April 21, 2016
Colombian government and FARC-EP representatives resume their 49th round of peace talks in Havana today. There they continue discussions on ending the internal armed conflict that has plagued Colombia for more than half a century. Negotiators had closed the session on April 14th with a joint communiqué noting their progress toward agreement on the terms for a bilateral, definitive cease fire and cessation of hostilities. Their joint statement also noted advances related to the issue of setting aside arms and providing security guarantees for FARC ex-combatants.
Ending the Conflict
In the remainder of the cycle, following their recent interlude, the parties will continue to work through their differences on issues relating to ending the conflict. These include the particulars of a ceasefire, the concentration of FARC troops (how many zones, where, under what conditions), and the setting aside of weapons. Other pending items on the agenda related to ending the conflict include the government’s commitment to intensify its fight against criminal networks, corruption, impunity, and organizations responsible for attacks against human rights workers, social movements, and political movements; and the review and implementation of institutional reforms and adjustments to meet the challenges of peace-building. (See the agenda in the framework agreement here.)
The remaining agenda in Havana includes some tough issues, but there are numerous creative proposals under consideration, and the parties seem confident that they can find workable solutions. This week, President Juan Manuel Santos said that the process with the FARC is “irreversible,” and that an agreement will be reached “this year for sure, but as soon as possible.” Sergio Jaramillo, the High Commissioner for Peace and one of the lead negotiators for the government, agreed. He was in Europe last week, where he met with the Foreign Ministers of the European Union at its Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg to update them on the status of the talks. (See more here). In Spain, Jaramillo affirmed that an agreement could be achieved within the next few months. “More than a few difficult themes have been left for the end, but we are certain that we will conclude the talks soon,” he told the Spanish Foreign Minister.
Talks with the ELN are slated to begin in Ecuador next month, and much preparatory work–the naming of delegates, process design issues, coming to agreement over conditions of engagement–is still in process. The difficulties of launching the process in the midst of heightened violence are clear.
Implementation, Verification, and Ratification
In Havana, the parties can be expected to initiate discussions on the final outstanding point on the agenda–implementation, verification, and the ratification of the accords. The latter is a topic that has been much discussed in the Congress in Bogota, and there appears to be consensus that the Colombian populace will have the opportunity to ratify the agreements. However, Havana has yet to officially take up this final point of the framework agreement to decide what the mechanism will be for this process. This week, President Santos tapped Senator Roy Barreras to join the negotiating team in Havana for the duration of the talks. (He has also been asked to serve as a plenipotentiary to the ELN process. (See more here.)
Senator Barreras will be instrumental in moving forward discussions in Havana on the legal aspects of ratification and implementation from his new role on a technical sub-commission for endorsement issues (subcomisión técnica para los asuntos de refrendación). As the president of the Partido de la U, Barreras has been a strong Santos ally in the Congress and author of key legislative proposals for ensuring that any accords signed in Havana can be enacted into law. These include the legal framework for peace known as the Marco Jurídico para la Paz and the laws regulating the holding of a plebiscite. Although the Colombian Congress has held debates over the plebiscite in Bogota, the discussions are still in their infancy in Havana and have yet to be on the formal agenda at the table.
As the parties continue to negotiate their differences in what appears to be the final stretch of the negotiations, they have departed somewhat from their initial resolution that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” and have begun jointly to implement a number of confidence-building agreements reached thus far during the negotiations. These include measures to de-escalate the conflict, such as joint pilot projects to clear land-mines and remove explosive devices, to address the issue of those who disappeared during the conflict, and initiatives to release prisoners jailed for belonging to or collaborating with the FARC and to transfer military prisoners from ordinary jails to military garrisons. (See my earlier blogs on these issues.)
Progress on de-mining has been made on two fronts. Yesterday, the joint de-mining effort between the Colombian Army and the FARC guerrillas established by the Havana negotiators in May 2015 (see agreement here), and begun last August, entered its final phase in the village of Orejón, in Briceño, Antioquia. Delegates of the Colombian government and the FARC, accompanied by Norwegian People’s Aid, have now overseen consultations and development programs with residents of the area, and as of late March have destroyed 5,230 explosive devices and munitions there. (See more here.) Likewise, a the de-mining process has been expanded to the Department of Meta, where it is in its early stages in the municipalities of Vista Hermosa, Uribe and Mesetas–three of the five municipalities designated as priority areas for de-mining by the government’s Directorate Against Mines (Dirección Contra las Minas).
The de-mining agreements reached in Havana have been given a boost by the global de-mining initiative announced by President Barak Obama when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited the White House in early February. Lead by the United States and Norway, the initiative seeks to rallying donor countries and technical expertise to expedite efforts to eradicate land-mine contamination. So far, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom have joined the lead nations in pledging support. The United States has already committed $33 million over the next three years and will support Colombia’s mining agency, DAICMA. The initiative anticipates a meeting of international experts in Colombia in May to assess needs and national priorities, and a Ministers meeting at the UN General Assembly meetings in September to keep the process moving forward. (See more here.)
