Peace Talks Resume following New Agreements and Preparations for Ceasefire

August 17, 2016

Today the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP resume the next round of what promises to be an extended marathon in their quest to secure a Final Peace Accord.  The government delegation arrived yesterday in Havana with instructions from President Juan Manuel Santos to work simultaneously in different commissions on a range of outstanding issues.  The commissions will include the participation of the plenipotentiaries as well as  the Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo, Adviser for Post-Conflict Affairs Rafael Pardo, and Director of the Colombian Agency for Reintegration Joshua Mitrotti. (See statement by Humberto de la Calle here.)

Recap of the Last Cycle

The last cycle began on August 3rd, and was marked by a rapid-fire series of new agreements, interspersed with joint technical field trips to the locations in Colombia  identified in the June 23rd ceasefire agreement as the zones where the FARC-EP will concentrate and where, under UN supervision, they will decommission their arms.  (See more here.) These recent agreements primarily address and refine some of the key items pending from earlier agreements.

Process for Appointing Judges Decided

One of the most anxiously awaited agreements refers to the process for selecting the magistrates to serve on the Special Peace Tribunal and chambers within the new justice architecture (SIVJRNR) established in the agreement on victims last December 2015.  In their joint communiqué last Friday, August 12, the parties announced their plan for a high-level committee–composed of the Pope, the UN Secretary General, the Colombian Supreme Court, the International Center for Transitional Justice, and the permanent commission of the State’s University System–to select the 24 magistrates for the Special Peace Tribunal and the various related chambers that will oversee and rule on crimes committed in the course of the internal armed conflict. (See communiqué and analysis here.) The various entities are studying the proposal and should confirm their willingness to participate in coming days.

“It is impossible to attain a selection committee of higher level, or greater moral authority,” noted Humberto de la Calle, the lead government negotiator. (See his statement here.) Enrique Santiago, legal advisor for the FARC delegation, noted, “The mechanism will guarantee the neutrality and impartiality of the selected judges and attorneys.” (See interview clip here.)

The communiqué furthermore spells out the rules governing the autonomy and independence to be enjoyed by the selection committee, an issue that many human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and DeJusticia had flagged as a major concern. Likewise, it specifies that the selection committee will be responsible for defining the application procedures and guarantees for transparency and monitoring of the process of judge selection.  Some of the selection criteria for the magistrates of the Tribunal and its chambers have already be established by the parties.  These criteria specify that the candidates for the positions must have a specialization in human rights and international humanitarian law and conflict resolution and that the selection process must consider questions of gender equity and ethnic diversity.  They also give a breakdown between the numbers of Colombian and foreign magistrates for the Special Peace Tribunal (20 Colombians and 4 internationals), as well as the other Chambers.  The selection process will begin as soon as possible after the Final Accord becomes operational.

Advances on the Statute for Political Opposition

On August 9, the parties issued Joint Communiqué 84, in which they appointed two experts–Sergio de Zubiría y Pablo Julio Cruz– to participate in a Commission to define the guidelines for a statute that will provide guarantees for political parties and movements that declare themselves to be opposition parties. (See the joint communiqué here.) This appointment brings the parties closer to fulfilling the promise they made in an earlier communiqué (#80) to convene such a Commission.  It appears that the remaining political parties and movements and representative opposition movements have yet to be convened.

Preparations for the Ceasefire Move Forward

On another front, following the momentous announcement on June 23rd that agreement had been reached on a ceasefire and the decommissioning of weapons (see my former post here), the parties made headway in fleshing out the details of the agreement and the protocols for implementing them.  On Friday, August 5th, the parties released 23 protocols and two annexes in Joint Communiqué #83. (Read it here.)

The protocols define 36 specific commitments regarding conducts and norms that will guarantee that the accords are not violated, and that the rights and freedoms of the civilian population are not affected in the concentration zones, what are known as the local transitional zones for normalization (Zonas Veredales Transitorias de Normalización – ZVTN) and the 8 transitory camps (Puntos Transitorios de Normalización).  The ceasefire will officially come into play once a final peace accord has been signed, although a de-escalation of military activity is already in effect.

The August 5 agreement outlines the phases for the planning and execution of the ceasefire, including the deployment of the new UN-led tripartite Mechanism for Monitoring and Verification (MMV) at the local, regional and national levels.  It also lays out a plan for the adaptation of a police presence on the ground; the operating procedures for the 23 local transitional zones for normalization (Zonas Veredales Transitorias de Normalización – ZVTN) and the 8 transitory camps (Puntos Transitorios de Normalización); and the specific timeline for procedures relating to the ceasefire and the decommissioning of arms. The ZVTNs will be established in order to “create the conditions for the initiation of the implementation of the Final Accord and the Setting Aside of Weapons and to prepare the institutional structures and the country for the Reincorporation of the FARC-EP into civilian life,” the communiqué notes. Humberto de la Calle clarified that last week’s technical teams would help prepare “the conditions for the temporary transition of the FARC while they set aside their arms and begin their reincorpoation into civilian life.”

