Gender on the Havana Agenda

July 26, 2016

At 10 am on Sunday, July 24, the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP filed into the Protocol Room of El Laguito in Havana.  There a distinguished group of gender experts had assembled to hear the results of the subcommission on gender that the parties had established on September 11, 2014.  Special invited guests included Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN-Women (the UN organization for gender equality and women’s empowerment);  Zainab Bangura, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Sexual Violence in Armed Conflicts; Luiza Carvalho, the regional director for the Américas and the Caribbean for UN-Women; Belén Sanz, country director for UN-Women in Colombia; and Ambassador María Emma Mejía, Colombia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.  In addition, Martha Ordóñez, President Juan Manuel Santos’s special advisor on equity for women,  European Union Special Envoy Eamon Gilmore, and the accompanying delegations from Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, and Chile, as well as nearly two dozen representatives of Colombian women’s and LGBTI organizations attended the event.   (A quick nod here to Hilde Salvesen and Magalys Arocha and their teams.)

In Sunday’s ceremony, the Colombian government and FARC-EP delegations reported on the gender sub commission’s review of the provisional agreements reached thus far at the table.  In a joint statement, they explained that the integration of the sub commission recommendations will help “to create conditions so that women and persons with diverse sexual identities can have equal access to the benefits of living in a country without armed conflict.”  (See their statement here.)  They noted, “At the peace table, we are conscious that the transformations that the country needs to build peace will not be possible without a society that recognizes and respects differences and where the stigmatizations and discriminations for reasons of gender remain in the past.”

Mandate of the Gender Subcommission

The subcommission was mandated “to review and guarantee, with the support of national and international experts” any peace agreements that are reached, and to ensure that they “have an adequate gender focus.” (See more here.)   Co-chaired by María Paulina Riveros for the Colombian government, and Victoria Sandino Palmera for the FARC-EP, the subcommission was comprised primarily (but not exclusively) of women from the two peace delegations.  Colombian government negotiator Nigeria Rentería (who stepped down from her post to run for governor of Chocó) noted when the subcommission was installed that its goal was “to guarantee inclusion, social equality, and bring us closer to an accord that represents the interests of men and women.” (See her statement here.)  The FARC delegation for its part expressed the hope that the commission “would produce real change for women and members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) communities” and “grant full rights to women and to the LBGTI sectors that have been discriminated against for so long.” (See full statement here.)

Gender Inclusion in Eight Key Areas

In her comments to the assembly, co-chair María Paulina Riveros noted that there was considerable discussion among members of the sub commission about what it means to adopt a gender focus in the accords.  (Read her statement here).  Ultimately, the sub commission came down on the side of inclusivity and citizenship rights as fundamental aspects of a democratic society and its recommendations were geared toward recognizing and incorporating equal rights for women and LGBTI sectors into the peace agenda that has been under negotiation in Havana since late 2012.  The particular measures announced on Sunday aim at creating equal opportunities and overcoming stigmas and historic discrimination and inequality faced by women and LGBTI populations.  Riveros summarized eight areas where the delegations have accepted the affirmative measures recommended by the gender sub commission:

  • Equal access to and formalization of rural property for women;
  • Guarantees of economic, social and cultural rights for women and persons with diverse sexual identities in the rural sector;
  • Promotion of women’s participation in “spaces of representation, decision making, and conflict resolution” and a balanced representation of women in the highest decision-making positions in bodies created by the peace accords;
  • Prevention and protection measures that address the specific risks faced by women–these measures include reducing stigmatization for reasons of gender and sexual orientation, special protections for women exercising their political rights or defending human rights, and improved psychosocial attention for victims, especially victims of sexual violence;
  • Access to truth and justice, and measures against impunity–these include the creation of a working group within the anticipated truth commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la no Repetición) that would address the differential impact of the conflict on women, provide technical and research support, and prepare gender hearings; specialized methodologies for dealing with the victimization of women and LGBTI individuals; a special investigative unit on sexual violence within the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP); and not giving amnesty for crimes of sexual violence;
  • Public recognition, an end to stigmatization, and broad dissemination of women’s  political work–this includes the promotion of a culture of participation and peace, and the eradication of stereotypes that incite gender-based violence;
  • Institutional actions to strengthen the political participation of women’s organizations (especially those of rural peasant women) and LGBTI movements;
  • Information systems that disaggregate data by gender, particularly in the case of the land cadastre and related to illicit crop cultivation activities.

For more details, watch the following video:

A Modern Colombia

Humberto de la Calle, the head of the Colombian government peace delegation, underscored the impact that these eight points will have in building a new country–“a modern Colombia… founded on the recognition of rights.”  (See his statement here.)  De la Calle alluded as well to the important role that women will have in the reconciliation of the country.  “Women have been very important peace builders in the middle of the war: they have prepared their social nuclei for reconciliation, they have been essential in conserving the memory of the acts of terror as well as the traditions and cultural roots of their peoples,” he said.  “Peace is possible.  Let us prepare for peace.  The torch of reconciliation will rest in the hands of Colombia’s women.”   Listen to him here:

