September 3, 2014
In another Colombian innovation at the peace tables, on Thursday, August 21, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators installed a new Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV). Shortly thereafter, the Commission issued its first communiqué (see Comunicado 1 de la comisión histórica CHCV), announcing that it had held its first meeting and organized a work plan and schedule in accordance with the mandate it had been given. The communiqué notes that the commission has been jointly designed by the Colombian national government and the FARC-EP to contribute to ending the armed conflict. Although each delegation nominated half of the members, the Commission would serve at the behest of the entire peace delegation. The CHCV’s communiqué calls on the press, state agencies, and the public to “abstain from any commentary not supported by fact that might be inclined to stigmatize or delegitimize” Commission members. It notes further that the Commission “will abstain from all media exposure and work with total discretion,” suggesting that we will be hearing little from this Commission until its work is complete.
The FARC delegation had long called for an historical clarification commission as part of the peace process, and both parties announced their agreement in a joint communiqué on June 7th to establish such a commission. (See the communiqué here). The CHCV is intended to provide inputs for discussions on the topic of victims, point 5 on the peace agenda, and would address three specific topics:
- the origins and multiple causes of the conflict,
- the principle factors that have facilitated or contributed to the persistence of the conflict, and
- the effects and most notable impacts of the conflict on the population.
By early August, the parties had further developed the proposal for the CHCV. In a joint communiqué on August 5th, they laid out their vision for the Commission’s mandate, and the principles and methodology that would guide its work. They announced that the CHCV would produce a final report within four months which would serve as “a fundamental ingredient for the comprehension of the complexity of the conflict and the responsibilities of those who have participated and had an impact in it, and for the clarification of the truth. To that extent, it will be a basic component for a future truth commission and will contribute to reconciliation.” It remained to identify the commissioners, half of whom would be named by the Colombian government and the remainder by the FARC-EP.
On August 21, the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims was installed and in a joint communiqué on August 22, the peace delegations released the names of the commissioners. The body includes 12 respected academics and experts from across the political spectrum:
- Daniel Pécaut: French sociologist and expert on Colombia.
- Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín: Researcher and professor at IEPRI (Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales), Universidad Nacional.
- Gustavo Duncan: Researcher at the Universidad de los Andes.
- Jorge Giraldo: Dean of the School of Sciences and Humanities at EAFIT (Escuela de Administración Finanzas e Instituto Tecnológico).
- Vicente Torrijos: Professor of political science and international relations at the Universidad del Rosario.
- María Emma Wills: Researcher for the National Historical Memory Center.
- Renán Vega: Professor titular of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional of Bogotá.
- Alfredo Molano: Sociologist, writer, and columnist.
- Darío Fajardo: Professor of the Universidad Externado and promoter (gestor) of the Zonas de Reserva Campesina.
- Jairo Hernando Estrada Álvarez: Professor of the Department of Political Science of the Universidad Nacional.
- Javier Giraldo, S.J., Interecclesiastic Commission on Justice and Peace. (Earlier press reports had listed Malcolm Deas, Britsh historian specializing in Colombia.)
- Sergio de Zubiría: Philosopher, researcher and associate professor of the Universidad de los Andes.
The commissioners, which include only one women and mostly hail from Colombia’s capital city, will produce individual or joint reports in response to the three aforementioned points on its mandate, and will determine the time period to be considered in the reports. (For more on the academic profiles of the CHCV, click here.) They will then turn their reports over to two rapporteurs — Víctor Manuel Moncayo (exrector of the Universidad Nacional) and Eduardo Pizarro Leongómez (ex-President of the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation). The rapporteurs are tasked with synthesizing the expert reports, identifying the areas of “consensus, dissent, and plurality of visions” among the experts, and producing a final report to be turned over to the negotiating teams. The work of the commission is expected to be completed within four months.
The FARC delegation welcomed the installation of the CHCV, noting that, with its establishment, “the peace process is making a qualitative leap on the path toward reconciliation.” It called the new commission a “key scenario for the clarification of the truth, based on the auscultation of the origins, causes, effects and responsibilities that provide the context for the development of the political, economic, social and armed conflict arising from poverty, inequality and the lack of democracy that have characterized our national life for over half a century.” (Click here to read the FARC communiqué.)
I think the most innovative and interesting part of the commission’s work is likely to be the identification of areas of consensus and disagreement in the telling of the historical narrative of the war. Just as the peace table in Havana has been a model for laying out differences and then finding common ground, so too the CMCV will need to engage in an exercise of discernment–one that represents the best academic practice of critical thinking. While beginning with the reports of the Historical Memory Commission as a starting point for the critiques might have proven more expeditious, peace talks are all about process, so there are likely numerous purposes served in the approach that is currently playing out that respond to the particular political needs of the parties at the table.
CHCV Will Not Replace Truth Commission
All of the parties at the table have been clear that the CHCV will not replace a truth commission. The CHCV “does not substitute as a mechanism for the complete clarification of the truth, which would need to rely on the participation of everyone, especially the victims,” the parties declared in their June 7th statement. (See the joint declaration here in Spanish and here in English.)
Humberto de la Calle elaborated on some of the differences between the CHCV and a Truth Commission in his August 22 statement: “The work of this Commission neither substitutes for nor predetermines any element of a future Truth Commission. This is not about establishing who did what on the basis of evidence and testimonies, as usually occurs with a Truth Commission. This group of experts will not rely on the participation of the victims or of the society more generally … Nor will this group formulate recommendations, as would a Truth Commission.”
De la Calle noted furthermore that the major difference between the CHCV and a truth commission is that a legitimate truth commission functions after the conflict has ended, while the CHCV was established to provide inputs to the peace talks themselves. The CHCV will not establish individual responsibilities, free anyone of responsibilities, or engage in original new research. It is instead an academic body that will use academic methods. Its mandated goal is to contribute to a broader understanding of the historical context of the conflict in order to generate conclusions that can help establish remedies to end the conflict and produce a an accord that will contribute to a durable peace. The work of the CHCV is expected to provide inputs for a truth commission when it is established, however.
Establishing a clarification commission during the negotiations to help inform the negotiators is unprecedented. While truth commissions are often established within the context of a final peace accord, the usual pattern is to sign a peace agreement that ends the war and signals the intent to establish such a commission. In the Colombian process, however, the parties have determined that identifying the range of interpretations of the conflict is a necessary pre-condition to forging agreements on how to satisfy the victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition.
Unlike in many other conflicts where a government is negotiating with an insurgent group, Colombia’s internal armed conflict is not simply between the two parties at the peace table. The Colombian conflict includes a broad range of social, political, and economic actors and issues, as well as other armed actors who are not present at the peace table in Havana. An agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government that does not address this broader context is likely to prove inadequate to the long-term task of ending the cycle of violence in Colombia. The CMCV therefore may be an important mechanism in helping ensure that the deeper causes of the conflict are addressed in a way to ensure that peace is sustainable.