In turn, Timochenko announced that the FARC have agreed to set aside their arms in the subsequent 60 days after signing the agreement.   Many details and challenges are yet to come, but for now, this was a historic day worth celebrating.

Below find the CNN interview that I did at 12:30 last night:



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41st Cycle Brings Colombian Peace Talks to Edge of Breakthrough; Santos Travels to Cuba Today

September 23. 2015

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced this morning via his Twitter account that he will travel to Cuba today to meet with the negotiators in Havana.  The unanticipated visit to the peace table is fueling expectations of an announcement about an agreement on transitional justice and there is talk that there may be a meeting with Timochenko, the top leader of the FARC.  Stay tuned!

41st Cycle Ends

Last Thursday, September 17, as the world’s first Latin American Pope prepared to visit Cuba and the United States, the Colombian government and the FARC-EP finished up a productive cycle of peace talks.  In a joint communiqué, the parties announced that during the 41st round they continued to work on themes relating to victims and the end of the conflict, two of the three pending agenda items, and that they will resume talks on September 28.

A Comprehensive System for Victims’ Rights 

In June 2015, the parties agreed to create a Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Co-Existence (Convivencia), and Non-Repetition, “an independent, impartial mechanism of an extra-judicial character,” to be established once the final peace accord is signed.  They envisioned the commission as “part of the comprehensive system of truth, justice and non-repetition” being crafted to “meet the rights of the victims, end the conflict, and achieve peace.”  Victims have now submitted more than 24,000 proposals to the peace table in Havana, more than one third of which relate to victims’ right to the “truth.”  The parties  have committed themselves to establishing other complementary judicial and extra-judicial mechanisms, which are now being negotiated.

A new advisory group on transitional justice installed in Havana for the 41st cycle has been helping the parties in Havana to develop these mechanisms.  According to Iván Márquez, the FARC’s lead negotiator, their efforts are yielding success.  At the beginning of the cycle on Sept. 11, Márquez noted, “In only seven days, the Juridical Sub-commission has placed us at the threshold of a new agreement on Justice, as a component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition.

In recent days, there have been hints in the press that an agreement on transitional justice is nearly complete.  This is the likely the reason for Santos’s unanticipated stopover in Havana on his way to the United Nations General Assembly meetings.  Just yesterday, Santos himself implied that an agreement was forthcoming, when he noted: “It doesn’t matter where the line is drawn between justice and peace, everyone is not going to be happy.  …some will want more peace, others will want more justice, and we are in this negotiation right now… no one can remain completely happy, but the change is going to be very positive.”

Ending the Conflict

During the 41st cycle, the joint Technical Sub-commission on Ending the Conflict, composed of five Colombian generals and one admiral, as well as commanders in the FARC Secretariat and the High Central Command, continued to work on the terms for a definitive bilateral ceasefire.  Jean Arnaud, special representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, and José Bayardi, representative of the President pro-tempore of UNASUR (currently held by Uruguay), joined the sub-commission discussions, as requested by the peace delegations.  Arnold and Bayardi lend the process operational expertise as well as the imprimatur and institutional support of the international community.

FARC Discusses Setting Aside Arms

Of major importance during the 41st cycle was the FARC’s confirmation that they are  prepared to set aside their arms, the second of the seven sub-points related to the agenda item of ending the conflict.  FARC leader Iván Márquez announced that the FARC-EP is “ready to address and discuss the procedures for the move from an armed insurgency (“organización alzada en armas”) to an open political movement.”   This is a significant advance, as the question of FARC’s willingness to forswear the use of arms has been a lightning rod for debates throughout the peace process.  

Security concerns for a transition to civilian life will need to be adequately addressed, as will the cultivation of a climate more propitious for reintegration.  In 1984, when a peace process between the Belisario Betancur government and the FARC produced the agreement that created the Unión Patriótica, the civilian movement from which ex-FARC combatants participated in politics, security guarantees were sadly lacking and thousands of UP militants, including two presidential candidates and many local leaders, were killed with virtual impunity.