The Search for the Disappeared
Finally, the issue of the disappeared is acknowledged to be a particularly painful modality of violence that has left a tragic legacy for many families of conflicts throughout this hemisphere. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Disappearance, has defined the practice of “enforced disappearance” as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” (Article 2) Nowhere has the tragedy of enforced disappearances been so pervasive or occurred over such a long period of time as in Colombia. The numbers range from 30,000 (active prosecutions registered by the Prosecutor General/Fiscalía), to 45,799 (registered direct victims with the government Victims’ Unit), to 113,044, of which 22, 261 are reported as forced disappearances by SIRDEC, the Information System for the Network of Disappeared and Corpses of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences/Sistema de Información Red de Desaparecidos y Cadáveres – SIRDEC). (Statistics reported in the “Recomendaciones y Propuestas de las Víctimas,” by the Working Group on Forced Disappearances; see additional statistics in my earlier blogs on this topic.)
In a joint statement signed by the parties on October 17, 2015, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP committed to a two-part strategy to address the issue of the tens of thousands of people who disappeared in Colombia. Agreement #62, as the joint statement has come to be called, would “alleviate the suffering of the families of persons deemed as missing” and “contribute to the satisfaction of their rights.” (View Joint Communiqué #62 in English or Spanish.) The accord calls for both long-term structural measures and immediate complementary measures to improve the responsiveness of the government to victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. (See more here.) The measures are intended to complement and be consistent with the transitional justice framework the parties established in the Agreement on Victims they signed last December 15.
Among other things, Agreement #62 calls for the establishment of a new Search Unit for the Disappeared once an Accord is signed. To that end, it required the existing Search Commission (Comisión de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas) to produce recommendations for the new entity within four months, a task which was undertaken and completed. The Search Commission submitted its report to the authorities in Havana in March. (See the report here).
Agreement #62 likewise called for immediate complementary measures to search for, locate, identify, and return the remains of those who disappeared in the conflict to their family members. These measures are being coordinated by the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía), the Victims’ Unit, and the National Institute of Legal Medicine, in coordination with victims’ organizations. Progress has been made on this front as well.
Search efforts have intensified since the signing of the accord and are beginning to bear fruit. Victims’ organizations and The Orlando Fals Borda Collective, working with government institutions, have lead efforts from civil society that have resulted in the handing over of the remains of 34 people who were considered to have disappeared. Organizations such as Dipaz (Diálogo Intereclesial por la Paz, an ecumenical alliance for peace), worked with the Collective to ensure that appropriate religious ceremonies and accompaniment form part of the remedies being provided to the victims’ families in these processes. In December 2015, the remains of 29 people located in cemeteries in La Macarena, Granada, Vistahermosa, and San José del Guaviare were identified and turned over to an initial group of families. (See my earlier post here). Last Friday, April 15, a second group of family members learned of the fate of 15 of their loved ones who had disappeared in Colombia’s armed conflict and been buried without name (classified as N.N.) in cemeteries of the Eastern plains (Llanos Orientales). These families received the remains of their loved ones in public and private ceremonies in Bogotá, Apartadó, Bucaramanga, Tunja, and Villavicencio. (See more here.) Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace, spoke of the importance of addressing the question of the disappeared in the Colombian conflict:
“We must give a response to the millions of victims that the internal armed conflict has left, and among these victims, the victims of disappearance occupy a special place. Searching for the missing people is the first obligation, in the law and in international humanitarian law when a conflict ends,” Jaramillo told the family members who attended ceremonies to receive the remains of their loved ones.
Victims continue to come forward with their own proposals and to fulfill their mandate to design and implement measures to satisfy their rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. On March 15, the Working Group on Forced Disappearances (Mesa de Trabajo sobre Desaparición Forzada) of the Coordinating Committee of Colombia-Europe-United States (CCEEU) presented the recommendations and proposals of hundreds of victims, victims’ groups, and human rights organizations to the table in Havana. (See the “Recomendaciones y Propuestas de las Víctimas,” by the Working Group on Forced Disappearances.) These will be presented at tomorrow’s Colombia Peace Forum event at 10 am (EST). (Click here for more information and to tune in.)
Implementation of Accord #62
At tomorrow’s Colombia Peace Forum in Washington, we will hear about some of the specific challenges for the implementation of Agreement #62 on the disappeared. We hope to generate ideas for how to address these challenges, as well as lessons for the negotiators as they think about the design of mechanisms for effective implementation.
Implementation of these agreements is in its early stages. The effective implementation of such agreements is probably the best way to generate confidence in the peace process. Providing quick and effective remedies to those individuals and communities harmed by the conflict will also be important building blocks for the implementation of the final peace agreements.
Please join in here tomorrow for the Colombia Peace Forum.
Tweet your questions to @usip, @vmbouvier, @lawg, or share your thoughts at #ColombiaPeaceForum.