May 17, 2016
As the peace process in Havana enters its final stretch, decisions are coming at a fast pace and preparations for the end of the war are advancing. Last Thursday, May 12, the Colombian government and the FARC announced a process to ensure that the final peace deal is approved by the Colombian Congress, the Constitutional Court, the Colombian citizenry, and the international community (via the Federal Swiss Council and the UN Secretary General). (Read details of the May 12 accord here.) Discussions on the process continue in the Colombian Congress this week.
New Agreement on Minors
This past Sunday, May 15, the parties in Havana announced further agreements that signal the imminent end of the war. In Joint Communiqué #70, the parties announced a plan for separating minors from the battlefield and reintegrating all minors under age 15 currently in FARC camps into civil society. (Read the joint communiqué here.) The agreement represents a “crucial advance” and a “final stop” in the process of ending the war, noted Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator. (Read de la Calle’s statement here.) Under this agreement, a road map and protocol will be established for the progressive separation , from armed life of every minor in the FARC rank-and-file, beginning with those under 15 years of age. (See Q&A here.)
The Colombian government does not know how many minors can be counted among the FARC’s current ranks. According to Colombia’s acting Attorney General Jorge Fernando Perdomo, between 1975 and 2014, the FARC recruited 11.556 minors– 33 percent girls and 67 percent boys. Of these, the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF) reported that it had assisted 5,969 boys, girls, and adolescents between Nov. 1999 and March 2016 Sixty percent of those youth were from the FARC, and most were from Antioquia, Caquetá, Meta, Cauca and Colima. (Read more here.)
Youth recruitment has long been a sticking point between the parties, as it continues to be between the Colombian government and the ELN. Armed groups rely for their survival on the continued replenishment of their ranks with malleable young people. In part because it is considered a crime against humanity under the International Criminal Court, child recruitment is often denied or hidden by the armed groups that practice it. Fifteen is officially the minimum age established by FARC statutes for recruitment, and FARC leaders argue that they have provided refuge for poor youth, victims of paramilitary violence, and war orphans. (See more here.)
Considerable progress has been made in the context of the peace talks. On Feb. 12, 2015, in what turned out to be a pivotal moment for opening the secret peace negotiations in Havana with the Colombian government, the FARC made a unilateral decision to stop recruiting minors under 17 years of age. One year later, under pressure from civil society and the international community and in the context of progressive talks in Havana, the FARC announced that it would cease recruitment of minors under 18. Under this week’s agreement, FARC leaders have taken a quantum leap by agreeing to immediately turn over the 21 minors under age 15 currently living in FARC camps, as well as other minors who have left the camps in the last two years. The minors will be returned to their communities under protective programs and accompaniment mechanisms being designed under the terms of the May 15 agreement. (Read the FARC statement here.)
Summary of Commitments and Agreements
Within the next 15 days, the negotiating teams in Havana will establish a road map and protocols for the separation and reintegration of youth under 15 years of age associated with the FARC, and within one month, the government will then launch a comprehensive program to meet the differentiated needs of all minors, especially girls. The program will include the full restitution of their rights.
Minors who have been engaged in Colombia’s internal armed conflict are considered under Law 1448 (The Law of Victims and Land Restitution, 2011) to be victims. As such, they are entitled to reparations. Under current Colombian law and the terms of the new agreement:
- Youth under age 18 who leave the ranks of the FARC are entitled to full human rights, including the right to comprehensive reparations, the right to participate in decisions affecting them, and guarantees of protection and security;
- Treatment of minors subject to this accord will be differentiated based on considerations of gender, ethnicity, and age, with special attention given to the rights of girls;
- Minors under 14 years of age cannot be considered criminally liable for their acts;
- 14-18 year olds who abandon FARC-EP camps under the terms of this agreement will be pardoned for rebellion and other related crimes, absent any other legal impediment under Colombian law;
- Minors accused of or serving time for crimes that are not eligible for pardons or amnesties will have their sentences reviewed later on a case-by-case basis under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.
Each party has taken on independent commitments under the accord. The FARC, for its part, reaffirmed its commitment not to recruit minors under 18. The FARC delegation also agreed to identify and release minors under age 15 from FARC camps as soon as the protocol and transitory plan for attention and support are established, in principle, in the next two weeks. The Colombian government, for its part, agreed to establish a technical working group to help design such a protocol and a transitory plan to guarantee the rights of minors. The technical working group will be headed up by the Public Defender’s Office and the Human Rights Office of the Presidency (under the direction of Paula Gaviria, former head of the Victims’ Unit), and will include representatives of other specialized organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEP, and the Office of International Migration (OIM). In two weeks, the working group will present its recommendations to the peace table in Havana; within a month, it will present a special comprehensive program to guarantee the restitution of the rights of minors who are separated from the war.
Guidelines for the Transition
The accord guidelines for the transition include privileging the preferences and best interests of the youth, and reintegration them as quickly as possible with their families and communities (or culturally similar communities). The transitory plan for minors under 18 (including those who have already left the FARC camps since early 2015–some under the auspices of the ICRC) is expected to provide considerations for health care, education, productive projects, dignified housing, and opportunities for families and communities to participate in the program.
The parties agreed to ask UNICEF and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to serve as guarantors of the process, and invited the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the Carter Center, Geneva Calls, and three other specialized organizations selected by the Peace Table to accompany and monitor implementation of the accord.
Leila Zerrougui, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, called the signing of the agreement “an important and vital step… but only the first step.” (Read her statement here in English and Spanish.) Zerrougui traveled to Havana for her third time on Sunday and applauded the initiative. “I feel privileged to be here today with the Colombians and welcome this important commitment, which puts the issue of children at the heart of the peace process and promises to change their lives,” she said. “This is an urgently needed step for children who have never known a country at peace. … The full implementation of the agreement will allow boys, girls, and adolescents to learn, grow, and prosper, and with time, to become adults who contribute to a Colombian society in peace.”