Strengths, Accomplishments, and Limitations of the Subcommission

Colombia’s sub commission on gender is a peace process innovation with few global precedents and it has already had an impact.  In particular, the sub commission opened Colombia’s peace process to women’s and LGBTI organizations, and to the concerns of the broader civil society they represented.  Under the sub commission’s direction, between December 2014 and March 2015, three delegations representing women’s and LGBTI organizations (18 people) participated directly in the peace talks table and presented their analysis and proposals to the negotiators in Havana.  Of the five delegations of victims invited by the table to Havana, 60 per cent of the participants were women.  They too were an important resource for the sub commission. In addition, the sub commission brought to the peace tables in Havana 10 Colombian experts on sexual violence. The gender sub commission was also instrumental in bringing to Cuba representatives of various UN agencies and representatives to work on particular issues.  These visits helped shape agreements related to sexual and gender-based violence and child soldiers, including agreements on increasing the age of guerrilla recruitment and the separation of minors from FARC ranks.  The role of the sub commission in putting the issue of sexual violence and victims rights on the peace agenda was critical.

Furthermore, in the context of recent discussions on ending the conflict, the gender sub commission invited 10 female ex guerrillas from South Africa, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, Uruguay and Colombia to share their experiences of reintegration.   These visits will undoubtedly shape the agreements on ending the conflict and provide elements that ensure that agreements to end the conflict address the differentiated needs of male and female ex-combatants, victims, receiving communities, LGBTI individuals, and the families of the aforementioned.  Ideally, these agreements will also address the differential needs and rights of Colombia’s Afro-descent, indigenous, palenquero, raizal, and rrom women and girls.  (Here it will be important to work in tandem with recent efforts at and around the table to review all documents from an ethnic dimension in the wake of the June 2016 visits of ethnic delegations.)

With the work of the gender sub commission, the peace accords reached thus far now presumably use more inclusive, specific, non-sexist language–an important advance in and of itself.  Furthermore, the accords recognize that war has a differential impact on men and women, and they address issues relating to the particular problems and risks that women and LGBTI individuals have faced in the context of the conflict as well as those anticipated in a post-conflict era.  The new gender-infused agreements appear to be particularly strong in addressing the need to  promote and protect the rights and lives of rural women and women’s organizations.  This is not surprising given the centrality of agrarian issues as a root of Colombia’s internal armed conflict, and the particularly harsh victimization of the peasants and their efforts to organize in the course of the war. (Recently, the Colombian government granted the first collective reparations were granted to the historic National Association of Small Peasant Farmers, ANUC.  See more here.)

Recommendations for Strengthening the Agreements on Gender

There are a number of areas where the gender dimensions of the agreements presumably might be strengthened, though I acknowledge that the full documents have not been made public and the agreements are not completely finished.  I comment nonetheless based on the documents, statements, and summaries that have been shared publicly, in the hope that the following points might merit greater attention in the final documents or in the implementation agreements to come.  I likewise invite my readers to add their own  comments and corrections.

The summary of the agreements presented Sunday gives a nod to the political roles that women play and the need for a more inclusive political culture in Colombia.  Yet there is a clear historical deficit here that the peace accords might better define and address, ideally with concrete actions and measurable goal posts.  Colombian women are half the population, yet in 2015, they held just under 25 per cent of the House and Senate seats, and occupied under 10 per cent of regional and local elected positions, such as governors, mayors, and city council officials.  The gendered peace agreements fall short of advocating or proposing measures for increasing women’s presence in such elected posts, eschewing temporary directives or quotas that have become commonplace in many countries around the world to help even the playing field for women in politics more quickly. More aggressive action seems warranted.

Likewise, there was little reference in the summaries of the eight areas highlighted to the differential needs, experiences, and capacities of women and LGBTI individuals.  Ethnic and territorial rights, which are fundamental rights for indigenous and Afro-descent populations, are not mentioned in these summaries.  There is no reference to special protections (or reparations, which presumably have not yet been fully defined) for widows young girls, or single heads of households.  Ethnicity, age, class, and marital status, among other things, matter in how a person experiences war and peace. Ideally, these will be addressed in future reviews of the accords.

Finally, it would seem that the peace agreements on disappearances were not reviewed by the gender sub commission.  Nonetheless, this might be worth doing, as they could be strengthened by inclusion of a gender component.  Complementary gender-sensitive protocols regarding investigations and documentation of sexual violence, dignified returns, accompaniment and psycho-social supports when gender-based violence is in evidence could strengthen this important set of agreements as well.

What’s Next?

The peace delegations noted that they have now incorporated the recommendations from the gender sub commission in the agreements reached in the peace process thus far on integrated rural reform, political participation, and illicit drugs. (See their statement here.)  Discussions of the remaining agenda items — victims and ending the conflict–have already included a gender perspective in their construction, they noted.  Presumably, separate  review by the gender sub commission will not be solicited but gender concerns are clearly already a part of these discussions.  The final agenda item under discussion at the peace table– the implementation, verification and endorsement of the accords–is a key area with regard to women’s meaningful and symbolic participation.

In the ceremony on Sunday, the parties noted that the gender subcommission will continue to work “so that the agreements that are reached guarantee inclusion and the exercise of rights in equality of conditions for the whole society and especially for women and the LGBTI population.” (See statement here.)  A number of areas remain on the gender agenda when the parties return to the table on July 30th.

