I was born during the war and I thought, I really thought that my work for peace and gender equality was important in that it was contributing to generate conditions so that my son or his descendants would enjoy a durable peace. Most of us believed we worked for the future and would never see anything close to peace in our lifetime. And why? Colombia´s conflict (at least this conflict) dates back from the late 1950s and beginning of the 1960s with the formation of the left-wing insurgencies and its one of the longest most protracted armed confrontation in the American continent and even globally. With countless failed negotiations attempts during past administrations (the most recent in 2002); the biggest humanitarian emergency in the Western Hemisphere and second only after Siria (almost 5.7 million internally displaced victims) it is no surprise that this past negotiation cycle was seen with caution optimism, at best.
Two years ago, current President Juan Manuel Santos and the main leader of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) Rodrigo Londoño, aka Timochenko initiated a negotiation in La Havana, Cuba with two countries acting as guarantors: Cuba, Norway and Chile and Venezuela as witnesses or acompañantes. Unlike other attempts, the conversations were direct and the participation of outside actors was and is highly regulated. A very important principle characterized this negotiation: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Thus far, most of the critical points have reached agreement (this is no small feat). At the end of 2014, the two delegations had reached partial agreements on three points — rural reform, political participation, and illicit crops and the drug trade. The issue of justice and accountability for crimes committed proved to be the biggest stumbling block in this negotiation.
The topics agreed upon included:
1. Land Reform – Formalization of land ownership for the poor, infrastructure and development improvement, technical assistance, food security, housing and eradication of poverty.
2. Political Participation – Rights to access political process and direct participation.
3. Illegal Drugs – Crop substitution, programs for addicts and prevention programs. 5. Rights of victims – Human rights, compensation and revealing of the truth.
The fourth point, Justice, was a “knot” in the negotiation. This roadblock lasted 14 months to be resolved; a team of Colombian and global experts in issues of transitional justice called the New York Group and survived many closed attempts of ending the negotiations (with the assassination of both FARC members and military members earlier in 2015).
Understandably, Colombians were growing skeptical and tired of the negotiations. The peace spoilers spoke proudly about the futility of the process while the common citizens just grew tired of the process. But last week, last week was historic.
I have been living outside of Colombia for 16 years so I am used to never been there for national or personal landmarks. This is the life of the migrant. But last week I happened to be there as I arrived on September 23 for a brief visit to my loving mum. I can surely say that almost all of us followed the news as they announced the visit of President Santos to Havana to announce and explain to Colombia and the world the agreement that FARC and the Government of Colombia (GoC) on issues of justice and victim reparation.
What does this mean? Given that this is the MOST complicated item of the bundle, this means that it is very likely that Colombia will sign a peace agreement with FARC.
What else was announced? In addition to the Justice agreement Santos and Timochenko announced that the negotiations will last up to 6 months after which a window of 60 days post-signing for FARC to initiate cantonment and the DDR process (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration process).
What is the Justice agreement about? Experts have cited as one of the most innovative Transitional Justice agreements ever put in place in the context of the peace agreement. Basically, Colombia will implement a Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Espacial para la Paz) that guarantees that there will not be impunity regarding the worst crimes committed under the armed conflict including forced displacement, sexual violence, kidnapping, murder, disappearance and torture.
The two sides agreed to create special tribunals, which will include international judges, to prosecute and judge crimes related to the conflict committed by both members of the Farc and state agents, as well as non-combatants. Those who immediately confess to the crimes will face confinement – though not jail – of between five and eight years. Those who confess once a trial has started, will be eligible for reduced sentences to be served in jail. And those convicted, without having confessed, face up to 20 years in prison. The Guardian
Even if you haven’t heard of Colombia or think its spelled with a U ColUmbia (please don’t), for any person interested in Transitional Justice mechanism, Colombia is now a very innovative cutting-edge case that deserves to be followed closely.
Once there is a consensus on all the points, the parties will discuss the implementation, after which a national referendum will give Colombia’s citizens the opportunity to accept or reject the agreement.
What is still missing?
For those of us who thought we were NEVER going to see this in our lifetime, it was natural to feel extreme high levels of euphoria. However, we know, precisely because we have worked, studied and analyzed other countries that this is merely the beginning and that we SHOULD really revisit cases like South Africa, El Salvador and Guatemala because in spite of the “success” with their peace agreement, the post-conflict situation is everything but. In my opinion, what most agreements focus on is the political division and in the case of Colombia the justice and accountability issues proved central. However, why is it that most peace agreements do not deal with socio-economic aspects? Without removing the conditions that fueled the country’s conflict we are bound to repeat it.
This is why, in spite of the immense indescribable joy I feel for this huge historic landmark, I hope this agreement and its implementation will seriously work on mechanism to remove structural causes of economic exclusion to be able to enjoy sustainable peace.
Want to read more?
If you want a general overview on the Havana negotiations
About the Transitional Justice model announced as part of the negotiations
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