Concentration of Troops

Most immediately under discussion have been the issues of the identification and concentration of troops, and the establishment of monitoring and verification mechanisms.  The FARC have given the government a proposal to identify 50 rural areas (including, according to press reports, Cauca, Putumayo, Meta, Chocó, norte de Antioquia y Norte de Santander) where guerrillas might be concentrated.  The government has yet to respond officially to the proposal.

Promising Prospects for an Accord 

By all indications, a peace accord is within reach, and an agreement on transitional justice will be another milestone toward that goal.  While obstacles may still appear on the path, the Havana process seems solid and international support is firmly behind it.  Carlos Lozano, head of the Technical Subcommission for the FARC, underscored the shift that has taken place at the table.  In his welcoming remarks to the UN and UNASUR delegates he observed, “As you can imagine, breaking through the distrust that has grown in more than half a century of cruel confrontations is not something that happens overnight or without shocks; nonetheless, we can assure that in both delegations there is political will, candor, transparency, and the resolute decision to bequeath future generations a country [that is] more just, at peace, in full democracy [and] that enjoys the respect and recognition of the international community.  That ideal converts into an incentive that overcomes all obstacles.”

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Fortieth Cycle of Peace Talks Ends with Renewed Sense of Optimism

Sept. 7, 2015

Within Colombia, the period of the fortieth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP (August 20-30) was marked by a reduction in violence.  August showed the lowest levels of conflict violence since 1974, according to a study done by the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis, CERAC.  The lower levels of violence were due in large part to the unilateral ceasefire initiated by the FARC on July 20, and the decision by the parties to de-escalate the violence.

Along with the decline in violence, a corresponding increase in public support for the peace process was shown in a late August poll by Invamer Gallup poll.  Some 63% of 3,000 respondents in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga said they would vote in favor of the peace talks in a referendum.  Another poll by Gallup-Colombia released last week put support for a peace agreement with the FARC at 39 per cent, up six points from a similar poll it conducted in June.

The 40th cycle of peace talks was marked by intense activities among the different working groups and the negotiating teams in Havana.  In a joint communiqué at the end of the session on August 30th, the peace delegations reported that they continued to dedicate attention to the issues of victims, ending the conflict, and de-escalation measures.  The newly created working group on transitional justice and the gender submission both made advances.

The Colombian government and the FARC-EP leadership each expressed satisfaction with the progress achieved.  President Juan Manuel Santos noted on Monday, Aug. 31, that both parties had “advanced very positively” on the theme of a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and on the setting aside of arms.  “In the last two or three weeks, they [the parties] have advanced much more than they had advanced in … the last year,” he said. Iván Márquez, head of the FARC peace delegation, concurred that the parties had “registered advances” and that “the process is moving in the direction of a final agreement.”  The next cycle is scheduled to begin on September 11th.

Subcommission on Gender

One of the highlights of the fortieth round of conversations was a series of meetings and working sessions with representatives of Colombian women’s organizations and research institutions–the fourth to be received in Havana at the invitation of the subcommission on gender created in June 2014 by the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.  Participants in the latest delegation included:

The delegation was accompanied by Belén Sanz, the UN-Women’s representative in Colombia, and Silvia Arias, the UN advisor in the area of Women, Peace, and Security. (See more here.)  From August 24-25, the women met with the peace delegations and the subcommission on gender in Havana to discuss their research, recommendations, and proposals for addressing violence against women and gender-based violence, including sexual violence.  Following the meetings and working sessions, the women released a statement that called on the parties to commit themselves to “the eradication of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence in the armed conflict, within a broad context of gender discrimination and inequality, and as a necessary condition for advancing substantially on the road to a stable, lasting, and sustainable peace.”

That women and members of the LGBTI community are being received in Havana as peacemakers, analysts, legal scholars, and political subjects–that is, as full-fledged citizens with ideas and proposals  of their own.  This is an important reparation in and of itself to help compensate for generations of gender discrimination, inequality, and neglect of women’s and LGBTI voices in decision-making spheres.

An Evolving Model of Engagement

The gender subcommission and the evolving direct dialogue between the peace delegates and women’s and LGBTI groups is generating an important new model for inclusion in peace talks.  It is not going unnoticed–either within or outside of Colombia.

