Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014
Today, the peace delegations of the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP are meeting with the fourth delegation of victims in Havana. The group includes six women and six men, of which three have been victimized by paramilitaries, two by guerrillas, two by agents of the State, and five by multiple armed groups. A press conference will be held at 5 pm today, Cuban time, and televised live on TeleSur. (You can watch it live here: TeleSur Report on Fourth Victims’ Delegation).
Yesterday, the National University, the United Nations, and the Colombian Episcopal Conference –the three organizations charged by the peace delegations with the selection and organization of five delegations of a dozen victims each to participate in the peace talks–held a press conference in which they announced the names of the twelve participants for the fourth delegation to Havana. To read about the participants, click here. To watch the press conference in Spanish, click below:
The organizers’ press conference and statement provide insights into why particular delegation members were chosen for this cycle’s delegation. Some of the victims represent particular categories of victimization that the organizers wanted to highlight. The inclusion of a land-mine victim from Arauca was meant to underscore the ongoing problem of land mines–596 new cases of victims of land mines have been reported since the peace talks began. The inclusion of a victim of childhood recruitment by armed groups–a member of the AUC (paramilitary self-defense forces) recruited at the age of 13–highlights ongoing concerns about child soldiers. Finally, the naming of Jineth Bedoya, the first journalist victim to go to Havana and a victim of kidnapping, torture, and sexual violence at the hands of the paramilitary puts a focus on both the risks that the armed conflict has presented for journalists, and the systematic use of gender-based violence in Colombia’s conflict. Bedoya, who will be leading the fourth victims’ delegation, has been internationally recognized for her tireless crusade against violence against women. Last August, President Juan Manuel Santos decreed May 25, the day of Bedoya’s kidnapping, as the National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Violence in the Internal Armed Conflict. Likewise, while no one has been held accountable for Bedoya’s case, which was brought to the OAS’s Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Colombia’s Attorney General (Fiscal) recently proclaimed the case as a crime against humanity.
Delegation members include other voices that have not yet been heard at the peace table. A representative of Colombia’s large exile community, a member of the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Intrasexual) community, and a survivor of a paramilitary massacre that killed 100 people in El Naya in southwestern Colombia will participate in the fourth delegation of victims. Likewise, victims from the previously unrepresented regions of Arauca, Casanare, and Córdoba will be present, bringing to twenty-three the number of Colombia’s 32 administrative departments that will now have been participated in the victims’ delegations.
For the first time, the testimony of a FARC prisoner will also be heard in Havana. Tulio Murillo Ávila, alias ‘Alonso’, is currently serving time in Picaleña jail in Ibagué. He has publicly denounced his treatment as a prisoner and will testify for the peace delegations via a videotape that he sent to Cuba. (Click here for more information.) Fabrizio Hochschild, UN resident coordinator in Colombia, explained that the FARC request was “repetitive and insistent”, that the Colombian government did not object, and that both peace delegations facilitated the process. (See “¿Quién es alias ‘Alonso’?“)
In the twenty-ninth round of discussions, there were charged debates over whether General (ret.) Luis Mendieta, who participated in the third delegation of victims, should be considered as a victim. The FARC have consistently argued that international guidelines define different definitions of victimhood for combatants and civilians, and while they did not object to Mendieta’s participation, they did not believe he should be considered a victim. They reiterated their position on victims in a statement on Oct. 25, noting that the recognition of combatant victims should be guided by Conventions I, II, and III of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II, which establish the standards for the treatment of civilians and combatants in internal armed conflicts. (See the FARC statement here.) Only those combatants whose rights under these protocols have been violated, the FARC argue, should be considered as victims.
Furthermore, the FARC have consistently called for parity at the table. If the military were represented in the victims’ delegations, they have stated, the same treatment should be extended to insurgent victims. (See the discussion in my earlier post here.)
Movement in Discussions on Victims
During the thirtieth session, with the hefty reinforcement of their leadership (see my last post here), the FARC has generated and made public numerous proposals and positions related to the topic of victims. In a press conference on Oct. 30, 2014, the newly arrived Pablo Atrato, a spokesmen for the peace delegation of the FARC, read a statement on behalf of the FARC, in which the FARC admitted that their actions had affected the civilian population during the 50-year armed conflict, and that they would assume their responsibility before the victims. “We are aware that the consequences of our actions have not always been foreseen or expected by the FARC-EP,” the statement read. “The FARC-EP will assume the responsibility that concerns it before the victims.” (Read more here).
The Nov. 1 press release by the UN, National University, and Episcopal Conference reiterated the critical situation faced by men and women leaders of land restitution processes, members of the LGBTI community, journalists, and members of human rights groups and peace communities. In the press conference announcing the delegation members, Hochschild denounced the continuing threats against staff, including members of the Government, who are involved in the peace process. Hochschild called the threats an “indicator of a country that is still in conflict, where there are actors [operating] on the margins of the law and with a certain impunity.” (See more here.)
New threats were reported again this week against supporters of the peace talks. (See related Semana article here.) It is clear that these are just the tip of the iceberg. In a meeting one month ago of thirty women mediators sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Institute of Political Studies at the University of Bucaramanga, most of the women participants reported being under threat. A few who enjoyed the protection of the government’s National Protection Unit had come without bodyguards because budget shortages would not permit the guards to travel outside of Bogota. One woman had gone into hiding because of continued threats and was unable to attend the workshops. Most of these threats occur in conflict regions outside of Bogota, where threats against women appear to be especially underreported.