Stars Move into Alignment for the Peace Accords: Heading toward the Finish Line in Cuba

February 1, 2016

Last week was a banner week for Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos.  The UN Security Council, Latin American and Caribbean leaders from across the hemisphere, and the European Union all stepped up to the plate in support of the peace process in Colombia.  President Barack Obama and officials across the U.S. government are preparing to host President Santos for an official working visit this week in which fifteen years of strong bilateral relations under Plan Colombia will be celebrated.  Meanwhile, the peace process continues to move ahead in Havana, apparently energized by the recently approved UN Security Council resolution, and on track for a March 23 deadline.  The peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC have been working in parallel and joint talks resumed today in Havana.  Momentum is gathering, the stars seem to be coming into alignment, and a new peace constellation is beginning to emerge.

U.N. Approves Political Mission for Colombia

On Jan. 25, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 2261, by which it agreed to establish a UN political mission in Colombia that will oversee a definitive bilateral ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, and the setting aside of arms by the FARC rebels.  The twelve-month political mission, renewable by request of the parties, will be set up upon the signing of a final peace agreement.  As per the request by President Santos on behalf of both parties, the UN will coordinate a tripartite mechanism with the participation of both the Colombian government and the FARC.  It will be headed by a special representative of the Secretary-General.  The final peace accord is expected to provide more detail on the scope and mandate of the mission.

tumblr_inline_o1qjswU8SH1t4hvkd_500In its resolution, the Security Council called on the Secretary-General to initiate preparations now and to make recommendations within 30 days of the signing of a ceasefire agreement on the “size, operational aspects and mandate of the mission, consistent with the Joint Communiqué.”  It also requested that the Secretary-General “report on implementation of the mission’s mandate every 90 days after the start of its activities,” and agreed that the endeavor would include observers from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC),  as per the parties’ request.

The Security Council session last Monday lasted just short of an hour, with interventions from representatives of all five permanent members of the Security Council (United Kingdom, United States, Russian Federation, China,  France) as well as Colombia, Venezuela, Spain, New Zealand, Japan, Ukraine, Malaysia, Angola, Egypt and Senegal.  In her remarks, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers noted, “Forging a lasting peace agreement will not resolve all of Colombia’s challenges, nor will it instantly help heal the deep wounds inflicted over the last five decades. It cannot undo what happened …  But if the fighting truly ends, then a new and long overdue chapter can finally begin.

The Security Council resolution was unusual for a number of reasons:

  1.  The resolution was co-sponsored by all of the permanent members of the Security Council, something that has happened only 14 times in the 60-year history of the Council, and was approved unanimously by the entire council.
  2. The request was made by both parties of the conflict for an unarmed UN mission through the UN Security Council.  Ordinarily such requests go through the General Assembly.  Of the 16 Peacekeeping Missions and the 38 special political missions approved by the UN, only three have gone through the UN Security Council.
  3. The resolution was expedited and approved without the Security Council knowing the exact content of the final accord that will shape UN engagement.
  4. The proposal from the Colombian government and the FARC was approved a mere 6 days after President Santos sent the letter of request to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Security Council.

The quick turnaround was likely attributable to the considerable preparatory work and strong diplomatic skill that laid the groundwork for the resolution’s approval, as well as the impending deadline of March 23 for agreement by the parties on a final peace accord.  President Santos had previously secured support from Ban Ki-Moon and members of the Permanent Council for such an initiative.  In addition, Jean Arnault, the UN Secretary General’s special representative, has been participating in the talks in Havana since last August and providing counsel on shaping and making such a request.

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar poses for photographers with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York. January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar poses for photographers with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York. January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Two women on Colombia’s diplomatic team were key to the resolution’s approval.  Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín, who joined the government negotiating team in Havana back in May 2015 as a plenipotentiary, was particularly instrumental in the design and negotiation of the joint Colombian government-FARC proposal to the UN Security Council.  Foreign Minister Holguín, a career service diplomat who served previously as an Ambassador to the United Nations, and Ambassador María Emma Mejía, Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and one of Colombia’s few women negotiators in Colombia’s previous peace talks under President Andrés Pastrana, worked together to secure co-sponsorship and unanimous passage of the resolution in New York.  Together the two women negotiated a resolution that explicitly respects Colombian sovereignty, brings in a respected third party with strong international heft, and grants a role for both the Colombian government and the FARC on the verification team the UN will lead, as well as the option to extend the mandate after the first twelve months. In sum, the women secured a commitment from the UN to fund and set up an unarmed political mission that gives the Colombians tremendous latitude in shaping the mission and in moving it forward.