CONPA, the newly created National Peace Council of Afro-Colombians (CONPA) that groups together some of the major Afro-Colombian organizations, is calling for a similar model of their own that gives Afro-Colombians and other minorities the opportunity to be heard in Havana and provides an institutional mechanism, such as an official working group, that would consider the ethnic dimensions of a peace agreement.  (Watch the webcast of CONPA’s presentation at the U.S. Institute of Peace a few months ago here in Spanish and here in English):

The Colombian National Organization of Indigenous (ONIC) has a highly developed infrastructure and a thoughtful and innovative national agenda for peace (read it here).  They too have been seeking to have greater inputs at the table in Havana and have been received by the delegations.

Indigenous and Afro-Colombians are provided guarantees under Colombian law regarding prior consultation, collective rights, and collective ownership of lands that will have relevance for the crafting of agreements that emerge from the Havana process.  A statement by the UNHCHR last month urged the peace delegations in Havana to consider opening the process to greater inputs by indigenous and Afro-Colombian voices. (See my earlier post here.)

Excluded groups, if they want their perspectives to be incorporated, will need to engage in the kind of multi-level advocacy–at the local, regional, national, and international level–that has been sustained by women’s and LGBTI groups.  Access to the Havana peace process seems to be opening up quietly and discreetly to those who are able to make and support their case.

The pressures for the table to come to closure are mounting.  It could be argued that the creation of new mechanisms for greater civil society participation in the peace process would cause unreasonable delays.  However, the benefits of opening the process to greater civil society engagement or at a minimum creating the possibility that different sectors could review and provide inputs to draft texts could be done simultaneously and in ways that do not prolong the process excessively.  The benefits of getting greater feedback from civil society groups even at this late date could be huge.  Since many sectors have already designed and built consensus around peace agendas, the main challenge would be in creating and strengthening channels for inputs and dialogue.  Victims, youth, displaced, peasants, labor, religious minorities, victims, and even environmentalists (see fascinating article here on the need for environmental reparations) all have important voices that could strengthen the prospects for a long and durable peace.




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Highlights of the 39th Cycle of Peace Talks in Havana

August 19, 2015

As the Colombian government and the FARC prepare to return to the peace table in Havana tomorrow, August 20th, for the 40th cycle of talks, I offer here a brief recap and analysis of the flurry of activities since my last post on the peace process in mid-July.

The Interlude between Sessions

When the 38th cycle closed on July 12, following the most violent period seen since the beginning of peace talks in 2012, the Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations issued a joint statement committing themselves to a new dual strategy that would hasten a final peace accord in Havana on the one hand,  and de-escalate the conflict in Colombia on the other.  (See joint statement here.)

The first part of the strategy includes “technical, continuous and simultaneous work on the key points of the Agenda while the accords are being crafted at the table.”  In particular, the parties agreed to move forward on establishing the terms for a bilateral ceasefire and the setting aside of arms.  To this effect, they invited the UN Secretary General and the UNASUR president (currently Uruguay) to delegate representatives to serve on the Technical Subcommission on Ending the Conflict in Havana in order to help them design relevant systems for monitoring and verification.

Complementing this intensification of technical work, In relation to the second part of the strategy, the FARC extended the unilateral ceasefire it had announced on July 8 from one month to four months, and the government said it would undertake de-escalation and confidence-building measures, as yet to be defined, in tandem with the FARC’s ability to maintain the unilateral suspension of “all offensive actions.”  (See Santos’s statement here.)

Humberto de la Calle, lead negotiator for the government, emphasized the relationship between what happens in Havana and at home.  He noted, “These are inseparable commitments.  That is to say, the speeding up of the talks and the de-escalation measures that might be taken by the Government must advance at the same time.  As the talks take on a new dynamic, so too will the de-escalation measures.”  (See De la Calle statement here.)

President Santos has linked consideration of a bilateral definitive ceasefire specifically to progress at the table on the issue of justice. In an interview on August 8th, he said, “If we solidify the accord on justice, we might be able to agree on the bilateral, definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.  … We are approaching the end of the conflict.”  (See his interview here.)

