Wed., Dec. 17, 2014
At a press conference at 3 p.m. this afternoon, Iván Márquez, the FARC’s lead negotiator, announced that the FARC would initiate a unilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities beginning on Saturday, Dec. 20 at 12:01 a.m. (See the FARC press release here.) This will be the FARC’s fifth unilateral ceasefire since the peace talks with the government began in 2012. These included two FARC ceasefires for the holiday seasons in 2012 and 2013, and two temporal ceasefires (one jointly with the ELN) during the presidential elections and the runoff election period earlier this year. What makes this ceasefire different, however, is that it will be of indefinite length, and the FARC have suggested that it could lead to an Armistice. The move is being interpreted broadly within Colombia as a significant “gesture of peace” that suggests that the talks are inching closer toward producing a final peace agreement.
One worrisome caveat–the unilateral ceasefire would be halted “only if we confirm that our guerrilla structures have been the object of attacks by the Armed (Public) Forces,” notes the FARC communiqué. Since the government has never agreed to a ceasefire–in fact the Colombian government has consistently opposed a bilateral ceasefire and has accelerated the military offensive against the FARC during the peace talks–the likelihood of continued military attacks on the FARC is quite high. The future of this gesture is thus highly dependent on the government’s response.
Jorge Restrepo, director of the Center for Conflict Resolution Resources (CERAC) suggested that the government consider reciprocating with its own peace gesture. It could for example “offer to cease offensive and defensive military operations, or stop installing military posts and camps near the civilian population.” (More here.) These would be important steps in reducing levels of violence and also demonstrate the government’s commitment to peace.
In the meantime, adequate monitoring and verification mechanisms will be absolutely indispensable for helping to reduce the impact of ongoing bellicose actions and, in addition, of predictable spoiler actions. Establishing joint conflict resolution mechanisms and working with international and national partners to ensure FARC compliance with the ceasefire can also help circumvent problems before they appear. In this regard, the FARC have invited national and international organizations, as well as the citizenry, to assist in monitoring the ceasefire. The FARC called on UNASUR, CELAC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Broad Front for Peace to help monitor the ceasefire. The Broad Front for Peace is a relatively new coalition established by political parties and movements of the left during the presidential campaigns earlier this year. (See my post here.)
Civil society support for a bilateral ceasefire has been mounting in recent months. All of the five victims’ delegations who have visited Cuba monthly in each cycle since August, the six women’s groups who visited Cuba earlier this week, church leaders, political parties, and social movements have issued calls for the parties to enact a bilateral ceasefire and to enact measures that would reduce the violence. They have also urged the parties to stay at the table until an agreement is reached.
Fifth Victims’ Delegation
On Monday, Dec. 16, the dozen victims selected by the United Nations, the Catholic Episcopal Conference, and the National University to participate in the delegation to Havana met with the peace delegations. (See the communiqué and a full list of the victims here.)
Participants in this last victims’ delegation included six men and six women, bringing to 60 the number of victims who have met with the peace delegates since August. This delegation, like its predecessors, included victims of different armed groups. Unlike previous delegations, it included representatives of Atlántico and Sucre departments. The selection underscored the victimization of human rights defenders and their families, political leaders and leaders of collective reparations processes, and representatives of communities that have been endangered by the activities of large development projects and mining initiatives. The delegation also included a labor leader, a member of the business sector, academics, and a woman religious. The UN mission in Colombia is expected to produce a report on the five victims’ delegations, which I will post here when it becomes available.
31st Cycle Summary
The final days of the 31st cycle of talks in Havana were marked by discussions between the plenipotentiaries and the gender sub commission as well as the participation of national and international gender experts at and outside the table (see my previous post). It culminated with the fifth and final delegation of victims to Havana, and the announcement of the FARC ceasefire. The historical commission on the conflict and its victims is continuing its work and is expected to produce its report shortly. The technical sub commission on the end of the conflict is also continuing its work.
At the close of the 31st cycle today, Humberto de la Calle, lead Colombian government negotiator in Havana, noted some of these accomplishments of the peace table in 2014. (See his statement here.) Hopefully, in the next round, which will be held early in 2015, he will be able to add a successful ceasefire to his list of successes.