A Time For Peace In Colombia

Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, recently stated that the country’s momentum towards securing peace is “irrepressible and unstoppable.” The peace accord between President Santos’s government and The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2016, has raised optimism that peace pathways with the country’s second largest rebel group, The National Liberation Army (ELN), will help suture Colombia’s half-century long internal conflict.

Representatives from the international community, including state and non-state actors, remain supportive and vigilant of Colombia’s developments to reach a sustainable peace, founded on a genuine willingness to move beyond the inertia of conflict.

The country’s current political climate to move forward is a factor that will strengthen the judicial frameworks established over the past decade in order to achieve truth and justice for victims.

Colombia’s legislative structure for peace is headed by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) and supported by complementary laws that include the Justice and Peace Law for the demobilization of paramilitary members, Victim’s Law for the restitution of stolen lands, and Femicide Law for sexual crimes committed against women throughout the conflict.

While the application of laws supporting peace have been slow and are yet to reach their full potential, they consciously acknowledge and seek to redress the enormous suffering endured by Colombians over the past five decades.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has documented crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute and war crimes under Article 8, which are likely to have been committed during the extensive conflict. Murder, sexual crimes, disappearances, torture, kidnapping, and the deprivation of liberty, as well as the recruitment of children to combat, have been evidenced. Further to this, over the last 30 years, close to seven million people are estimated by Human Rights Watch to have been internally displaced in direct response to the conflict’s violence.

Such prolonged suffering and the experience of intergenerational conflict will make the path towards peace challenging. However, the desire for peace cannot be denied, and in this context much has been achieved.

Since the peace accord between the government and the FARC was approved by Colombia’s Congress in November 2016, the UN Mission in Colombia has monitored the establishment of 26 demobilization zones to transition FARC guerrillas back into society. Notwithstanding initial delays and some violations to the bilateral ceasefire agreement, the flow of FARC militants and weapon submissions via these zones has been overwhelmingly positive.

This momentum has allowed formal talks with the ELN to begin favourably.  Five guarantor countries (Brazil, Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, and Norway), along with the UN will provide structure around discussions and host an equal number of representative negotiators.

The government has indicated that lessons learned from the four-year long peace process with FARC will be applied to ELN discussions, and, as such has accepted the ELN’s six-point draft agenda.

The ELN’s first agenda point states the need for civil society’s participation in the peace process by accessing transparent information. To this effort, the ELN has proposed a joint statement website that allows open and respectful dialogue.

The second agenda states peace must be negotiated through democratic means. While evidently self-explanatory, this point may reflect ELN’s apprehensions over the perceived weakness in their bargaining position following the government’s peace with FARC.

Third on the agenda is the call for socio-economic transformations to be effected into policy, thereby reflecting ELN’s moral stance against entrenched social inequalities of land and resource ownership.

The fourth agenda seeks further recognition of victims and a clear legislative path for justice, reparations, and accountability for all participants. Pablo Beltan, ELN’s Chief Negotiator, affirmed the “ELN is willing to take responsibility for the mistakes we have made, but we expect the other side to do the same.”

The final two points seek to end the conflict in staged bilateral ceasefire episodes, and for peace to be implemented in stages that are open to evaluation through publicly available information.

Colombia’s path towards peace with ELN will likely see obstacles that can be overcome through a willingness to acknowledge that sustainable peace is a more equitable and a just alternative to conflict, as well the achievement of peace will be attainable through committed dialogue and compromise.

Carolina Morison