CELAC Approval

Following the Colombian success at the United Nations, the scenario turned to Quito, Ecuador, where, on January 27, President Santos attended the CELAC summit of the heads of state and government from throughout the hemisphere gathered for their fourth annual meeting. The CELAC assembly issued a declaration welcoming the commitment of the Colombian government and the FARC to ending the conflict and building a stable peace, applauding the recent UN Security Council resolution, and pledging to contribute observers to the effort, as the parties had requested.  It declared, “The definitive end of the conflict in Colombia will benefit the entire region and reaffirms the goals agreed to by the CELAC Heads of State and of Government in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, adopted in Havana, Cuba, on January 28 and 29 of 2014.” (Read the statement here.)

EU Stepping up to the Plate

Days later, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo and FARC delegation head Iván Márquez appeared via teleconference before a meeting of the European Parlament.  View portions of the teleconference below:

Upcoming Visit to Washington

Meanwhile, D.C. is abuzz with the imminent visit of President Santos.  The visit is being billed as a working trip, with a range of activities at the White House and on the Hill, a lunch with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a public meeting being co-sponsored by five think-tanks– the U.S. Institute of Peace, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Council of the Americas, and Atlantic Council.  You can join the conversation on Twitter at #SantosDC and tune in here live for the public event on Wednesday, February 3, from about 9:45-11:30 am EST.  For more information and to view the broadcast live from the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in downtown D.C. check back here at the time of the event.…


Live streaming video by Ustream


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Parties Fine-Tune Strategies to Reach Peace Deal

January 25, 2016

With the self-imposed deadline for a final peace deal only two months away, the Colombian peace talks have shifted into high gear.  Last Tuesday, the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC called on the UN Security Council to approve a one-year, renewable, unarmed political mission to monitor and verify with the parties an anticipated bilateral ceasefire, and to oversee the cessation of hostilities, and setting aside of arms.

Days later, the international community began to respond.  UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq confirmed receipt of the request, commended “the advance made between the Government and the FARC,” and noted that the United Nations stood “ready to support this accord.”  Uruguayan Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, president of the Security Council in January, promised to carry out the “necessary actions” to constitute the solicited mission.  The United Kingdom reportedly sent a draft resolution to members of the Security Council that requested the Secretary-General “to initiate preparations and to present detailed recommendations to the Security Council for its consideration and approval” within 30 days of the signing of a ceasefire agreement.  Finally, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC), asked by the parties in Havana to contribute observers to the UN mission, said it will consider the request at this week’s CELAC summit in Ecuador.  There Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to join some twenty presidential counterparts from around the hemisphere.  CELAC’s participation would underscore the strong regional support that exists for a political solution to the western hemisphere’s oldest internal armed conflict.

Joint Statement Defines Schedule for Moving toward Conflict’s End

On Jan. 22, the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP reiterated their intent to reach a final agreement in Havana and announced a series of decisions to facilitate reaching an agreement to end the conflict.  In a joint statement, they announced that they would:

  1.  Create an Executive Commission, composed of plenipotentiaries from each delegation as well as additional delegation members and advisors charged with relevant themes.  The Commission will facilitate strategic approaches, make decisions to speed up the drafting and editing of agreements, and supervise the work of the peace delegations in Havana.
  2. Establish a work plan with a schedule that addresses both the remaining themes as well as those pending from agreements already reached.  The schedule will help the Executive Commission organize the remaining work in a more efficient way, supervise its development, and enable the commission to make the decisions needed to address pending issues, including the creation of new working groups.
  3. Request the heads of the subcommision that has been working for the last semester on the themes of  the “End of the Conflict”, the third agenda item in the framework agreement, to deliver the conclusions of their work to the Executive Commission no later than Saturday, Jan. 23.  (On Saturday, as requested, high-level military leaders from the government and the FARC who sit on the technical subcommission on the End of the Conflict led by General Javier Flórez for the government and Carlos Antonio Lozada for the FARC submitted the report containing the subcommission’s proposals.  It was reported to include proposals related to the technical and logistical operations for the final stages of the war, including procedures for turning in weapons, the transfer of insurgents to zones for disarming, verification procedures for the cessation of hostilities, and security guarantees for demobilizing combatants.
  4. Request that, as quickly as possible, the gender subcommision finish its review from a gender perspective of the agreements on agrarian development, political participation, and illicit crops and drugtrafficking–points 1, 2, and 4, respectively, of the general framework agreement guiding the peace talks in Havana.

