January 20, 2016
Yesterday, the peace delegations of the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP, meeting in Havana for their 46th cycle of talks, took another major leap toward ending Colombia’s internal armed conflict. In a joint communiqué, the parties announced that they were asking the United Nations, with support from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to support the creation of a mechanism to verify and implement a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, and to oversee the setting aside of weapons. The UN brings to the task considerable global experience in such matters, and CELAC will provide engagement that will underscore regional political support for the process.
The anticipated mechanism will be tripartite in nature, consisting of an international component and the two parties at the peace table. The parties’ decision to call on the international community to assist in what would be the final stages of Colombia’s armed conflict is a welcome and auspicious sign that the end to this phase of the peace process with the FARC is near.
In a statement last night, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he had just sent a letter requesting the UN support to the President of the UN Security Council and to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. (Read Santos’s statement here.) Santos clarified that he was not asking for the armed UN peace-keepers commonly referred to as “blue helmets,” but for a team of unarmed observers, who would be selected by the UN, in consultation with Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations. Santos noted that Colombia was not asking the Security Council to resolve Colombia’s problems, but to “contribute to the solution of a conflict of more than half a century that we ourselves are resolving.” He underscored that if the UN accepts to undertake the verification mission, as would be expected, it would assume the costs of said endeavor and the Council would ensure continued guarantee international support for ending the conflict and credibility to the disarmament process. Late last year, President Santos had paved the way for Security Council engagement and spoke with the heads of state and government of United Kingdom, United States, Russia, China, and France, who together constitute the five permanent members of the Security Council. At the time, the FARC delegation objected to the unilateral engagement on the issue without the explicit consent of both sides of the peace table.
Yesterday, Humberto de la Calle, head of the government peace delegation, called the moment “determinant,” noting that the new agreement “is not only the beginning of an international procedure, but it is an unequivocal demonstration of the desire to put an end to the confrontation.” (See his statement here.) He recognized the “invaluable contribution” of Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín in the crafting of the new agreement. Holguín had joined the government delegation as a plenipotentiary in May of 2015.
Likewise, the FARC-EP peace delegation, announcing that the conversations “have entered a definitive stage,” declared the decision to solicit international verification and monitoring to be “a strong signal and happy premonition that the peace process of Colombia is heading inexorably toward the end of the longest conflict on the continent.” (See FARC-EP statement here.)
Comunicado Conjunto # 65
In the January 19 joint communiqué, the parties reiterated their commitment to reach a final accord to end the conflict and to establish a definitive, bilateral ceasefire and mechanisms for the setting aside of arms. They also underscored their commitment to implement all of the agreements contained in the Final Accord and to put into place effective mechanisms for monitoring and verification, with international accompaniment, that would guarantee full compliance with the commitments undertaken in the agreements.
The international entity would “oversee and coordinate the mechanism in all its instances, settle controversies, carry out recommendations, and present reports,” the parties agreed. It would begin work as soon as an agreement is reached, and would also verify the terms and guarantees for the setting aside of weapons in accordance with the protocols to be established in the agreement.
The parties in Havana agreed that the international entity will be a political mission of the United Nations that will be composed of observers from CELAC member countries. Santos clarified in his remarks last night that mission participants will not be drawn from neighboring countries. For this reason, the parties requested Security Council assistance to launch the political mission, with unarmed observers, for a 12-month period. The mandate would be renewable at the request of the FARC-EP and the Colombian government. The parties likewise called on the member countries of CELAC to signal their willingness to contribute to said UN mission.
The parties urged the Mission to begin the necessary preparations for its deployments, in close coordination and collaboration with the Colombian government and the FARC-EP. They offered the international observers full security guarantees.
Gestures of Peace
Since the prior cycle of talks that ended with the accord on victims on Dec. 15, 2015, this holiday season has not provided much down time for the peace teams. On January 7, the government’s negotiating team met in Cartagena with four international advisors; the Ministers of Defense, Interior, Post-Conflict and Presidency; and the commanders of the Armed Forces, the Army and the Police to evaluate the state of the peace talks peace and to strategize about the upcoming session in Havana. In the meeting, the Minister for Post-Conflict, Rafael Pardo, presented a plan for the next phase leading up to a plebiscite. The Colombian press reported that Pardo’s plan would speed up reparations for victims in 28 municipalities that have been hardest hit by the violence. The plan reportedly contemplates broadening the joint FARC-Army de-mining initiatives and embarking on public education campaigns to another 20 municipalities. A second pilot de-mining process, following an earlier pilo in Antioquia, began on January 15 in the department of Meta. Subsequent to the meeting, President Juan Manuel Santos called on the parties in Havana to stay in permanent session, abandoning the usual interruption between cycles, until a final accord is complete.
Both peace delegations have continued to consolidate and implement what had already been agreed to at the table and they have intensified preparations to reach further agreements. The theme of ending the conflict continues to be the primary focus of discussions in Havana. Still to come are the discussions about the mechanism for endorsing whatever final peace accord is reached.
In the latest round of talks that began on January 13, we continue to see gestures indicating a commitment to seeing the process through from both the government and the FARC-EP. The government announced, as follow-up to agreements reached in Havana last November, the release this week of a first group of sixteen (among a total of 30) FARC prisoners. All of the pardoned prisoners were detained for the crime of rebellion and related crimes, and none have charges of war crimes or other serious human rights offenses against them. On their release, they will enter a government reintegration program. They will be prohibited from re-joining the FARC. (See El Colombiano article on their release here.)
Advances on Disappearances
Following the government’s recognition and assumption of responsibilities for disappearances in a ceremony in December (see my related blog here), government authorities in Bogota have moved forward with the creation of a new genetic database that will provide the first “Laboratory for Genetic Forensics for Peace”. On Dec. 29, authorities from the Institute for Legal Medicine (Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses) met with officials from the Office of the Mayor of Bogota in order to fine-tune details for a genetic database (Banco de Perfiles Genéticos) at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Bogota. The database, established last year by Decree 303 will “implement a group of measures that contribute to the locating, identifying, burial, and tribute to victims of the crime of forced disappearance.” (See here for more information.)
On Sunday, January 17, members of the two delegations met with Cuban President Raúl Castro, who urged the parties to continue to advance toward completion of the final agreement. Likewise, the Pope continues to voice his support for peace in Colombia. The President of the World Bank visited Colombia last week, praised Colombia‘s economic successes and the economic benefits that peace would bring, and pledged the Bank’s support for the post-conflict period.
Furthermore, President Santos is preparing for a State visit on Feb. 3-4 to the United States, at the invitation of President Barak Obama. The U.S. Institute of Peace, along with four other organizations (Wilson Center, Atlantic Council, Council of the Americas, and Inter-American Dialogue) will be hosting his only public appearance. (To watch the event, tune in here for the live webcast.)
Time for the ELN to Step Up to the Plate?
Finally, additional gestures from the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) suggest that the formalization of peace talks with the ELN, which have been in an exploratory phase for two years, may not be far behind. Yesterday, the ELN released 15 fishermen who had been detained last Friday in the south of Bolívar for presumably fishing in prohibited waters. (See story here.) Earlier this week, the Colombian government authorized the search for the remains of ELN founder Camilo Torres, who was killed in combat 50 years ago, a gesture that was welcomed by the ELN. President Santos explicitly noted that the move was meant as a peace gesture. “I hope that very soon we will be able to sit with the ELN to initiate this peace process, just as we have advanced with the FARC, and that we will be able to completely put an end to the armed conflict in Colombia,” he said. (See his statement here.) The year is off to a good start…