It would appear from the statements made on Sunday that the work of the gender sub commission has contributed to a deeper understanding about the connections between historic patterns of exclusion and discrimination, and violence.  Likewise, it has offered solutions that reside in greater respect for differences, greater recognition of and protections for the rights of women and LGBTI individuals, and a recognition that inclusion and a culture of human rights are the requirements for a modern  democracy.  The key here, as always, is implementation and mechanisms to ensure accountability for the agreements reached.  Only if agreements are implemented will they help to advance women’s empowerment and women’s rights, and contribute to furthering the rights of LGBTI populations in Colombia.  The process is not yet finished, but the results thus far are promising.



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Constitutional Court Approves Plebiscite for Colombian Peace Accords

July 20, 2016

On Monday, July 18, in an anxiously-awaited decision, Colombia’s Constitutional Court unanimously approved the statutory law establishing the plebiscite as the mechanism by which the Colombian electorate will approve or reject the Havana peace accords negotiated by the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.  (Read it here.)  This is the first time in the history of Colombia’s many peace accords that an agreement between the government and an armed group will be subject to the approval of the Colombian populace.  In an earlier advance on June 23, the parties had announced that they would accept the ruling of the Constitutional Court regarding the appropriate endorsement mechanism for the Accords. (See more here.)  This acknowledgement by the FARC-EP of the authority of a State institution was unprecedented, and a clear sign of change on their part.  View the public hearings in late May organized by the Constitutional Court as they reviewed the law:

In this week’s decision, the Constitutional Court found no procedural irregularities in the statutory law.  It ruled on a number of aspects of the law.  First, it approved the proposed required threshold of 13% for the Accords to be approved.  This means that at least 4.5 million voters–13% of the electorate–must vote “yes” in the plebiscite for the President to be bound to implement the Accords.  The Constitution establishes no minimum threshold of votes for a plebiscite, but the court found the 13% threshold to be “reasonable,” according to María Victoria Calle, the president of the Constitutional Court.  (See more here.)  Colombia’s voter turnout is traditionally extremely low–in the last Congressional elections, 59.9% of the qualified electorate did not vote, up only slightly from 2011.  (More here.) Blank votes will not count toward the threshold for the plebiscite.

Second, the court ruled that, for this one time only, the prohibition on the participation of public employees in campaigns relating to the plebiscite, will be temporarily lifted.  (This countered the recommendation of Judge Luis Ernesto Vargas, who, in his massive brief to the Court (see my prior post) had proposed more stringent limits on government employees’ involvement in the plebiscite campaigns.  Nonetheless, in its current finding, the court maintains some limits–in their campaigning, public employees will be not be allowed “to incorporate content that promotes a party, political movement or significant group of citizens or that relates to the promotion of candidacies to popularly elected offices.”  (More here.)

Third, in accordance with the Constitution, the court established that the publication of the final peace agreement will be realized “simultaneously with the presentation of the report of the President to the Congress regarding his intent to convene a plebiscite, so that the Congress and the people can know in a timely way the content of what was agreed.”  (See more here.) The accord must be available to disabled and non-Spanish speaking populations in Colombia as well.  The Congress then has a maximum of one month to approve the report, after which Santos has up to four months (from the time he presented the report to Congress) to convene the plebiscite.

Finally, in a 7 to 2 vote, the court established that the vote will be binding for the President of the Republic, but not for the other legislative or judicial powers.  María Victoria Calle, the president of the Constitutional Court, explained that a plebiscite approving the peace accords does not automatically incorporate the accords into the Constitution or into Colombian law.  (See more here.)  A favorable vote in the plebiscite will, however, initiate a fast-track procedure to do so under the Legislative Act for Peace approved in the last Congressional session.

Legislative Act for Peace

The Legislative Act for Peace, approved on June 15 after eight rounds and nine months of oft-times contentious debate, is, according to President Juan Manuel Santos “one of the most important constitutional reforms in our history.” (Read his statement here.)  It is this law that provides the mechanism by which the Peace Accords signed in Havana will become law.  (See background here.)  The law grants the president extraordinary powers to issue legally binding decrees to implement the peace accords, shortens the time required for Congress to enact statutory laws and reforms, and grants the Peace Accords the status of a Special Accord, protected under the Geneva Conventions.  (See more here.)

In the final hearing to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the draft legislation, ex-President Alvaro Uribe made a last-ditch effort to torpedo the bill, arguing that the Government was turning the country over to the FARC, and that the plebiscite would not give the citizenry sufficient opportunity to weigh in on the individual aspects of the peace deal.  He also objected to the special fast-track powers given to the President to implement the accords. (More here.)  The Senate plenary approved the bill, nonetheless, with Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo underscoring that the law would not go into effect unless and until the Accords were ratified by the electorate.  Only at that point will the peace accords will be incorporated into the body of protected legislation known as the “Constitutional block.”  See below the closing arguments of Senator Uribe and Interior Minister Cristo:

The overall package must be weighed in its entirety against the costs of continuing the war.  Voting piecemeal on the Accords through a multi-question referendum would seemingly undermine a carefully crafted, integrated package that in the course of four years of negotiations has sought to find a balance of justice and truth for victims, while also recognizing that the peace agreements are the product of a negotiated settlement, not an imposition by one winning party over a losing party.

What Next?  