Shift in Methodology

In their joint statement, the parties also confirmed that the delegations will work without interruption in a continuous cycle and the government delegation will remain in Havana for the duration of the talks as needed.  Meeting days will be planned in a way that facilitates the exchange of specific proposals on the remaining themes, which are all linked.  The  delegations may work separately for several days and then call on the Executive Commission whenever it might be necessary.  The parties promised to keep the guarantor and accompanying nations informed of the work of the Executive Commission and the working groups.

New Forum Solicited

The parties, furthermore, called on the United Nations in Colombia and the Centro de Pensamiento y Seguimiento al Diálogos de Paz of the Universidad Nacional to organize and coordinate as quickly as possible a final forum on the two major items remaining on the agenda from the framework agreement, namely, “End of the Conflict” and “Implementation, Verification, and Endorsement” of the Accords.

New Communications and Educational Strategies

Likewise, the parties committed to creating a joint communications strategy and a pedagogy aimed at disseminating the contents of the agreements reached so far with the Colombian public.  In recent weeks, FARC peace delegates were authorized to return to Colombia to begin to familiarize FARC troops with the agreements being made in Havana and to respond to their questions.

FARC Prisoners Join Delegation in Havana

This week, four of the 30 FARC prisoners pardoned in the context of the ongoing peace negotiations are preparing to travel to Havana.  (See “Ya son 24 los guerrilleros…”).  There they have been authorized by the Colombian government to receive information on the content of the accords in order to prepare themselves to undertake a process of pedagogy and dissemination of the accords, according to the communiqué issued by the Office of the High Commissioner on January 21.  The communiqué explains that the decision to grant a pardon to 30 insurgents, following a thorough review to ensure they had not committed any war crimes, was made within the constitutional and legal faculties granted to the government.  The move was a unilateral gesture by the government made after “evaluating the FARC’s compliance of the unilateral ceasefire, the consequent decrease in violence, and the advances of the [peace] process.”  (Read the full statement here.)

A Heavy Lift

There are no guarantees that agreements on all of the pending issues can be reached by March.  Nonetheless, it is clear that both the government and the FARC are prepared to give it their best shot.  In their recent communiqué, the parties ended with their hope that “these first decisions of the year … will allow us to conclude the Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable, Lasting Peace.”   The lift is heavy, but the will of the parties is strong.  In any case, an upswing in activity at and around the table in coming weeks can be expected.

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Peace Talks with FARC Leap Forward: UN/CELAC Invited to Assist

January 20, 2016

Yesterday, the peace delegations of the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP, meeting in Havana for their 46th cycle of talks, took another major leap toward ending Colombia’s internal armed conflict.  In a  joint communiqué, the parties announced that they were asking the United Nations, with support from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to support the creation of a mechanism to verify and implement a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, and to oversee the setting aside of weapons.  The UN brings to the task considerable global experience in such matters, and CELAC will provide engagement that will underscore regional political support for the process.

The anticipated mechanism will be tripartite in nature, consisting of an international component and the two parties at the peace table.  The parties’ decision to call on the international community to assist in what would be the final stages of Colombia’s armed conflict is a welcome and auspicious sign that the end to this phase of the peace process with the FARC is near.

In a statement last night, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he had just sent a letter requesting the UN support to the President of the UN Security Council and to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  (Read Santos’s statement here.)  Santos clarified that he was not asking for the armed UN peace-keepers commonly referred to as “blue helmets,” but for a team of unarmed observers, who would be selected by the UN, in consultation with Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations.  Santos noted that Colombia was not asking the Security Council to resolve Colombia’s problems, but to “contribute to the solution of a conflict of more than half a century that we ourselves are resolving.” He underscored that if the UN accepts to undertake the verification mission, as would be expected, it would assume the costs of said endeavor and the Council would ensure continued guarantee international support for ending the conflict and credibility to the disarmament process.  Late last year, President Santos had paved the way for Security Council engagement and spoke with the heads of state and government of United Kingdom, United States, Russia, China, and France, who together constitute the five permanent members of the Security Council.  At the time, the FARC delegation objected to the unilateral engagement on the issue without the explicit consent of both sides of the peace table.

Yesterday, Humberto de la Calle, head of the government peace delegation, called the moment “determinant,” noting that the new agreement “is not only the beginning of an international procedure, but it is an unequivocal demonstration of the desire to put an end to the confrontation.” (See his statement here.)  He recognized the “invaluable contribution” of Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín in the crafting of the new agreement. Holguín had joined the government delegation as a plenipotentiary in May of 2015.