The Aug. 5 communiqué also lays out the details of the composition, scope of responsibility, rules of conduct, and contingency plans for the MMV to oversee and guarantee implementation of the ceasefire and decommissioning of weapons.  This UN political mission, as already mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2261 (2016), will be headed by United Nations, and include representatives of both the Colombian government and the FARC, as well as unarmed observers primarily from (CELAC). Although preparations for the UN mission are well under way, the mission will officially begin 30 days from the signing of a final peace accord.

Finally, the agreement lays out specific measures to guarantee security and protection for those engaged in the monitoring and verification tasks, as well as the civilian population, State employees, and FARC-EP members.  It establishes protective protocols for moving people and weapons across the terrain and for the handling, storage, transportation and control of arms, munitions and explosives.  Unarmed civilian authorities are granted authority in the ZVTNs and contingency plans are established in case of conflicts.

Ethnic Concerns Heard

In a separate August 8th letter to the “Ethnic Authorities, Organizations and People of Colombia,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo and High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo recognized the importance of coordinating efforts between the national government and the municipal and regional authorities, as well as the ethnic authorities and organizations in the territories.  They gave reassurances that the zones where the initial demobilization and reintegration will take place will be temporary and function for a maximum of 180 days, and will be located neither inside indigenous resguardos nor on lands where Afro-Colombian communities hold collective titles. They promised that once the concentration zones have been defined, they will create timely opportunities for dialogue with ethnic authorities and organizations, and will establish with the indigenous authorities in the region a “channel of direct communications that will permit a culturally appropriate handling of the concerns and circumstances that might arise before and during their operation.”

Visits to the ZVTN and Transitory Camps

On Sunday, August 14, the peace delegations  issued from Villavicencio, in the department of Meta, their ninety-first joint communiqué.  It announced that they had completed six days of technical visits to all but one of the agreed 23 rural areas (ZVTN) and 8 other camps that the parties had proposed earlier as transitional zones.  The zones were located in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, Caquetá, Chocó, Cesar, Córdoba. Guaviare, Guajira, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Tolima, and Vichada.  A final decision on the precise areas where demobilizing FARC troops will be concentrated and where local operational headquarters will be established will be made in coming days by the parties based in Havana based on the surveys conducted of each zone this past week.

The technical review of the zones was a serious undertaking that engaged 150 people, including delegates of the National Government, Brigade and Police Commanders, the Generals who participated in the technical sub commission for ending the conflict, 33 members of the FARC-EP plus the regional front commanders, international observers of the UN Mission in Colombia, delegates of the guarantor countries, and the local governors and mayors. The  teams traveled to all but the municipality of Caldono in Cauca; they will nonetheless work to ascertain the location of the ZVTN in that municipality by other means.  The teams–which included engineers, map-makers, and topographers–surveyed and photographed the zones, met with local residents and authorities, engaged in their own peace pedagogies, and assembled information that will assist the parties in taking decisions going forward.

In an interview with El Colombiano, Mónica Cifuentes, legal advisor for the peace process and the government’s representative in the technical visits, noted that the technical visits will allow the parties to determine where the camps and headquarters for the MMV will be located, and give them a chance to clarify with local residents and authorities key issues, such as the content of the ceasefire agreement, the purpose of the ZVTNs, the process by which the FARC-EP will lay down their weapons, and the preliminary steps for reincorporating the FARC-EP into civil and political life. (See more here.)

Pending Issues at the Table

A few more items can now be checked off the list of pendientes, but as the next round of negotiations begins, there are still significant issues to be resolved.  The remaining agenda includes, among other things, the particularly sensitive issues related to the FARC-EP’s reintegration into Colombia’s political life and its social fabric, and agreements around the implementation and monitoring mechanisms for the accords. Polls in Colombia have consistently shown that at least 75% (and most recently, 88% in the Ipsos Napoleón Franco poll) of those queried oppose the idea of members of the FARC-EP running for elected office and serving in the Colombian political system.

In a statement yesterday, government negotiator Humberto de la Calle underscored that the reintegration of the FARC-EP is not just the responsibility of the peace table but will require Colombian society engagement.  “We believe that the central purpose of a peace process is to cast aside weapons and open up political space,” noted de la Calle.  (See his statement here.)  Increasingly, one can see that the work at the table in Havana will soon take a second place to the discussions at home in Colombia.  There the campaigns for the “yes” and “no” vote in the plebiscite that will be required to transform any final agreement into reality have been unofficially launched.  Similarly, the FARC-EP will have an upcoming Conference where the leadership in Havana will similarly need to sell their agreement to their own constituency.  While knowledge of the accords is essential to an informed electorate and in preparation for the plebiscite, pedagogies that go beyond the technical aspects to the deeper traumas and fears that have been cultivated through decades of war will be increasingly important in preparing the landscape for a successful transition to 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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