Today, July 20, a new legislative year begins in Colombia.  The Congress will have a full plate, with an agenda that will include overseeing the implementation of the changes that will be required for peace in Colombia to be sustainable.  The agenda will include an ambitious package of laws and constitutional reforms to translate into reality the agreements reached in Havana to put an end to half a century of war. (See “La legislatura de la paz.”)  A fast pace will be required, as the special legislative procedures approved earlier cut in half the time needed to approve draft laws, make Constitutional reforms, and incorporate the accords into Colombian law.  “This is unheard of, unique, and special, and it will be historic, because we will have the opportunity to process, in a short time, a profound transformation in national life,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo was quoted as saying. (See more here.)

With the Congress back in session, the Constitutional Court must now forward its decision–Sentencia C-379/16– to the Presidents of the Senate and House.  They in turn will forward it to President Santos.

The ball is now in the court of the peace delegations in Havana.  Before any of the mechanisms that are now in place can be engaged, the parties must produce a final agreement to end the hostilities and put an end to Colombia’s internal armed conflict. Rafael Pardo, Colombia’s Senior Presidential Advisor for the Post-Conflict, announced in Washington last week that he expected the agreement to be reached in the latter half of August. (Download his presentation at the Wilson Center or view the session here.)  Only once the parties have signed (or at least initialed) the agreements, can the President present his report on the Accords to Congress, announce his intent to hold a plebiscite, and begin dissemination of the content of the Accords.  Then the electoral infrastructure will kick in, establishing equitable norms for equal media access and such for each campaign.

With a “yes” victory of the minimum required votes, the Accords will then be transmitted to the Constitutional Court, which will rule on the constitutionality of the particular provisions of the Peace Accord, including for example, the transitional justice components. Once reviewed by the Constitutional Court, the Congress will be required to make the required legislative changes to allow implementation of the agreements.  If a “no” vote wins, i.e.,  the plebiscite fails to garner the required threshold of 4,6 million votes, the President will not be bound to the Accords; although others can still implement the agreements. (See more here.)

As the guns on the battle ground go silent, a new battle for the ballots is just beginning…



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Preparing for Peace in Colombia

July 12, 2016

Preparing for the Ceasefire and Setting Aside Weapons

The process in Havana has picked up speed since the June 23 agreements, and word here in Bogota is that a final accord is not far away.  As Humberto de la Calle told us yesterday in a meeting of international experts gathered for a summit on reconciliation, reintegration and peace building, “We are at the point of seeing the face of peace.”

In the last session of the 50th cycle in Havana, in addition to the political participation agreements reached (see my prior blog), the working group on the separation of minors presented the Colombian government and the FARC peace delegations with a proposal for a comprehensive program for minors who leave the FARC camps. (See more here.)  Many of the confidence-building measures, including joint pilot programs in demining;  joint programs in crop substitution (initiated in Briceño this week); efforts to advance the search, location, identification, and dignified return of the disappeared; and reconciliation initiatives continue to move forward.  In early July, a delegation of victims traveled to Havana from Bojayá to continue discussions relating to an ongoing reconciliation process with the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.

The technical subcommission on ending the conflict has continued work to refine and elaborate the terms of the June 23 agreements on the definitive, bilateral ceasefire, and the cessation of hostilities, as well as the decommissioning of weapons.  These details include defining the size of the camps where the FARC will be concentrated, and security and monitoring mechanisms.  A group of FARC members arrived in Havana to receive training in the tasks they will undertake as part of the verification mechanism for the ceasefire working with the UN political mission, the government and the Colombian military.  (Read more here.)  Likewise, the parties are beginning technical visits to prepare the concentration zones and to explain the peace accords and the proposed reintegration process to those inhabiting the zones. (See more here.) There was an incident last week in which the Colombian Army attacked FARC delegation members, who inadvertently showed up in the wrong place; it is unclear exactly what happened, but immediate action on the part of the parties in Havana seems to have resolved the issue in the short term. (Read statements by FARC delegation here and by Humberto de la Calle here.)

Colombia Prepares for Peace

Within Colombia, advance preparations for the political mission established by the UN Security Council last January, under the direction of Jean Arnault, are already well underway.  On June 28, the first group of 23 international observers arrived in Bogotá; a second contingent was right behind.  These unarmed observers, mostly from Latin America, will complement the 20-member advance team of civilians that is already in place.

The Plebiscite

The issue of the referendum has been turned over to the Constitutional Court, and the Court’s decision, by mutual consent of the parties in Havana, will determine whether the final peace accords will go to a plebiscite, and under what conditions.  Still to be agreed by the parties in Havana are the mechanisms for overall implementation and verification of the accords, international accompaniment of the post-Accord phase, a timetable, budget, and communications tools.

In the meantime, the Constitutional Court’s decision is being anxiously awaited–and may well come this week.  The court will determine if the draft statutory law on the referendum approved by the Colombian Congress late last year is constitutional.  In January, Constitutional Court magistrate Luis Ernesto Vargas was selected to write the brief for the court and he invited briefs from different social sectors.  The Court has also invited opinions, and on May 23, heard testimony from 23 witnesses, including President Juan Manuel Santos, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo, and the lead negotiators for the government and the FARC (Humberto de la Calle and Iván Márquez, respectively) as well as members of the legislative and judicial branches, academics, and victims.  (More here.)  On June 17, Constitutional Court magistrate Luis Ernesto Vargas submitted his 300-page brief for consideration by the full body of the court.

