Fortieth Cycle of Peace Talks Ends with Renewed Sense of Optimism

Sept. 7, 2015

Within Colombia, the period of the fortieth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP (August 20-30) was marked by a reduction in violence.  August showed the lowest levels of conflict violence since 1974, according to a study done by the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis, CERAC.  The lower levels of violence were due in large part to the unilateral ceasefire initiated by the FARC on July 20, and the decision by the parties to de-escalate the violence.

Along with the decline in violence, a corresponding increase in public support for the peace process was shown in a late August poll by Invamer Gallup poll.  Some 63% of 3,000 respondents in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga said they would vote in favor of the peace talks in a referendum.  Another poll by Gallup-Colombia released last week put support for a peace agreement with the FARC at 39 per cent, up six points from a similar poll it conducted in June.

The 40th cycle of peace talks was marked by intense activities among the different working groups and the negotiating teams in Havana.  In a joint communiqué at the end of the session on August 30th, the peace delegations reported that they continued to dedicate attention to the issues of victims, ending the conflict, and de-escalation measures.  The newly created working group on transitional justice and the gender submission both made advances.

The Colombian government and the FARC-EP leadership each expressed satisfaction with the progress achieved.  President Juan Manuel Santos noted on Monday, Aug. 31, that both parties had “advanced very positively” on the theme of a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and on the setting aside of arms.  “In the last two or three weeks, they [the parties] have advanced much more than they had advanced in … the last year,” he said. Iván Márquez, head of the FARC peace delegation, concurred that the parties had “registered advances” and that “the process is moving in the direction of a final agreement.”  The next cycle is scheduled to begin on September 11th.

Subcommission on Gender

One of the highlights of the fortieth round of conversations was a series of meetings and working sessions with representatives of Colombian women’s organizations and research institutions–the fourth to be received in Havana at the invitation of the subcommission on gender created in June 2014 by the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.  Participants in the latest delegation included:

The delegation was accompanied by Belén Sanz, the UN-Women’s representative in Colombia, and Silvia Arias, the UN advisor in the area of Women, Peace, and Security. (See more here.)  From August 24-25, the women met with the peace delegations and the subcommission on gender in Havana to discuss their research, recommendations, and proposals for addressing violence against women and gender-based violence, including sexual violence.  Following the meetings and working sessions, the women released a statement that called on the parties to commit themselves to “the eradication of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence in the armed conflict, within a broad context of gender discrimination and inequality, and as a necessary condition for advancing substantially on the road to a stable, lasting, and sustainable peace.”

That women and members of the LGBTI community are being received in Havana as peacemakers, analysts, legal scholars, and political subjects–that is, as full-fledged citizens with ideas and proposals  of their own.  This is an important reparation in and of itself to help compensate for generations of gender discrimination, inequality, and neglect of women’s and LGBTI voices in decision-making spheres.

An Evolving Model of Engagement

The gender subcommission and the evolving direct dialogue between the peace delegates and women’s and LGBTI groups is generating an important new model for inclusion in peace talks.  It is not going unnoticed–either within or outside of Colombia.

CONPA, the newly created National Peace Council of Afro-Colombians (CONPA) that groups together some of the major Afro-Colombian organizations, is calling for a similar model of their own that gives Afro-Colombians and other minorities the opportunity to be heard in Havana and provides an institutional mechanism, such as an official working group, that would consider the ethnic dimensions of a peace agreement.  (Watch the webcast of CONPA’s presentation at the U.S. Institute of Peace a few months ago here in Spanish and here in English):

The Colombian National Organization of Indigenous (ONIC) has a highly developed infrastructure and a thoughtful and innovative national agenda for peace (read it here).  They too have been seeking to have greater inputs at the table in Havana and have been received by the delegations.

Indigenous and Afro-Colombians are provided guarantees under Colombian law regarding prior consultation, collective rights, and collective ownership of lands that will have relevance for the crafting of agreements that emerge from the Havana process.  A statement by the UNHCHR last month urged the peace delegations in Havana to consider opening the process to greater inputs by indigenous and Afro-Colombian voices. (See my earlier post here.)

Excluded groups, if they want their perspectives to be incorporated, will need to engage in the kind of multi-level advocacy–at the local, regional, national, and international level–that has been sustained by women’s and LGBTI groups.  Access to the Havana peace process seems to be opening up quietly and discreetly to those who are able to make and support their case.

The pressures for the table to come to closure are mounting.  It could be argued that the creation of new mechanisms for greater civil society participation in the peace process would cause unreasonable delays.  However, the benefits of opening the process to greater civil society engagement or at a minimum creating the possibility that different sectors could review and provide inputs to draft texts could be done simultaneously and in ways that do not prolong the process excessively.  The benefits of getting greater feedback from civil society groups even at this late date could be huge.  Since many sectors have already designed and built consensus around peace agendas, the main challenge would be in creating and strengthening channels for inputs and dialogue.  Victims, youth, displaced, peasants, labor, religious minorities, victims, and even environmentalists (see fascinating article here on the need for environmental reparations) all have important voices that could strengthen the prospects for a long and durable peace.




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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