March 8, 2015
On March 7, the government of Colombia and the FARC completed their 33rd round of talks. The cycle produced progress on a number of fronts: an accord on a joint de-mining initiative, unprecedented engagement in the peace process of six active-duty Colombian military officers at the peace table, and the visit to Havana by the third delegation of civil society representatives to meet with the peace delegations at the behest of the Gender Subcommission. During this past cycle, the visits to Havana of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the new U.S. Envoy to the Peace Talks Bernie Aronson, and a visit to Bogota of a high-level signaled increased interest on the part of the international community. Peace talks will resume on March 17th, when the parties will focus their discussion on the topic of victims and justice.
Historic De-Mining Plan Agreed
In their joint communique at the end of the cycle, the parties announced an unprecedented agreement for joint action on de-mining — the “Accord on the Sweeping and Decontaminating of the Presence of Anti-personnel Landmines, Improvised Explosive Devices, and Unexploded Munitions or Explosive Remnants of War in General in the Territory.” The parties proposed the initiative as part of a larger plan of de-escalation of the conflict. Civil society has been calling for concrete de-escalation measures for many months, and politicians welcomed the move. (See El Colombiano here.) The parties plan to secure the assistance of the Norwegian People’s Aid organization to “lead and coordinate implementation” of the initiative. The agreement lays out mechanisms for selecting sites to be cleared, gathering relevant technical information, and establishing multi-task teams to carry out the demining and risk-education efforts in affected communities. The accord contains provisions for dialoguing with the local communities during the sweep and de-contamination process, and calls for verification efforts to be accompanied by 2 representatives of the Colombian government, 2 delegates of the FARC, and 2 representatives of the affected communities. It makes provisions for swept areas to be formally turned over to the local community authorities. (See their joint statement including the agreement here.)
Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle noted that the accord represents a “new and decisive step in the de-escalation of the armed conflict” that will “bring relief to the zones most affected by decades of violence.” As the first concrete action involving joint action by the government and the FARC, it represents a historic breakthrough. De la Calle underscored that FARC representatives will participate in the demining, without uniform or arms, and with the temporary suspension of pending arrest warrants (as determined by Colombian law) in order to provide the required information and accompaniment to the demining process. (See De la Calle’s statement here.)
Ret. General Oscar Naranjo, Minister for the Post-Conflict and a member of the government’s team in Havana, called the demining accord “an indisputable advance” and a sign the “negotiations are beginning to produce concrete effects.” He noted that Colombia is the second most mined country after Afghanistan, and that clearing the country of mines, which have been registered in 688 municipalities of Colombia, will cost millions and take a decade. (See El Colombiano here.)
FARC leaders also celebrated the accord and the gesture it represents in advancing the de-escalation of the war. They noted that the parties are delivering “a humanitarian accord that will initiate the clearing and decontamination of our countryside of mines and the explosive remains of war.” (See the FARC statement here.)
Military Leaders Convene in Havana
In another historic move, from March 5-7, the technical subcommission on the end of the conflict met in Havana with a half-dozen active-duty members of the Armed Forces. “The presence of members of the Armed Forces should only give confidence and tranquility to the Colombian public. The men who have lived the war are the ones who will help to build the transition toward peace,” De la Calle noted. The participation in Havana by active-duty military officers is another important landmark in the path toward peace. The military are charged with “working on the recommendations that the Armed Forces will make to the Government delegation regarding a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and setting aside of arms.” De la Calle clarified that the Subcommission will be an advisory body and will not be engaged in actual negotiations. (See De la Calle’s statement here.) The FARC delegation noted that the subcommission had begun to function “at a good rhythm, with a frank approach and trust among the combatants.” (See their statement here.)
The third of three delegations of representatives from women’s organizations and the LGBTI communities traveled to Havana during the 33rd round of talks to meet with the parties and with the Gender Subcommission, chaired by Maria Paulina Riveros for the government side, and Commander Victoria Sandino for the FARC side. The delegation included representatives of five women’s organizations and the leader of an organization that defends the rights of the LGBTI community. Mayerlis Angarita, one of the delegates, noted that the delegation is calling on the parties to agree to a “bilateral ceasefire” and demanding the “immediate de-escalation of the conflict, especially the violences against women.” (See “Mujeres piden.”) On behalf of the delegation, Angarita called for a commitment by the parties to make “an explicit statement against discrimination of the LGTBI population” and to “include a women’s rights perspective, especially as it relates to sexual violence, in an eventual Truth Commission.”
The parties expressed their appreciation for the visits from the delegation. De la Calle noted that “it was indispensable for the Table to be able to rely on their participation with the purpose of helping to give expression to the concept of gender and a pluralist vision in the accords that have been reached and in those that we hope to reach.” (View De la Calle’s statement here.) Likewise, the FARC delegation noted that the parties “had listened to the voices of important leaders from the profound Colombia who are defending women’s rights and the rights of the LGBTI population and communitarian sectors, who are speaking for respect for diversity and inclusion in function of a Colombia without discrimination.” (View the FARC statement here.) In a separate International Women’s Day statement, the FARC also called for ensuring a more permanent presence of women in the peace process. (See their statement here.)
(View the press conference by the civil society delegation here):
International Support Deepens for the Process
International support for the Colombian peace process reached a new level in this cycle. In addition to the meetings of U.S. Special Envoy Bernie Aronson with both the government and FARC delegations in Havana, and the visit to Havana of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (see my former post), U.S. support for the peace process was reiterated with the visit to Colombia of U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall. Sewall traveled to Bogota from March 4-7, 2015 to meet with a range of Colombian government officials and non-governmental representatives. Sewell’s trip was meant to underscore “continued U.S. support for the Government of Colombia’s efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace that will result in greater security and prosperity for its citizens” and “to advance transitional justice, consistent with the rule of law, as it pertains to the ongoing peace process.” (See communique here.)
From the Hill, there was also support for recent developments at the peace talks. On learning of the new de-mining accord, Cong. Jim McGovern (D-MA), long-time supporter of peace initiatives in Colombia, issued an immediate statement congratulating the parties. (View his statement here.)
Polling Favors Peace Process
Back in Colombia, the peace process got a boost with the announcement of the results of the latest Invamer Gallup poll, which showed that public support for the peace process is at an all-time high. Some 72% of those surveyed support the government’s decision to initiate negotiations with the FARC. This represents an increase of ten percentage points from two months ago, and may reflect a growing effort by the government’s team to take a more aggressive stance in defense of the process inside Colombia, where skepticism remains high nonetheless.
On March 8, a broad-based “March for Life”–convened for by former Bogota mayor Antanus Mockus, and supported by President Juan Manuel Santos and a wide diversity of other politicians, and by women (who were also celebrating their own International Women’s Day)–was said to bring some 100,000 Colombians into the streets of Colombia’s major cities. (See Semana article here.) Another large public demonstration for peace is anticipated on National Victims’ Day on April 9.
The latest developments in Havana, along with the growing manifestations of support in Colombia, suggest that the process is on solid ground. As continued agreements to de-escalate the conflict are put into practice, support for the process is likely to grow.