Key aspects to be determined by the court include whether a plebiscite is the most appropriate mechanism for endorsing the accords, if reducing the required electoral threshold to 13 percent (from 50%) to approve the accords is constitutional, and if the peace accords will be binding.  In addition, the Court must rule on the nature and extent of participation by public employees in the prior campaigning for the plebiscite, the role of the media in educating the public about the plebiscite on the one hand and about the peace accords on the other, and the use of public funds for conducting the referendum.  (More here.)  Vargas’s finding backs the constitutionality of the statutory law and introduces a number of refinements, introducing restrictive conditions under which the referendum must be conducted. Debate began in the Constitutional Court on June 23, and a decision should be forthcoming soon.

Once the agenda has been completed and the final accords are signed, President Santos will have one to four months to call a plebiscite.  If the majority vote in a referendum in favor of accepting the peace accords and they total more than 13% of the electorate, the legislative act for peace will enter into force.  The Constitutional Court will then have 15 days to review the law to be sure it meets all standards of constitutionality and Colombia’s international obligations.  Additional laws will then need to be developed that legalize and put into practice particular provisions of the final accord.


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New Agreements on Political Participation; Renewed Energy to End the War

July 9, 2016

Despite a clearly accelerated pace and enormous political will to bring the peace talks to a close and end Colombia’s war once and for all, a final peace deal by July 20th–as announced last month by President Juan Manuel Santos–is a stretch.  Nonetheless, it seems clear that the talks will reach their intended conclusion very soon.

Havana has been buzzing with activity since June 23rd, when international figures gathered there to witness the signing of three breakthrough agreements for ending the conflict.  One agreement lays out the terms for a ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, and the decommissioning of weapons (see agreement here).  Another outlines the accompanying security guarantees and the commitment to battling criminal organizations and paramilitary groups. (Read it here).  The third agreement binds the parties to accept the decision of the Constitutional Court on the mechanism by which Colombians would endorse the final peace agreements. (View it here.)  The June 23rd agreements include detailed road maps and schedules to decommission all of the weapons of an estimated 7,000 FARC combatants within six months of signing a peace agreement, and an even more detailed plan for concentrating FARC troops in 23 small hamlets and 8 camps.  The agreements are replete with protection schemes and verification procedures by UN forces that create confidence that a transition from war to peace is not only possible, it is happening.  June 23 marked the start of a new era in Colombia–the end of the war–and consequently, a noticeable shift in the dynamics both within Colombia and at the peace table in Havana.

New Polls Favor Peace

Within Colombia, the latest Gallup polls show a substantial rebound and increased favorability for President Juan Manuel Santos and for the peace process.  Santos’s approval ratings shot from 21 to 30 percent since May 2016 (having hit an all-time low of 13 percent earlier this year) in polls conducted from June 21 to July 2 in five major cities. Support for the peace process likewise climbed in recent weeks from 27 percent to 50 percent. (See more here and here.)  All in all, it is an exciting time, and public skepticism that an accord will be reached is slowly retreating.

New Energy in Havana

There seems to be a new energy in Havana as well.  Old differences are finding new resolutions quickly in this invigorated environment.   Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator, called the process “irreversible,” promising that the process “should rapidly arrive at its conclusion.”  (See more here.)  U.S. Peace Envoy Bernie Aronson, who, by early July, had visited the peace table 25 times since his appointment in early 2015, echoed De la Calle’s assessment, noting, “If it’s a few weeks or a month and a half more to wrap up details, it’s only a question of time. But we have already arrived at the end.” (View his remarks here.)

The FARC has taken measures that reinforce its commitment to move away from arms and into the democratic fold.  On July 4th, Timochenko announced that he had just given the order to all the FARC structures “to suspend taxing all the legal economic activity that there is in the regions, taxes that we have on the ranchers, the different financial sources, big business.”  (See more here.)  Likewise, throughout June, FARC members engaged in pedagogical exercises in all of the prisons to teach the prisoners about the peace process, and new FARC troops arrived in Havana who will be trained to work with the UN political mission in the concentration zones to assist with the ceasefire and decommissioning arrangements.

On Tuesday, July 5th, Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiators announced a number of advances and agreements, including breakthroughs on political participation mechanisms.  This blog will focus on these new political mechanisms, with a subsequent blog picking up on additional developments related to the ethnic delegations and other outstanding issues from this session.

Agreements on Political Participation

During the third round of the fiftieth cycle, which closed on July 5th, the parties began to work their way through the topics left pending from previous provisional accords reached on rural agrarian development, political participation, illicit drugs, victims and transitional justice.  The pending topics are said to number a few dozen, and constitute areas where agreement could not be reached, so presumably they will require some further discussion.  Some undoubtedly will also fall on the cutting room floor.

On July 5, nonetheless, the parties announced that they had now reviewed all of the pending items from the earlier agreement reached in Nov. 2013 on political participation.  (See the original agreement here.)  From this review, they produced three new agreements on mechanisms for protecting and promoting guarantees for political opposition; protection and promotion of citizen participation; and a timeline for instituting electoral reforms.  (Read their joint communiqué here.)

Law on Political Opposition

In their statement, the parties called for the establishment of a Commission to define the features of a statute to guarantee the exercise of political opposition.  The Commission is to be convened immediately by the Ministry of the Interior, and will include representatives of the Marcha Patriótica (a leftist party-movement granted legal standing in April 2012) and the Congreso de los Pueblos, as well as 2 experts designated by the peace table, and other stakeholders agreed on by the parties.  The Commission will facilitate an event involving the broader participation of representatives of opposition movements and organizations, as well as experts and academics.  The government will work with the Commission to draw up a draft law on political opposition as soon as possible following the signing of the Final Agreement.