Likewise, the FARC-EP peace delegation, announcing that the conversations “have entered a definitive stage,” declared the decision to solicit international verification and monitoring to be “a strong signal and happy premonition that the peace process of Colombia is heading inexorably toward the end of the longest conflict on the continent.”  (See FARC-EP statement here.)

Comunicado Conjunto # 65

In the January 19 joint communiqué, the parties reiterated their commitment to reach a final accord to end the conflict and to establish a definitive, bilateral ceasefire and mechanisms for the setting aside of arms.  They also underscored their commitment to implement all of the agreements contained in the Final Accord and to put into place effective mechanisms for monitoring and verification, with international accompaniment, that would guarantee full compliance with the commitments undertaken in the agreements.

The international entity would “oversee and coordinate the mechanism in all its instances, settle controversies, carry out recommendations, and present reports,” the parties agreed.  It would begin work as soon as an agreement is reached, and would also verify the terms and guarantees for the setting aside of weapons in accordance with the protocols to be established in the agreement.

The parties in Havana agreed that the international entity will be a political mission of the United Nations that will be composed of observers from CELAC member countries.  Santos clarified in his remarks last night that mission participants will not be drawn from neighboring countries. For this reason, the parties requested Security Council assistance to launch the political mission, with unarmed observers, for a 12-month period.  The mandate would be  renewable at the request of the FARC-EP and the Colombian government.  The parties likewise called on the member countries of CELAC to signal their willingness to contribute to said UN mission.

The parties urged the Mission to begin the necessary preparations for its deployments, in close coordination and collaboration with the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.  They offered the international observers full security guarantees.

Gestures of Peace

Since the prior cycle of talks that ended with the accord on victims on Dec. 15, 2015, this holiday season has not provided much down time for the peace teams. On January 7, the government’s negotiating team met in Cartagena with four international advisors; the Ministers of Defense, Interior, Post-Conflict and Presidency; and the commanders of the Armed Forces, the Army and the Police to evaluate the state of the peace talks peace and to  strategize about the upcoming session in Havana.  In the meeting, the Minister for Post-Conflict, Rafael Pardo, presented a plan for the next phase leading up to a plebiscite.  The Colombian press reported that Pardo’s plan would speed up reparations for victims in 28 municipalities that have been hardest hit by the violence.  The plan reportedly contemplates broadening the joint FARC-Army de-mining initiatives and embarking on public education campaigns to another 20 municipalities.  A second pilot de-mining process, following an earlier pilo in Antioquia, began on January 15 in the department of Meta. Subsequent to the meeting, President Juan Manuel Santos called on the parties in Havana to stay in permanent session, abandoning the usual interruption between cycles, until a final accord is complete.

Both peace delegations have continued to consolidate and implement what had already been agreed to at the table and they have intensified preparations to reach further agreements. The theme of ending the conflict continues to be the primary focus of discussions in Havana.  Still to come are the discussions about the mechanism for endorsing whatever final peace accord is reached.

In the latest round of talks that began on January 13, we continue to see gestures indicating a commitment to seeing the process through from both the government and the FARC-EP.  The government announced, as follow-up to agreements reached in Havana last November, the release this week of a first group of sixteen (among a total of 30) FARC prisoners.  All of the pardoned prisoners were detained for the crime of rebellion and related crimes, and none have charges of war crimes or other serious human rights offenses against them.  On their release, they will enter a government reintegration program.  They will be prohibited from re-joining the FARC.  (See El Colombiano article on their release here.)

Advances on Disappearances 

Following the government’s recognition and assumption of responsibilities for disappearances in a ceremony in December (see my related blog here), government authorities in Bogota have moved forward with the creation of a new genetic database that will provide the first “Laboratory for Genetic Forensics for Peace”.  On Dec. 29, authorities from the Institute for Legal Medicine (Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses) met with officials from the Office of the Mayor of Bogota in order to fine-tune details for a genetic database (Banco de Perfiles Genéticos) at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Bogota.  The database, established last year by Decree 303 will “implement a group of measures that contribute to the locating, identifying, burial, and tribute to victims of the crime of forced disappearance.” (See here for more information.)

International Gestures

On Sunday, January 17, members of the two delegations met with Cuban President Raúl Castro, who urged the parties to continue to advance toward completion of the final agreement.  Likewise, the Pope continues to voice his support for peace in Colombia.  The President of the World Bank visited Colombia last week, praised Colombia‘s economic successes and the economic benefits that peace would bring, and pledged the Bank’s support for the post-conflict period.

