Although civil society is not represented at Colombia’s peace table in Havana, the parties have sought to engage civil society since the talks began through a variety of controlled mechanisms. In this post, I will mainly discuss these “official” venues, recognizing that there has been an explosion of additional civil society initiatives within and across diverse sectors that also seek to influence the peace process.
The “General Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable, Durable Peace,” signed in Havana, Cuba on August 26, 2012, anticipated roles for civil society that have been fleshed out as the talks have proceeded. The peace process is a response to “the clamor of the population for peace,” notes the preamble to the Agreement, and the parties proclaim moreover that “the building of peace is a matter for the entire society and requires the participation of everyone, without distinction.” The August 2012 framework agreement anticipated three general vehicles for civil participation in the process. They established mechanisms for receiving proposals electronically and in person, and anticipated direct consultations (possibly conducted by a third party), and consultations with experts. These mechanisms have evolved over the course of the past months.
Generating Proposals Online and through Local Authorities
First, the parties jointly established a webpage on the peace process at mesadeconversaciones.com.co. This vehicle has allowed the public to provide direct inputs to the table. The website gathered more than three thousand proposals in its first hours, and has generated some five hundred proposals on the land issue, the first item on the agreed peace agenda. The webpage also provides a mechanism for the parties to inform the public of their activities and pronouncements, but in this aspect it has been less effective than it might be, given that the site is frequently not updated in a timely manner. Ideally, the website should be a one-stop shop for locating all of the joint declarations of the parties and a calendar of the peace talks schedule.
Secondly, the parties have made provisions to receive inputs on the different peace talk agenda items via the mayors’ and governors’ offices. Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo Flórez and Sergio Jaramillo, the High Commissioner for Peace, attended the meetings of the National Federation of Municipalities in Cartagena on April 17 to receive proposals from the 600 mayors gathered there. Recognizing that the mayors are “los protagonistas del posconflicto” and key to the implementation of peace in the regions, a monthly working group at the Casa de Nariño has been established to monitor the progress of the peace process. (See related Semana article here.) Ensuring that these local government mechanisms are adequately prepared and engaged could help for smoother sailing in the aftermath of the peace process. Some lessons could be learned from the difficulties that have faced the local-level implementation of the Victims and Land Restitution Law. (Listen especially to Zoraida del Castillo’s remarks at the Land and Peace Agenda Conference and see the report, Still a Dream: Land Restitution on Colombia’s Carribbean Coast.)
A third vehicle anticipated by the framework agreement have been direct consultations carried out by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Colombia and the think-tank “Centro de Pensamiento y Seguimiento al Diálogo de Paz” of the Universidad Nacional at the request of the parties. The first of these was a forum on agrarian development policy in Bogota from December 17-19, 2012, to generate citizen inputs and proposals relevant to this first agenda item. (See “Gobierno y Farc acuerdan mecanismos de participación de sociedad civil“). The forum brought together some 1,300 academics and social organizations. Although the powerful ranchers’ association, FEDEGAN, refused to participate, the discussions provided an opportunity to initiate a national dialogue about a critical theme for Colombia’s future, and their conclusions were presented to the parties in Havana on January 8, 2013, who appeared pleased with the effort. (See FARC video.)
The parties subsequently asked the National University and the UNDP to prepare a similar forum on the next topic on the peace agenda– political participation. (“Gobierno y Farc anuncian solicitud de foro sobre participación política”). This second forum was held from April 28-30 at the Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada Convention Center in Bogotá and was webcast beginning last Sunday. It focused on the following topics defined in the framework agreement: rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition; access to communications media; democratic mechanisms for citizen participation; and effective measures for promoting more participation in national, regional, and local politics. An estimated 1,400-1,700 people–including representatives of peasant, indigenous, women, and Afro-descent organizations; political parties and movements; universities; think-tanks; media organizations; and members of the LGTBI community–participated in 20 working groups over the three-day period.
Presenters included representatives from a wide variety of Colombia’s political parties (with the exception of the Centro Democrático, the party of former President Alvaro Uribe) and the media. International experts also presented case studies on the successful transition of armed groups to political life in El Salvador, Uruguay, Philippines, and South Africa. It was notable that all of the political parties and social movements present backed the entry of the FARC into politics upon the signing of a peace agreement and called for electoral reforms. Positions varied with regard to the question of pardons, amnesties, or transitional justice mechanisms that might be employed. Some 400 proposals were collected and will be submitted, along with the presentations and a synthesis of the conclusions, to the parties in Havana on May 20 for their consideration.
The fourth and final defined avenue for civil society participation has been through invitations extended to thematic experts. Numerous representatives of government, nongovermental, and international organizations have been invited to brief the delegations in Havana on particular issues, such as the land issue. The details of these meetings, apart from a well-publicized visit by members of the Peace Commissions of the Colombian Congress Havana in early March, have tended to be private affairs.
Beyond these formally defined mechanisms, a number of other vehicles have emerged. Last October and November, the Congressional Peace Commissions (with the support of the United Nations Development Program) organized consultations (mesas de trabajo regionales) with the citizenry in nine regions of Colombia on three of the six items on the peace agenda—agrarian development, political participation, and illicit crop cultivation. (See article in Razón Pública.) The resulting recommendations were given to the ambassadors of Norway and Cuba, the two nations that serve as guarantors of the talks, and submitted for the consideration of the parties. The table welcomed the inputs.
More recently, the congressional commissions, with the technical support of the UNDP, are preparing to convene new mesas regionales to generate proposals on the agenda item on “victims.” These will use the same methodology developed earlier by the UNDP, which has also provided facilitators and methodological guidance for conducting the consultations.
Further Channels for Participation
Civil society engagement is of course not limited to official channels structured by the peace table. President Juan Manuel Santos‘s support for the April 9 marches for peace suggests that the president now recognizes that public support will be critical to the success of the process. As the April 9 marches and last weekend’s National Peace Congress as well as countless regional and sectoral meetings suggest, Colombia is on the cusp of an era of mounting civic engagement that is likely to grow.
Many peace leaders today agree that the role of civil society will be especially important in ensuring that the parties don’t leave the table until an agreement is reached to end the conflict. For now, public sentiment is beginning to gain momentum in support of the official process, but nothing can be taken for granted. Former President Alvaro Uribe is still a force with whom to be reckoned, some of the organizers of the National Peace Congress have been receiving death threats, and the questions about accountability and justice have yet to come to the table. A strong civil society movement for peace is the best assurance that an accord will be reached and will be implementable.