Citizen Participation

The parties also agreed to prepare a draft law to protect and promote citizen participation.  The law would be nourished by proposals generated in a new national consultation that would bring together spokespersons from the most representative social movements and organizations.  They called on the National Council for Citizen Participation (a permanent advisory body of the State run by the Ministry of the Interior), with the support of three nongovernmental organizations–Foro por Colombia, Viva la Ciudadanía and the Jesuit think-tank CINEP–to draw up a proposal in the next two weeks for the peace table that would outline the criteria and guidelines for ensuring “balanced and pluralist” representation in the design of this national consultation space.

Electoral Reforms

Finally, the parties agreed to create a special electoral mission that would make recommendations for institutional reforms to “guarantee greater autonomy and independence for electoral organization, … modernize and make the electoral system more transparent, …  give greater guarantees for political participation on equal terms (en igualdad de condiciones), and improve the quality of democracy.”   The electoral mission will include 7, mostly Colombian, high-level experts.  One of the participants will be the Electoral Observer Mission (MOE), a widely respected, independent electoral monitoring group with national oversight capacities.  MOE has accepted the role, and outlined the criteria for its participation in the new mission, namely, that it would continue to maintain  financial autonomy and a critical posture. (Read its statement here.) The remaining  experts will be selected by the equally respected Carter Center, the Political Science Department of the Universidad Nacional of Colombia, the Political Science Department of the Universidad de los Andes, and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

Still Pending on Political Participation

A number of items relating to political participation still remain to be defined, especially  the number of Congressional seats (Circunscripciones Transitorias Especiales de Paz) that will be temporarily granted to communities in zones devastated by conflict violence, many of which are historic FARC zones; the number of electoral terms that representatives of these special peace districts will have; and how many zones there will be.  Similarly, questions still remain on the particulars of the FARC’s reintegration into civilian life (for  excombatants, militias, dependents, and supporters); and the FARC’s longer-term transformation into a political movement following the six-month period during which it will begin the movement away from armed struggle under the supervision of the UN political mission.  Some of these issues are being considered in the discussions around point number three on the agenda, ending the conflict.

Gender Sub-commission Continues its Review

In addition, the subcommission on gender is working to complete its mandate.  It is reviewing all of the provisional agreements, including the recent June 23rd agreements as well as the new July 4th agreements on political participation, and can be expected to also review any new agreements on other pending topics.  In their latest communiqué, the parties announced that once the gender review is completed, any modifications made as a result of the gender sub commission’s work will be made public. (See Joint Communiqué #80).

Preparing the Population for FARC Political Engagement 

The larger challenge will be translating these decisions into reality and preparing the landscape in Colombia for the participation of the FARC in local, regional and national politics.  The transformation of FARC from a fighting force to a political force will need to happen relatively quickly.  Politics offers a key pathway, particularly for the FARC leadership and mid-level commanders, to ensure that viable alternatives exist for those who set aside their weapons that will lessen the enticements to pick up guns once again.

In his remarks at the June 23 ceremonies, Timoleón Jiménez (aka Timochenko), the top FARC leader, confirmed the FARC’s intention to participate in politics. “Of course the FARC will enter politics, as this is our reason for being, but through legal, peaceful ways, with the same rights and guarantees of the other parties,” he said.  Likewise, Timochenko underscored that “rural peace must mean a participatory transformation of the cities.”  (See the transcript of his remarks in Havana here.)

Humberto de la Calle, head of the government’s negotiating team, has increasingly been speaking publicly about the need to open political space for the guerrillas once they have set aside their weapons.  In an interview with Marisol Gómez, editor of El Tiempo, he confessed that the most difficult of the pending items with the FARC has less to do with the negotiations with the FARC than with public attitudes about the FARC’s participation in politics.  He called for Colombians “to reflect and prepare ourselves so that there might be a political presence of the FARC.”  (See interview here.)

The political transformation of armed groups (what in the literature are known as Non-State Armed Actors) is, frankly, the way that peace is made. Colombia’s history is filled with examples of combatants setting aside their arms to enter politics.  This has been done successfully with leaders of the M-19, sectors of the ELN (such as the CRS), and the EPL, all of which can point to elected officials working within the system for change and as forces for peace.  Colombia has demobilized some 58,000 individuals in recent decades; many of them of course have not gone into politics.  Still the model of swapping bullets for ballots has long been the international template and accepted best practice for peacemaking around the globe.  Examples abound–Northern Ireland, South Africa, El Salvador, Uruguay, Brazil, the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia, and so on.

Defining the Nature and Terms of FARC’s Political Participation 

In the Colombian case, the negotiating parties in Havana have signaled the critical importance of the FARC’s participation in politics in order to sustain peace, but the terms for this participation are still being discussed. While the Legal Framework for Peace (the legislative act approved by the Colombian Congress in June 2012 to prepare the terrain for a peace process) prohibited political participation for those FARC leaders responsible for the most serious crimes, it was superseded by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) agreed to by the parties last December.  The JEP opened the door for a revision of these earlier norms.  There are nonetheless still a number of items that need further clarification.  Some of these relate to determining which crimes are considered political crimes at the service of rebellion, and thus eligible for amnesty.  Will drug trafficking for example fall into this category of amnestiable crimes?  Or on another note, what will the “effective restriction of liberty” for those who committed war crimes anticipated in the provisional agreements on victims, mean in practice?

