Colombia’s historic deal with the FARC rebels, signed last November and initiated earlier this month, means big changes are afoot for human rights and political stability in the country. Although the Red Cross maintains that the peace accord has been effective, the humanitarian organization is calling for more concerted efforts by the Colombian government to halt continued violence.
After over fifty years of conflict, this peace deal represents a momentous shift in the socio-political context of Colombian human rights. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began disarmament on March 1st, and although the process is ongoing, it is not just an achievement for Colombia alone; globally, the deal finally puts an end to the Americas’ longest-running armed conflict. The Red Cross reports that the bilateral ceasefire, alongside other components of the peace process, spurred “a clear reduction in the impact of the internal armed conflict on the civilian population” over 2016. Yet, at the same time, the organization notes that rape, torture, and killing have continued by the thousands and that there is continued work to be done “searching for missing people, clearing landmines and demobilizing minors from the ranks of the FARC.” Christoph Harnisch, the Red Cross’s delegation head in Colombia, further enumerated emotional trauma, armed urban violence, internal displacement, restrictions on civilian mobility, and the threat posed by “unexploded ordnance” as key issues needing address going forwards.
The FARC, for its part, has followed through with the peace process by registering and taking an inventory of its weapons and then giving them over to United Nations monitors. Rebel leader Ivan Marquez says this represents an “unconditional commitment to peace” and a determination to decisively end the half-century-long armed conflict. But with the Red Cross reporting 86,000 individuals missing and the Colombian government having identified 260,000 dead and 6.9 million displaced since the conflict’s beginning, progress will require more healing than just the ceasefire and disarmament alone. For one thing, plans are in place to reintegrate guerrilla rebels into civilian life through a series of transition zones. Yet even then, FARC members have complained that these camps are unfinished, straining their efficacy. The Colombian government attributes this to “logistical difficulties,” but regardless of cause, a successful transition to peace will require effective normalization of the rebels into mainstream society. Further issues have arisen in the disarming process itself, with the BBC reporting that far fewer rebels have turned in their weapons than called for by the terms of the accord. Both reintegration and disarmament have a deadline set for May 30th but it remains to be seen whether the process proceeds according to schedule.
Aside from the logistics of the treaty, persistent peace in Colombia will also require similar steps be taken with the other armed rebel groups active in the country. The Red Cross notes that “it is too early to talk about a post-conflict phase” when “armed conflict is still going on with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AGC) and the People’s Liberation Army (EPL).” President Juan Manuel Santos began preliminary formal peace talks with the ELN in February, but the AGC and EPL remain actively involved in armed conflict. Though the peace treaty cannot be ignored as insignificant, painting it as a wholesale panacea to Colombia’s persistent issues of public safety and human rights misrepresents the breadth of this complex issue.
Going forwards, it will remain vital that the international community stay aware of and involved in Colombia’s push for peace. Not only have individual state actors played a key role in hosting negotiations and guaranteeing the legitimacy of deals made but organizations like the Red Cross and United Nations have themselves been vital. The Red Cross cites 152,000 victims of the armed conflict and other violence as “benefiting” from the group’s own work, and President Santos has noted that the Nobel Peace Prize he received for the peace deal “gave [Colombia] a tremendous push” to continue the reconciliation process. There is an enormous way still to go towards reconciliation, with the FARC as well as the nation’s other rebel groups, but whatever path is taken forwards will be massively benefited by continued global awareness of (and support for) the move towards mutual peace.