Furthermore, President Santos is preparing for a State visit on Feb. 3-4 to the United States, at the invitation of President Barak Obama.  The U.S. Institute of Peace, along with four other organizations  (Wilson Center, Atlantic Council, Council of the Americas, and Inter-American Dialogue) will be hosting his only public appearance.  (To watch the event, tune in here for the live webcast.)

Time for the ELN to Step Up to the Plate?

Finally, additional gestures from the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) suggest that the formalization of peace talks with the ELN, which have been in an exploratory phase for two years, may not be far behind.  Yesterday, the ELN released 15 fishermen who had been detained last Friday in the south of Bolívar for presumably fishing in prohibited waters.  (See story here.) Earlier this week,  the Colombian government authorized the search for the remains of ELN founder Camilo Torres, who was killed in combat 50 years ago, a gesture that was welcomed by the ELN. President Santos explicitly noted that the  move was meant as a peace gesture.  “I hope that very soon we will be able to sit with the ELN to initiate this peace process, just as we have advanced with the FARC, and that we will be able to completely put an end to the armed conflict in Colombia,” he said. (See his statement here.)  The year is off to a good start…






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Picking Up the Pace at the Peace Table: Round 46 Begins in Havana

January 13, 2016

Cycle 46 Begins

The peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP met today in Havana for their 46th round of peace talks.  This round is the first of the new year. Launched in the aftermath of a holiday recess following the parties’  successful completion of an accord on victims in mid-December, spirits are optimistic that 2016 will be a good year for peace.  With agreements now reached on four of the six items on the agenda–agrarian development, political participation, and drugs and illicit crops, as well as the recently concluded chapter on  victims–the negotiators are now turning to the final two items on their docket.  The end of the process in Havana is in sight.

The Pending Agenda

In the current cycle, the parties are seeking to reach  agreements on the terms for ending the conflict, including among other things, the terms and verification process for a definitive bilateral ceasefire; the procedures and mechanisms for the setting aside of weapons;  and the demobilization or concentration of the guerrillas and their reintegration into civilian life.  A final point on the agenda will include the development of mechanisms for endorsing, monitoring, and implementing the final agreement.  A plethora of other issues, put on the back burner in the course of just over three years of negotiations, will also need to be revisited.

A Looming Deadline

On Friday, January 8, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered his negotiating team to “step on the accelerator” (see the President’s statement here) in order to meet the March 23rd deadline for a final peace deal agreed to last September at the dramatic, first-time, public meeting in Havana between President Santos and Timoleón Jiménez (aka ‘Timochenko’), the commander-in-chief of the FARC.  With only 70 days to go to bring the promise to fruition, the pressure is on.  There is some expectation that the methodology of the talks will change and the parties are now expected to meet without interruption until a final peace deal is struck.

Reality Check

Political will is at an all-time high, but even so, the March deadline may prove elusive.  While many of the most contentious topics have now been addressed at the peace table, the complexity and importance of the remaining topics should not be underestimated. Appropriate and adequate independent monitoring of ceasefires is essential to their effective functioning, and inadequate attention to implementation mechanisms is a surefire way back to conflict.  Considerable discussion will be required before consensus on these and other topics can be crafted.  Where international engagement is required (as would be the case if a third party such as the UN Security Council were to be engaged), institutional limits and timetables would enter into play.  Finally, finalizing agreements between long-time adversaries and selling them to constituencies simply takes time.

Preparations for Peace

Within Colombia, meanwhile, there are a multitude of preparations that must be undertaken before a peace deal can take effect. The Congress and the Constitutional Court will play key roles in this next period, as they will prepare the legal and legislative scaffolding necessary for approving, advancing and implementing the commitments made at the peace table.  These internal processes will also have their own time tables and calendars that are independent of the deadlines set in Havana.

President Santos announced in early January that he will convene extraordinary sessions of the Congress to consider presidential faculties to facilitate the implementation of agreements reached in Havana related to the demobilization, disarming, and concentration of the FARC in whichever zones the parties in Havana might propose in the coming months.  Such faculties, which could include suspending arrest warrants for FARC members once a peace accord is signed, will require the modification of Law 418 (Ley de Orden Público).

Similarly, the Constitutional Court will meet at the end of March and is expected to consider the constitutionality of a plebiscite mechanism to approve the peace accords once they are finalized in Havana.  The plebiscite mechanism, nonetheless, has yet to be discussed at the peace table or to be accepted by the FARC, which has long supported an alternative constituent assembly.  Although the endorsement mechanism has yet to be defined at the table, Colombian politicians are beginning to educate the public about the nature of a plebiscite.

