Process with Victims Taking Shape

July 17, 2014

Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators have been meeting in Havana since  Tuesday, July 15, to develop the methodology for bringing delegations of victims to the peace table. This has proven to be a complex process, but in a joint communiqué today, the negotiators have outlined a process for moving it forward judiciously. (See communiqué here.)  Their joint statement recognizes that the victims’ voice “will be a fundamental input” in current discussions on the topic of victims.

Criteria for Victims’ Delegations to Havana and New Roles of Third Parties 

At the behest of the parties, the United Nations system in Colombia and the Centro de Pensamiento y Seguimiento al Proceso de Paz, a think tank of Colombia’s National University, have been charged with the process of organizing and selecting the delegations that will participate in the peace process in Havana.  These two entities are currently organizing the regional forums of victims under way, and spearheaded similar regional and national forums on earlier agenda items–rural agrarian development, political participation, and illicit crop cultivation and narcotrafficking.  Today’s announcement represents a vote of confidence on the part of the negotiators that the two organizations should continue to play a role in facilitating civil society inputs into the process.  (See my previous post on the forums here.)

Today’s joint communiqué provides specific instructions on the selection criteria for the delegations:

1.  Every delegation will be “balanced, pluralist, and discreet.”

2. Delegates should reflect the full range of human rights and international humanitarian law violations that have occurred in the trajectory of the Colombian armed conflict, “considering different social sectors and populations, as well regions.”

3. Delegation members should be direct victims of the conflict and participate in this capacity rather than as representatives of another identity.

4.  The delegations and their members will have complete autonomy to present their points of view.  The Table will take careful note of the approaches and proposals presented, with the goal of guaranteeing the best way to make material the rights of the victims of the conflict.

5.  The objective of the delegations’ participation is within a broader frame of ending the conflict and promoting reconciliation.

6.  The Table will review the functioning of the selection mechanism for delegates in each  visit and make recommendations as they are necessary.

The parties also provided instructions on the number of delegates and victims to be invited, noting that there is to be one delegation invited in each cycle of talks, during at least five cycles; that each delegation will include up to 12 people; and that the first delegation will take place on August 16th.

Catholic Bishops Given New Role

In addition, the negotiating parties have invited the Colombian Episcopal Conference to “accompany the process” and to help guarantee that the parties’ criteria for the victims’  delegations are fulfilled. This is the first formal role that the Church has been given in the current peace process, although the Church in Colombia has long played a fundamental role in peace building, peace education, and promoting processes of reconciliation, and has been involved in every other Colombian peace process in the last few decades.

Earlier this month, Msr. Luis Augusto Castro, archbishop of Tunja, replaced Cardinal Rubén Salazar, who completed his six-year term, as President of the Episcopal Conference.  Msr. Castro announced that peace and reconciliation will be at the center of his agenda and urged the government not to forget about the ELN process (see article here.)  Msr. Castro was bishop in San Vicente de Caguán under the Samper government, has been a mediator for the release of soldiers kidnapped by the FARC and the ELN, and has presided over the National Conciliation Commission since 2005.   His appointment is widely considered to be favorable to the peace process and reconciliation.

Victims at Center of Debates

The commitment of both parties at the peace table to put victims’ rights at the center of the debates is an important and unique feature of the Colombian peace process, due in part perhaps to the high numbers of victims (more than 6.5 million have registered with the government’s Victims’ Unit) and also to the extraordinary level of organization of the victims, particularly victims of state violence.  That said, some 60% of the estimated 5.7 million victims of forced displacement, the largest category of victimization by far, are not organized; nor are the 400,000 or so refugees who have fled Colombia because of the conflict.

Discussions on the theme of victims have a firm conceptual basis from which to begin.  The joint Declaration of Principles the parties announced last month (see post here) provides a useful comprehensive framework and will be useful for future discussions with the delegation of victims’ representatives who they have invited to Havana.  It has provided the basis for the generation of proposals from the victims in the current forums underway in Colombia.  The parties also have inputs generated from the regional workshops organized by the Peace Commissions of the Colombian Congress in late 2012 and 2013.  They will continue to receive inputs from the four forums on victims that are being held this month and next under the auspices of the United Nations and the National University. (See my last post here.)  Already, the systematization from the first set of  workshops in Villavicencio have been sent to Havana.

Washington, D.C. Event on Victims:  July 29th

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., proposals of victims of the armed conflict will be presented by four Colombian victims of different armed groups and regions at an event co-organized with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF), and hosted at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).   Come by or tune in to the webcast on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 from 10 am-12 pm (EST).  More details and RSVP information can be found here.  The link to the webcast will go live at the time of the event (in Spanish) and be available 1-2 days afterward in both English and Spanish.  Twitter questions welcome.  Hashtag will be provided.

Future Schedule of Havana Talks

On July 25, the delegations will meet to prepare the Historic Commission on the Conflict and Its Victims.  The next round of talks will begin on August 12, and the first delegation of victims should arrive shortly thereafter.

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About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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