Ceasefire vs. De-escalation

The government has been clear that the de-escalation measures do not constitute a  bilateral ceasefire. (See De la Calle’s statement here.)  De la Calle explained, “The ceasefire should be studied and it is a part of the expediting process, but that is a later stage, with its own characteristics. The purpose of de-escalation is to reduce the intensity of the confrontation, create an environment of trust between the parties, and seek greater support from the Colombian people in the sense that peace is actually possible”. (See his statement here.)

Peace Commissioner and government negotiator Sergio Jaramillo noted that “the final and bilateral ceasefire and end of the hostilities, as stated in the General Agreement, implies much more formality, clear rules, and a verification implying that it is final”. (See his statement here.)  Jaramillo clarified that “de-escalation is a series of steps and progressive gestures, according to the FARC’s behavior, to reduce the level of the confrontation in order for the people in the territories to feel that peace is getting closer and thus acclimate the end of the conflict.”

In their joint statement on July 12, the government and FARC negotiators agreed to take stock of the results of their de-escalation measures and advances at the table in four months’ time. (See their statement here.)  President Santos announced that, at that time, “depending on whether the FARC fulfills [its promises], I will make the decision as to whether or not we continue with the process.” (See Santos’s statement here.)

Given that the FARC has long been pushing for a bilateral ceasefire and that the government is anxious to finalize agreements on the transitional justice issues currently on the agenda, the linking of these two issues is a creative way to accelerate  progress at the peace table.  Some of the same challenges however remain in terms of the lack of verification mechanisms for the ceasefire and the need to establish transitional protocols for dealing with actions that might be interpreted as the FARC violating its unilateral ceasefire or military or extra military forces provoking FARC troops in the field.

Mood Shifts for 39th Cycle of Talks 

During the 39th round of talks that began on July 23 and ended on August 2, there seemed to be a renewal of confidence in the peace process, spawned by the parties’  expressed willingness to accelerate the pace in Havana and to de-escalate the violence in Colombia.  The unilateral ceasefire and the suspension of the bombings, FARC lead negotiator Iván Márquez noted, “unleashed this new ambience of confidence that has allowed the talks to speed up and to advance new consensuses.” (See Márquez’s statement here.)

There were a number of additional advances during the 39th round:

  • The parties produced a report on the joint de-mining project underway in Antioquia with the Colombian Army and the FARC (View the report here.);
  • Peace delegation members in Havana were reinforced with new team members and advisors;
  • Discussions moved forward on preliminary agreements for an integrated approach to truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition; and
  • Work of the technical subcommission for ending the conflict continued to refine strategies for a final bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.

Pilot Project on De-Mining Advances

On July 28th, the parties issued a report on the progress of the third phase of the decontamination of explosives and clearing of land mines under way in El Orejón in Antioquia. (View joint communiqué here.)  In early July, 48 members of the Colombian Army’s Humanitarian De-Mining Battalion (BIDES), and three FARC leaders and explosive experts–accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross; representatives of guarantor nations Norway and Cuba; Colombian government representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Governor’s Office of Antioquia and the Mayor’s Office of Briceño; and a verification team from the NGO Norwegian Popular Aid.  Under the Army’s direction, the team had begun a laborious two-three month joint pilot program for humanitarian de-mining that included an unprecedented collaboration between insurgents and the government to locate, map, and clear explosive devices and mines from an area of 12,000 square meters of the village of El Orejón de Briceño in the department of Antioquia–an area with one of the highest concentrations of land mines in Colombia.

The project has also included a consultation  process with the local community to formulate plans for their collective reparation.  According to the recent report, in July, 70 members of the community met with the de-mining commission to prioritize projects related to “economic development, health, education, sports, governability and citizen participation.”   (See more here.)

In their report on the status of the joint de-mining program, the authors reported that, following the accidental death of Colombian Army soldier Wilson de Jesús Martinez by a land mine as he was engaged in the de-mining on the third day of operations, the commission interrupted its work to make some methodological revisions.  Among other things, they reviewed security protocols and established new techniques for clearing explosives that depended on more dogs.   If, Jesús Martinez’s death notwithstanding, the Antioqueño project continues to be successful, the plan is to implement a second stage with a different team in Meta.