Deadline Unrealistic?

The March 23 deadline provides an important goal post and the parties show every sign of their intent to meet the deadline.  They are clearly working toward that goal, though leaders on both sides have privately confessed that the deadline appears increasingly unrealistic.  While most would love to see a final peace agreement by March 23–or sooner–it is nonetheless important that the negotiators take the time they require to reach good, solid agreements–ones that they can feel confident that their constituencies can support.

The negotiators should learn from the recent past.  A premature announcement by the parties last September that a justice accord had been reached before both sides were fully on board set the current peace process back by more than two months.  It would be better to have a slight delay in presenting a final peace deal in order to ensure that all agreements are  thoroughly discussed and vetted by the parties than to meet the deadline with an agreement that needs to be re-negotiated down the road.

That said, there is no time to lose.  The urgency of the process requires the parties to maintain a steady and accelerated pace  in order to maintain public support.  This support will be required for the endorsement and implementation of the agreements.  Only then will the task of finally putting an end to half a century of war in Colombia be possible.


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Accord on Disappeared Shows First Results

Dec. 17, 2015

Two months after the government and the FARC-EP reached an accord on “immediate humanitarian measures for the search, location, identification and dignified return of the remains of persons given to be disappeared” by the armed conflict, and just two days after the parties signed an agreement on victims, concrete actions in Colombia are beginning to fulfill the promises made at the peace table in Cuba.

Remains Returned

On Dec. 17, authorities of the Colombian Attorney General’s office returned the remains of 29 people who disappeared in the war to family members in Villavicencio in the department of Meta.  Some 200 people from the departments of Meta, Boyacá, Vaupés and Valle del Cauca participated in a religious ceremony in Villavicencio to mark the occasion.  The remains, until recently unidentified, were found buried in cemeteries in La Macarena, Granada, Vistahermosa, San José del Guaviare cemeteries. Some of the families had had no news in a decade of what had happened to their loved ones.

Desaperecidos 3

Ceremony for the Return of Remains of 29 Disappeared (Photo Courtesy of Office of the High Commissioner of Peace)

In a communiqué released by the Office of the President in Colombia, Hugo Darío Maldonado, brother of one of those whose remains were found, tells what the return of the remains meant to him.  He says, “Despite the pain and anguish, we have tranquility.  Pain because our family members are no longer [with us].  Anguish to know who did it and why they did it.  Tranquility because we now have a place to pay our respects (llevar las plegarias).  We have to go forward in the hopes of seeing prompt and immediate reparation and investigation of the facts of all this, psycho-social accompaniment and, God willing, the search for the thousands of disappeared who are missing will continue.”

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A Day of Miracle and Wonder in the Colombian Peace Talks

Havana, Cuba

December 16, 2015

The 45th cycle of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP that began last Thursday (Dec. 10) ended on Tuesday, December 15th with a press conference in the Salón de Protocolo of El Laguito, the private high-security residence in Havana where the talks are being held. The mood was simultaneously festive and somber, as the government and FARC-EP delegations made public their long-awaited joint agreement on victims. This was the fourth comprehensive accord to be reached on the six-point agenda that the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) laid out in the framework agreement in August 2012.  Two final points on the agenda will be picked up in January after the holiday season. These include the terms for a bilateral ceasefire, the setting aside of weapons, and ending the conflict; as well as the final item on the mechanisms and procedures for endorsement, verification and monitoring of the agreements reached.  This second set of issues has yet to be discussed at the peace tables.

At just past nine o’clock on Tuesday morning, ten victims–selected and accompanied by the Catholic Bishops Conference, the United Nations, and the Centro de Pensamiento of the National University–arrived at El Laguito, where they were greeted by the Cuban delegation and representatives of the other nations accompanying the peace talks. While they waited for the event to begin, the victims socialized briefly among themselves and with the government and rebel peace delegations.  The delegations then passed into an adjoining room, where the press awaited news of the accord.

The government delegation, headed by Humberto de la Calle, sat on the left side of a hollow square facing the delegation of the FARC-EP, led by Iván Márquez. The respective delegations and a variety of advisors sat behind them. The press had set up their cameras and staked out the open area between the parties opposite the head table.

The victims’ delegation filed in and took their places at the head table. They included Yanette Bautista Montañez, Luz Marina Bernal Parra, Luis Mendita Ovalle, Marison Garzón Forero, Wilfrido Landa Caicedo, Debora Barros Fince, Alan Jara Urzola, Piedad Córdoba, Alfonso Mora León and Janeth Bedoya.  At each of their places, a large white candle burned.

Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, presided at the center of the head table, flanked by Rodolfo Benitez and Dag Nylander, guarantors of the process from Cuba and Norway, respectively. Once all the participants were in their places, there was a hush as the Cuban violinist José Luis Rubio performed Franz Schubert’s “Ave María”. His interpretation would have melted the hardest of hearts.

The performance was followed by a charged moment of silence to remember the victims of the conflict. Then, as has often been the custom at the close of a cycle of talks, Rodolfo Benítez and Dag Nylander read aloud the joint communiqué that was reached by the parties. (Read the communiqué here.)  The communiqué announced a new, long-awaited accord on victims, crafted over the last year and a half, and representing resolution of some of the most difficult issues facing the negotiators in Colombia’s internal armed conflict.

Humberto de la Calle and Iván Márquez welcomed the “good news” represented by the new agreement on victims. Each thanked the victims and the various other parties who had helped make the agreement possible. They underscored the “crucial role” of the victims, who have been at the “center of gravity” of the talks. The satisfaction of victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition, the negotiators underscored, has been key to the peace process and victims participation and proposals have shaped the agreements being forged in Havana. 

The Victims Respond

Following the reading of the joint communiqué and the ceremonial signing of the agreement by the guarantors and the lead negotiators for each party, the microphone was given to the victims’ delegation. The delegation included victims of the guerrillas, paramilitaries and the state. Among the group were victims of forced displacement, kidnapping, sexual violence, forced disappearances, massacres, and extrajudicial executions. The victims  came from different regions, ethnicities, and genders. Women constituted sixty percent of the delegation, a similar proportion to prior victims’ delegations to Cuba. Despite their many differences, however, the victims  were united in their call for peace and their conviction that only through dialogue and reconciliation will peace be possible.

Jineth Bedoya, a well-known journalist, victim of sexual violence, and leader of a movement in Colombia against violence against women, served as a spokesperson for the group. She read a communiqué on behalf of the victims’ delegation.

The victims came to Cuba “to be active witnesses” to the signing of the accord, Bedoya noted, and they celebrate that the parties “have found a way to recognize us after so many decades of impunity.” The victims’ endorsement of the peace process does not mean that they will renounce “justice, reparations, and above all, the truth,” the declaration clarified. The victims will be “attentive monitors for the strict compliance of the accords that are signed.” The statement clarified that the delegation was not privy to the content of the agreement prior to being invited to Cuba.

The communiqué called on the government and the FARC to increase their efforts to educate about the peace process, and underscored the commitment of the victims who had participated in the various delegations to Havana to play a role in the dissemination and implementation of the accords reached. “We know that our role goes beyond that of being a group of people marked by violence. We are social protagonists of a new country,” the communiqué read.

The statement noted that the participation of the victims in the process in Havana had brought both stigmatization and death threats for which no investigations have been undertaken. Such investigations would provide an “example” of the guarantees of non-repetition.

“Although the parties expressed their commitment to integrating a gender perspective throughout the process,” the communiqué read, “we view with sadness the absence of women at the negotiating table. This, without a doubt, will directly affect the guarantees that we women have demanded.”

Finally, the communiqué noted that the victims are offering a tremendous gesture of generosity in presenting their willingness to countenance reconciliation. “We believe in you and we want the country to believe in the peace accord,” Bedoya read. “If you fail, you will not fail us, but you will fail the history of Colombia.”

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Colombian Accord on Victims Sets the Stage for a New Year

Havana, Cuba

December 16, 2015

Tuesday’s historic accord on victims explicitly seeks to ensure the rights of victims through an Integrated System of Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Non Repetition.   According to the joint communiqué issued by the government and FARC-EP delegations on Dec. 15 as they closed their 45th cycle of peace talks, this innovative system begins with the explicit recognition of victims as “citizens with rights.”

Integrated System for Victims’ Rights

The accord takes as its compass a Declaration on Principles formed by the parties in June 2014, at the beginning of the delegation’s discussions on the topic of victims. The system forges a complex and integrated set of institutions and frameworks meant to satisfy the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition. This new architecture for peace includes both judicial measures for the investigation and sanction of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and complementary extrajudicial measures to clarify what happened, locate those persons who disappeared in the context of the conflict, and provide individual and collective reparations to those persons and regions harmed by the conflict.

In the presentation of the accords on Dec. 15, lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle noted that the agreement will provide restorative measures, accountability, and juridical security.  Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez underscored that this is the “first peace accord that has not closed with a general amnesty, but with the creation of justice for all human rights violations.”

