December 13, 2015
Peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC resumed in Havana last Thursday, December 10, for what the government called the continuation of the 45th cycle, the FARC named the 46th cycle, and what by my count constitutes a new 45th cycle. Regardless of the sequence, which, for the sake of continuity and clarity, I will call the 45th cycle. There is wide expectation that in this round there will be some sort of agreement reached on the issue of victims and/or transitional justice and that the parties might announce a definitive bilateral ceasefire before the Colombian Congress closes this year’s legislative session on Dec. 16.
44th Cycle Highlights (Nov. 18-30)
In the last two cycles in Havana, the government of Colombia and the FARC both took concrete steps toward a final agreement. My last post discussed the advances in the 43rd cycle. Following are some initiatives that took place in the 44th cycle, which began on Nov. 18 and closed on Dec. 3.
Acceleration of Talks
On Nov. 20, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he had instructed the negotiators to accelerate the talks and proposed a variation on the methodology at the table. He recommended a sort of “conclave,” from which the negotiators would not leave until they had resolved all of the pending items on the peace agenda. (See his statement here.)
At a moment of crisis over conflicting interpretations of the agreements reached on Sept. 23, the President sent his brother, Enrique Santos, to Cuba as his personal envoy to help break through the log jam that had been developing around the justice accord. The meeting appears to have gone well, with FARC’s top commander, Rodrigo Londoño (aka ‘Timoleón Jiménez’ or ‘Timochenko’) announcing that “there is once again agreement on 74 of the 75 points,” with only one point remaining. (See more here.) Secrecy has prevailed over what the last point might be, but many speculate that it refers to the nature of the “effective deprivation of liberty” that might be imposed for those who committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide.
Review of Situation of FARC Prisoners
The parties had anticipated the need to discuss the status of FARC prisoners as part of the peace talks agenda before formal talks even began. The third sub-point under the third item on ending the conflict of the August 2012 framework agreement notes, “The National Government will coordinate a review of the situation of those persons deprived of liberty, accused, or condemned for belonging to or collaborating with the FARC-EP.” In the 44th round, a number of issues relating to this theme were addressed, including pardons for rebels and humanitarian considerations for FARC prisoners.
-Pardons for Rebels
In a gesture of good faith and within the confines of what is permitted by the Colombian Constitution and law, on Sunday, Nov. 23, the Colombian government authorized a pardon for 30 members of the FARC who are serving time in Colombian jails. All of these prisoners are charged with the crime of rebellion, and related crimes such as the illegal use of uniforms or insignias, the illicit use of transmitters, and illegal bearing of arms; none are charged with more serious war crimes. The government announced that the pardoned prisoners will be eligible for psycho-social, educational, and work benefits designed to assist their reincorporation into Colombian society. Under the terms of what we know about the justice accords currently under discussion, amnesties are likely to be granted to these crimes. Customary international humanitarian law (Article 6(5) of the 1977 Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Convention of 1949 provides: “At the end of hostilities, the authorities in power shall endeavour to grant the broadest possible amnesty to persons who have participated in the armed conflict, or those deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict, whether they are interned or detained.” (See more here.)
-Consideration of FARC Prisoners
On Nov. 22, the FARC Secretariat reiterated a request they had made a week earlier for the release dozens of FARC prisoners who were in a precarious state of health as a “gesture of humanity, good will and hope.” (See their statement here.) Their request covered 81 guerrillas, some of whom were on hunger strike and about a dozen of whom are in critical condition. FARC leaders, citing in support of their request 18 unilateral gestures they had offered during the peace process, including 6 unilateral ceasefires, called on the government to reciprocate with its own gesture.
The Colombian government agreed to review the cases of 106 FARC prisoners said to have health problems, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace agreed to “make available whatever is necessary for their adequate attention.” (On Nov. 30, FARC leaders acknowledged that the government had complied with its pledge.)
Furthermore, the Colombian government also agreed to begin to prepare separate areas within its jails where FARC prisoners can be congregated in order to study their juridical, personal, and family situations and begin to prepare for their future reintegration into civilian life
Extradition Blockages Cleared
Since the beginning of the negotiations, the issue of extradition has weighed heavy on FARC negotiators, who have sought guarantees that signing a peace deal in Havana would not land them in jail in the United States or abroad. In recent months, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker and U.S. Peace Envoy Bernie Aronson have made it clear that while the U.S. government will continue to pursue FARC rebels accused of crimes, it will also respect the decision of the Colombian government not to comply with U.S. extradition requests that might be made. This position removes what was seen as a potential stumbling block in the peace process. (See video of Bernie Aronson on my previous post here.)
The position was upheld when, on Dec. 1, the Colombian government rejected a request for the extradition of Juan Vicente Carvajal, alias ‘Misael’, finance head for the FARC’s 10th front on the Venezuelan border. The extradition request was made by the district court of south New York based on charges of “aggravated criminal conspiracy” and “narcotics trafficking.” In the denial of the request, Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes noted that the requested citizen “has been condemned for political crimes in his condition as a member of the FARC-EP.” Reyes referred to the anticipated Special Jurisdiction for Justice and Peace, and noted that this mechanism “will have jurisdiction in relation to all those who directly or indirectly may have participated in the internal armed conflict.” (For more, click here.)
Advances in De-Mining
With 208 mining victims, including 27 minors and 11 members of indigenous communities, registered so far this year in Colombia, landmines clearly continue to be a danger to peace. (See related article here.) This issue was flagged for action by the parties in Havana which announced the “Accord on the Clearing and Decontamination of the territory from the presence of land mines, improvised explosive devices, and unexploded ordnance (UXO) or general remains of war explosives” last March. (See Accord here.)
Under the terms of this agreement, a plan was drawn up to initiate pilot de-mining programs in Antioquia and in Meta. The plan was pioneering in that Colombian Army and FARC soldiers, working together with the support of Norwegian People’s Aid and the International Committee of the Red Cross/ICRC), would be responsible for its execution. (See my earlier blogs on this topic.)
This November, a verification committee reviewed the results of the first phase of de-mining activities under way in Orejón, in the municipality of Briceño (Antioquia). The commission was led by General Rafael Colón, director of the Programa Presidencial para la Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonnel, and included guerrilla negotiator Pastor Alape; Zlatko Vezilic and Fredik Holmegaard of Norwegian People’s Aid; and community leaders from El Orejón, Chirí, Pueblo Nuevo and La Calera.
On Nov. 24, the peace delegations in Havana issued a communiqué summarizing the verification committee’s findings. (Read it here.) The parties reported, “After 7 months of uninterrupted work in the region, and based on information provided by the FARC-EP, soldiers of the De-Mining Battalion of the Colombian Army have deactivated 22 explosive devices, as a result of the clearing of just over 14,000 square meters of territory.” The process was accompanied by engagement with the community to identify social development and infrastructure programs, as well as crop substitution projects, which would be carried out with the active participation of the communities.
The next stage of humanitarian de-mining is scheduled to begin in Santa Helena, in the municipality of Mesetas, in the department of Meta. After the department of Antioquia, the department of Meta has the highest recorded number of land mine victims in Colombia.
In another related development, the government is gearing up to continue the de-mining activities. General Alberto Mejía, the commander of the National Army, announced last month an increase in the number of military who will be trained to support humanitarian demining from 600 to 10,000 for 2016.
All in all, these steps are important advances in de-escalating the war and removing the obstacles for a final peace deal.