It has been said time and again that the FARC will not negotiate their way into a prison cell.  Finding a way to channel the drive that has kept them fighting for more than fifty years is critical.  Politics offers a way forward.  In the aforementioned interview with El Tiempo, government negotiator De la Calle said, “I believe that it is advantageous to Colombia that the FARC, instead of attacking the civilian population, would be present in representative organizations, and would participate in politics without weapons. …  The end of the conflict is not just the end of the guns, the end of the conflict is in the Colombian mind, and one element has to do with political participation.” (See interview here.)  One indeed must question what incentive FARC would have to keep them from returning to the jungle if they did not have a place to land where they could seek to influence politics.  The debates within Colombian society about this issue are relatively new and will undoubtedly continue to be heated.  The response of Colombian society to the return of the FARC from the jungles will be a key component in defining the future of Colombian democracy in the 21st century.

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Avanza separación de menores de campos de FARC-EP

26 de junio de 2016

La Habana, Cuba, 25 de junio de 2016

En el marco del “Acuerdo sobre la salida de menores de 15 años de los campamentos de las FARC-EP y compromiso con la elaboración de una hoja de ruta para la salida de todos los demás menores de edad y un programa integral especial para su atención”, la Mesa de Conversaciones sostuvo la segunda reunión con la Mesa Técnica en cumplimiento del cronograma acordado.

Durante las sesiones de trabajo realizadas este viernes y sábado, la Mesa Técnica presentó a las delegaciones del Gobierno Nacional y las FARC-EP una propuesta para la creación de un programa integral especial para todos los menores de edad que salgan de los campamentos guerrilleros, con el objetivo de garantizar la restitución de sus derechos, y se revisó el protocolo para la salida de las niñas, niños y adolescentes menores de 15 años.

La Mesa Técnica liderada por la Defensoría del Pueblo y la Consejería de Derechos Humanos de la Presidencia de la República, cuenta con la participación de CICR, UNICEF, OIM y las siguientes organizaciones sociales o especializadas: Comunidades construyendo paz en los territorios – CONPAZ, la Asociación Nacional de Zonas de Reserva Campesina – ANZORC y La Coalición contra la Vinculación de Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes al Conflicto Armado en Colombia – COALICO.

La Mesa de Conversaciones reitera su compromiso de poner en marcha esta medida de construcción de confianza, para garantizar que los menores de edad salgan muy pronto de los campamentos de las FARC- EP y se inicie su proceso de restablecimiento de derechos.

Para ultimar los detalles y poner en marcha el protocolo de salida nos reuniremos nuevamente el próximo 2 de julio.

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Colombia Cease-Fire Accord Marks Historic Turn 

Top leaders from around the world—United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the General Assembly, seven presidents, foreign ministers, and the U.S. and special envoys—joined President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, the head of the FARC-EP, to celebrate signing the deal in Havana, where talks have been underway since late 2012.

For a turbulent world, the success of the accord is a sign that political solutions are possible to even the most entrenched armed conflicts.

For Colombians, ending warfare that has caused 260,000 deaths, displaced 7 million people and disrupted the economy across large swaths of the nation opens the way to a better future. Even so, reconciliation of the former guerrillas with the population—assuming a final accord is signed and approved—will remain a massive undertaking. USIP supports various networks in the country that are poised to help with the crucial reintegration efforts.

The U.S., too, has been deeply involved with the nation’s conflict. Through Plan Colombia, the American government has spent $10 billion bolstering the government’s campaign against rebels and drug traffickers with cash, equipment, intelligence support and training. The U.S. has designated the FARC-EP as a terrorist group and major drug trafficker. The ceasefire agreement includes a commitment by both sides to fight trafficking and other forms of organized crime, including paramilitary gangs that often target demobilized guerrillas.

Virginia Bouvier, a senior advisor for peace processes at the U.S. Institute of Peace, who has led the institute’s work on Colombia for the past decade, discusses the cease-fire accord and what comes next.

What does this agreement do?

While the deal falls just short of a final peace, it essentially puts the finishing touches on ending the conflict. It includes three sets of accords:

1. Definitive, Bilateral Cease-fire, Cessation of Hostilities, and Setting Aside of Weapons. The government and the FARC-EP, the largest insurgency in the western hemisphere, will stop fighting. They agreed to create a “new culture that forswears the use of arms in the exercise of politics” and that “privileges the values of democracy, the free exchange of ideas and civilized debate.” Specifically, they committed to

  • A road map for the rebels to put down their weapons within six months after signing a final accord.
  • Monitoring and verification of the ceasefire and disarmament by a U.N.-led unit that includes both sides and observers drawn largely from the Latin American and Caribbean Community of Nations (CELAC).
  • Giving the U.N. responsibility for ensuring that all FARC-EP weapons are turned in and publicly accounted for.
  • Having the weapons melted to build peace monuments at the U.N. headquarters in New York, in Cuba and in Colombia, resolving a major sticking point around the destination of the arms.
  • A plan for concentrating FARC-EP troops, beginning the day after the accord is signed, as part of a secure and accountable demobilization process.
  • Creating 23 transitory hamlet-based zones and eight encampments, protected by state security forces, where the FARC-EP members will prepare for reintegration into civilian life. The U.N.-led monitoring unit will address any unanticipated situations that may arise.