Changes in the FARC Delegation 

A total of 17 new FARC delegation members have joined the peace table in recent weeks.  In exchange, 17 FARC delegation members returned to Colombia to “conduct peace pedagogy in the guerrilla camps,” according to delegation member Tanja Nijmeijer (aka Alejandra Nariño). (See more here.)  Of the new arrivals, the eight members who arrived on July 27 include mostly mid-level commanders of regional fronts and blocks who will replace their departing counterparts on the technical submissions.  

Victims and Transitional Justice

During the 39th cycle, the parties continued to work on the issue of victims, including the related issues of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  According to lead negotiator Iván Márquez, the parties are designing an “unprecedented and innovative” integrated system to put these different aspects of victims’ rights at the center of the process.  (See more here.)

Civil Society Demands Inclusion 

While Havana negotiators have debated the details of the agenda in relative isolation, civil society has continued to make known its desire to be more regularly engaged in the process, including at the peace tables themselves.  On August 12, Todd Howland, Colombia representative of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, called on the parties to invite authorities of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to the peace table in order to guarantee the vision and collective rights of these communities. (See more here.)

Inputs in the form of letters, conferences, publications, recommendations continue to be generated and express the particular interests and concerns of different sectors and regions of Colombia.  Victims’ groups, obviously, are particularly interested in ensuring that their rights are not slighted at the table.  On July 30, family members of victims of disappearance and kidnapping that form part of the NGO Fundación País Libre sent a letter to the government and FARC negotiators with some new inputs and a caution that if their needs are not met, they will not hesitate to seek remedies in international arenas.  (Read their letter here.)  The victims called for a transitional justice process that guarantees victims’ rights and called on the parties to strengthen the institutional structures that provide human rights protections.  Specifically, on the right to truth, they wrote:

1. “We demand that the armed actors make known where the victims [of … kidnapping, disappearance and force disappearance] can be found.  How did it happen, and why?”

2. “We request greater involvement of all of the victims in the constitution and execution of the Truth Commission; likewise we demand the clarification of the cases without prejudice as to which particular armed group [committed them]”.

3.”We demand the creation of public spaces so that the victims can be listened to, and where we can give evidence of what has happened as a guarantee of non-repetition.”

On the right to justice:

4. “We demand timely information on the status of investigations, and agility in judicial processes.”

5. “We demand a transitional justice whose goal is the guarantee of the rights of victims, and not the rights of the victimizers, as happened in the framework of the Justice and Peace Law.”

6.“If you do not guarantee the rights of the victims, we express our intent to take our cases to international authorities.”

 Church Goes to Havana, Explores Potential Role at the Peace Table

In early August, Msr. Luis Augusto Castro, the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, announced that members of the church leadership would travel to Havana to assess the support that the Pope and the Vatican might provide to the peace process.  The upcoming visit of Pope Francisco to Cuba on September 19-22 on his way to the United States offers a potential opportunity for direct engagement with the parties at the peace table.  Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit Cuba and his trip is a primarily seen as a way to  recognize the improved U.S. – Cuba relationship–and the role that the Vatican and the pope played in the 18 months of secret negotiations that contributed to that improvement.  (See the phenomenal story by Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande here.)  Nonetheless, many Colombians are hoping that the Pope’s visit to Cuba will also offer an opportunity for the Pope to give support to the peace process.  In this regard, members of the Colombian church, lead by the head of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference  Msr. Augusto Castro, traveled to Havana in mid-August to meet with the parties and discuss whether it would be advantageous for the Pope to meet with the parties or to send a delegate to participate in the peace talks. (Read more here.)

New Legal Advisory Team on Justice Issues

To facilitate the technical aspects of the emerging agreements on justice, each of the negotiating teams named three new judicial advisors to come work with the peace table in  Havana.  The two legal teams include:

For the Government:

  • Juan Carlos Henao, ex-President of the Constitutional Court and rector of the Externado University in Colombia
  • Manuel José Cepeda, ex-President of the Constitutional Court and advisor for the 1991 Constitution
  • Douglas Cassel, international human rights professor at the University of Notre Dame.