Special Jurisdiction for Peace

Among the judicial measures is a Special Jurisdiction for Peace, constituted by a special tribunal for peace and justice courts.  Details of this Special Jurisdiction for Peace, announced somewhat prematurely last Sept. 23 (see my previous posts), were clarified in the parties’  joint communiqué and the accompanying 63-page agreement that constitutes the provisional draft of the agreement on victims. (None of the agreements reached thus far on the four agenda items will be considered final until the full agreement is signed.)

Particularly contentious items had included the terms for the appointment of judges on the Special Tribunal for Peace, and the extent of the tribunal’s jurisdiction over ex-Presidents.  These and other pending issues (including reparations) have been clarified, though there are still some minor points that have been put on a back burner along with the other “salvedades” from previous agreements.

No “Exchange of Impunities”

The new Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) presumes the innocence of those charged and has jurisdiction over all those who directly or indirectly participated in the conflict, including guerrillas as well as State agents or other parties.   The parties promise that there will not be an “exchange of impunities” and that those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as well as those accused of common crimes, will be investigated, prosecuted, and punished.

The United Nations issued a statement recognizing the particular value of the differential approach of the accord, particularly with regard to women’s rights.  The Special Jurisdiction for Peace specifically rejected amnesty for sexual violence.

The justice system outlined on Tuesday privileges truth-telling and the assumption of responsibility by those who participated directly or indirectly in the conflict and became involved in human rights violations or infractions of international humanitarian law.  In the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, those who fail to provide the truth or accept responsibility for their criminal actions will face 15 to 20 years of jail time.  Those who delay coming clean before they are sentenced will be sentenced to 5-8 years in jail.

Reduced alternative sentences of 5-8 years of “effective restriction of liberty and rights” will be granted to those who fully assume responsibility for their crimes, provide the full truth of what happened, and carry out reparative actions.  Where and how the “effective restrictions of liberty” will be enacted have not been specified, though government negotiator Humberto de la Calle noted that there would be appropriate monitoring mechanisms “according to the particularities of each case” and in keeping with the spirit of the agreement. (See El Espectador, “Acuerdo sobre victimas busca cerrar heridas de decadas”, Dec. 15, 2015.)

Amnesties for Political Crimes

On the other hand, the parties’  integrated system provides “the broadest possible” amnesty and pardons for “political” and “related” crimes.  These measures conform with standards of international and national law.  Political crimes include the crime of rebellion, which traditionally has received amnesty under Colombian law.

An amnesty law is anticipated to determine the scope of the crimes that would be covered in the transitional justice system. Related crimes will likely include drugtrafficking and other crimes committed in the service of the rebellion.

Investigations and Dismantling of Criminal Bands

The agreement on victims provides additional  judicial measures, such as a new unit for the investigation and dismantling of criminal organizations and their networks.  This would cover those successor groups that emerged following the demobilization of paramilitary groups.

Other Mechanisms for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-Repetition

In addition to the retributive justice demanded under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the accord on victims emphasizes restorative justice and reparations. (See El Espectador article summarizing reparations here.)  The accord calls for integrated reparations that will complement agreements already reached on rural development, political participation, and cultivation of illicit crops.  Such reparations will  favor the populations, collectives, and territories that have been most affected by the conflict.

A Commission for Clarifying Truth, Harmony (Convivencia), and Non-Repetition will be launched once a final agreement is reached.  This truth commission will draw on the work of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims, established by the parties at the peace table.  Their  reports on the origins, causes, and impacts of the conflict were issued in Feb. 2015 and will constitute “fundamental inputs” for the truth commission, noted Iván Márquez, head of the FARC delegation.  “Without truth,” noted Márquez at the launch of the Victims Accord, “reconciliation is not possible.”

Likewise, a special unit for the location of persons who disappeared in the conflict will be established.  In recent months, the parties have agreed on  protocols and measures for other restorative measures.  These include  clearing the land of mines and other explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance; these measures are already being implemented jointly by the Colombian Army and FARC-EP soldiers in the departments of Antioquia and Meta.

Vision for the Future

The accord on victims is forward thinking. It calls explicitly for measures to prevent re-victimization and repetition, encourages society to reject war, to secure the end of the conflict, and to “impede the emergence of new forms of violence.”   It assumes peace as “the all-encompassing right (derecho síntesis) of all human rights,” said Iván Márquez.

The Accord heralds hope for the new year.  As Humberto de la Calle said in his closing statement when the accord was made public, “the face of peace is beginning to appear.  Peace is possible.  It is time to believe.”

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