2. Security Guarantees. The agreement promises the government will provide security for guerrillas who give up their weapons, and spells out principles on which the security guarantees are offered. They include respect for human rights and the rule of law, and recognition that the state has a legitimate monopoly on the use of force and the power of taxation. A series of bureaucratic steps in the agreement aim to create a secure environment for the demobilized fighters—an issue of key concern that was left for the end of the negotiations. The two sides also agreed to create a set of technical commissions to provide further security guarantees, including one to formulate policy on dismantling criminal organizations, as well as a special investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office to tackle organized crime.

3. Endorsement of the Accords. Perhaps the most surprising item, because there was no hint before yesterday’s event, was agreement to accept a decision by the Constitutional Court on the legitimate mechanism for endorsing the final accord. The government has long pushed for a plebiscite, while the FARC-EP has consistently sought a national constituent assembly. The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of voting on the peace accords in an up-or-down referendum and the terms under which that might take place.

What is the wider significance of the new agreements?

This final stage of negotiations is historic for Colombia, the region and the world. For Colombia, ending the conflict will ensure that there will be no new victims of the internal armed conflict. The toll—at more than 8 million victims, including 7 million internally displaced people—is far too high already. Regionally, Colombia’s conflict has sent over half a million refugees over its borders, spreading insecurity and criminality and exacerbating poverty in these largely neglected regions.

Ending the last armed conflict in Latin America and the Caribbean will enhance regional stability. Finally, for the world, Colombia is an emblematic case that demonstrates that political solutions can be found with persistence, hard work, political will, leadership and dialogue. At a time when violence seems on the rise all over the world, a peace deal in Colombia is a much-needed sign of hope and an affirmation that peace between sworn adversaries is possible.

Where does the peace process go from here?

The agreements signed yesterday suggest that there is no turning back. Santos put the full weight of his office behind yesterday’s event, as did FARC leader Londono, better known as Timochenko. There has never been such a serious and persistent effort to find a peaceful resolution to Colombia’s conflict. But … we are not quite there yet.

A few dozen items are still outstanding from previous deals on rural agrarian development, political participation, illicit crops and drug trafficking, victims and transitional justice. There are still discussions needed on how they will be implemented and the mechanisms for resolving conflicts that may come up.

In addition, the commission analyzing gender effects of the agreements still needs to complete its review of the documents, and an initiative to bring an ethnic delegation to the peace table has yet to be completed. This visit will be important because the agreements will have a direct impact on indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and could potentially fan new conflicts if these issues aren’t raised before the final signatures.

Santos said this week that a final agreement should be signed by July 20th while FARC leader Timochenko cautioned that there is still much to be discussed.

A key remaining question regards the integration of the FARC into politics. The latest agreements hint at the need to separate arms from politics, but the parties have not established the specifics of how the government and the FARC can enter the political arena.

The political prospects generally are uncertain. Opposition to the FARC’s engagement in politics in Colombia consistently surpasses 75 percent, so approval of the final accord in a plebiscite is obviously not a given. An education effort to inform the Colombian voters about the content of the accords will need to be stepped up. It has started, but there is much to be done before the Colombian people will be in a position to judge the accords.

If the final accord does get approved, will Colombia then be at peace?

Unfortunately, the failure to launch formal talks with Colombia’s smaller insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), means that this will be an incomplete peace. The presence of an active ELN will make it difficult to provide security for those who demobilize and the communities where they relocate, and difficult to monitor and verify violations.

After ratification, it will be a time to celebrate. Then it will be time to get back to the work of translating agreements on paper into reality. And looking back at four years of negotiations, one can imagine that this first stage was in fact the easy part.

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More on Ceasefire: Joint Communiqué #75

June 22, 2016

Statement read at this morning’s press conference in Havana by Marcela Durán, Director of Communications for the Colombian Government Peace Delegation, and Marcos León Calarcá, member of the FARC-EP Peace Delegation:

Havana, Cuba

July 22, 2016

The delegations of the National Government and the FARC-EP inform public opinion that we have successfully reached an Accord for the Definitive Bilateral Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities; the Setting aside of weapons; security guarantees, and the fight against criminal organizations responsible for homicides and massacres or that attack human rights defenders, social movements or political movements, including criminal organizations that have been calles paramilitary successors and their support networks, and the persecution of criminal behavior that threaten the implementation of accords and the construction of peace.

The event will be headed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the commander of the FARC-EP, Timoleón Jiménez, and by the guarantor countries.  For Cuba, President Raúl Castro, and for Norway, Foreign Minister Borge Brende. Likewise, the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet and of Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro, will be there in representation of the accompanying countries.

The ceremony will also rely on the presence of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, as a special invited guest.  He will be accompanied by the President of the Security Council and the President of the General Assembly.

Likewise, the President of the Dominican Republic, in his capacity as President of CELAC; the president of El Salvador, and the special envoys for the peace process from the United States and the European Union will also attend.

The agreements will be made public tomorrow at noon in the protocol room of El Laguito.

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