For the FARC:

  • Alvaro Leyva, Conservative Party politician and long-time advocate and facilitator of Colombian peace processes
  • Diego Martínez Castillo, human rights lawyer and Exec. Director of the Comité Permanente Por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos
  • Enrique Santiago, Spanish Communist Party and United Left leader and human rights lawyer.

The advisors will join a team of judicial advisors in Havana already in place since last year and provide technical assistance to each of the teams at the peace table as they continue to refine their agreements on the subject of victims and transitional justice.  The new advisors have already held several working sessions and are expected to ensure that whatever solutions are designed will meet both international human rights standards and victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.  The eventual formula is expected to be an integrated solution that includes restorative justice approaches.

UNSG Names Jean Arnault as Delegate to the Talks

On August 14, President Santos announced that the seasoned mediator Jean Arnault would serve as the United Nations Secretary General’s delegate at the peace table in Havana in response to an earlier request by the parties for technical support from the UNSG and UNASUR. (View Santos’s statement here.)  Arnault will participate in the upcoming technical meetings of the Commission on Ending the Conflict, which is  deliberating on the mechanisms related to a definitive, bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.  Arnault brings deep experience from the peace process in Guatemala, where he was a facilitator in  the peace process before being named as head of the UN MINUGUA delegation to verify the Guatemalan peace accords.   Arnold has also served as a special advisor for the group of friends for a democratic Pakistan, and as UN special representative in Afghanistan, Georgia and Burundi. (See more here.)

International Support for the Peace Talks

Just before the 39th round ended, on July 29, the Chairwoman and Whip of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus of the U.S. Congress wrote to President Santos of behalf of the Caucus to congratulate him and his Administration for “the vision and leadership you have demonstrated in seeking a negotiated settlement to end Colombia’s decades-long struggle with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).” (Read letter here.)  They urged President Santos to “ensure that the final accords satisfy the needs of victims of all armed actors to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees that the violence of the past will not return.”

A few days later, 65 Democratic legislators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, underscoring how important it is that the Colombians reach an agreement to end the last internal armed conflict in Latin America.  They welcomed the July 12 agreement to speed up the schedule and conclude negotiations, and urged support for a just solution, reparations for the victims, and an “inclusive” agreement that considers the needs of the marginalized sectors most affected by the decades-long conflict–women, Afro and indigenous populations, campesino organizations, and the millions of internally displaced Colombians. (See the letter here.)

Opportunities for international support continue to be forthcoming.  Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín, who joined the Colombian government’s negotiating team last May 28, announced recently that she would be seeking some 170 international agreements for the peace and the post-conflict on themes such as de-mining, land restitution, economic development, agriculture and fishing projects, reconciliation and peace education.  (See statement here.)


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Event on Women and Reconciliation in Colombia

July 13, 2015


You are cordially invited to join a discussion on women working for reconciliation in Colombia, transitional justice, and psycho-social support for victims of the Colombian conflict. The program will be part of the Colombia Peace Forum at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and will take place this Wednesday, July 15, from 2-4:30 pm EST/ 1:00-3:30 pm, Colombian time at USIP headquarters (2301 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC).  The program will be webcast live in Spanish with simultaneous translation available on-site and after the event on the web.  The program will include the participation of three members of GemPaz, the Ecumenical Group of Women Peace Builders.

To participate in the event via Twitter, the hashtag is: #ColombiaPeaceForum.


Speakers will include:

  • Virginia M. Bouvier, Senior Advisor for Latin American Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)
  • Mónica Guerrero, Steering Committee, GemPaz
  • Norma Inés Bernal, Steering Committee, GemPaz
  • Mónica Velásquez,  Project Coordinator, GemPaz

Commentators will include:

  • Kathleen Kuehnast, Senior Advisor for Gender and Peacebuilding, Center for Governance, Law and Society, USIP
  • Susan Hayward, Director, Center for Religion and Peacebuilding, USIP
  • James Patton, Executive Vice Presidente, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD)
  • Elizabeth “Lili” Cole, Senior Advisor, Jennings Randolph Fellowship, Center for Applied Conflict Research, USIP
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