On August 26, 2012, in La Habana, Cuba, Colombian Government delegates and delegates from the FARC EP (Guerrilla Group), signed the first document in which both sides expressed their willingness to begin a process of negotiations. These negotiations will hopefully bring an end to more than 50 years of illegal military operations that submerged thousands of victims and general Colombians in a social, political, economic and human rights crisis.
On 23 September 2015, the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, and the head of the FARC rebel group alias Timoleón Jiménez announced to the international community and Colombian society the creation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. At the same time, the Colombian president announced that on 23 March 2016 the definitive peace agreement will be signed by the two parties.
The main issues under discussion during the negotiations in La Havana are: 1) Policy on Integral Agricultural Development; 2) Political Participation; 3) End of Conflict; 4) Solution to the Problem of Illegal Drugs; 5) Victims and 6) Implementation, Verification and Countersignature of the agreement. Several rounds of negotiations will still be necessary in order to agree on practical strategies to implement these six main points.
In early 2016, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 2261 to “set up a United Nations political mission in Colombia, approving a team of international observers to monitor disarmament should the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) reach a final agreement to end Latin America’s longest armed conflict.” This mission, in collaboration with a group of experts from CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), will face the challenge of creating the appropriate environment to guarantee the successful signing of the definitive agreement between the parties involved, while at the same time guarantee a series of conditions for the implementation of several points of the agreement.
The creation of this commission brings hope to the people of Colombia. In dialogue with persons in the country, different reactions can be observed regarding the definitive signing of the agreement, as well as the enactment of this commission. One of the first general reactions that can be perceived among Colombian society is enthusiasm - “It’s the beginning of a path that will end with a definitive peace in Colombia.” However this perspective and understanding about the signing of the agreement from such an optimistic point of view disregards the complexity of the internal armed conflict and the multiplicity of illegal armed groups with active illicit operations in the country. On the contrary, there is skepticism and concern regarding the peace process and the negotiations especially among the victims and human rights organizations who possess ample reasons to be skeptical. In addition, there is a conservative sector and, of course, the center-right and right wing parties tirelessly trying to affect the agreement, or simply find reasons to undermine this new initiative.
There are still many challenges to overcome during this long period of internal armed conflict in Colombia. Some of the challenges yet to be faced during the signing of the peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian Government, the conformation of the International Observer Mission, and the effective implementation of the Agreements are:
- The establishment of a clear and solid transitional justice system: One of the first outcomes of the joint announcement in September last year was the creation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which is in essence the possibility of the establishment of a transitional justice system. However, to this day there remain many questions around this matter due to the lack of clarity on how this Special Jurisdiction is going to operate in reality.
- A proper strategy for Disarmament: The period of time that the FARC has to surrender weapons to the UN-CELAC mission is 3 months after the signing of the agreement. This is defined as a difficult step concerning aspects like: a) How to calculate the real number of weapons and ammunition the FARC possess? What will this mission do with those weapons? b) Are the heads of the guerrilla group and the structure operating in Colombia on the same page regarding this matter? c) Once the guerrilla members surrender their weapons, what will be the mechanism of reinsertion or reintegration to civilian life?
- The securement of victims’ rights: This is the central concern of civil society, victims and victims’ organizations in Colombia. Some questions that arise are: a) How will the demobilization of the armed groups also defend the rights of the victims? b) Will the demobilization of the FARC lead to a process of impunity in terms of the violation of laws and rights at different levels, especially with an emphasis on victims?
- Active participation of Civil Society in the Implementation of the Agreements: In connection with the last point, there is a recurrent call from civil society and different organizations to be witnesses and to accompany the process of implementation of the agreements at local, regional, and national levels. It is important to generate different participation mechanisms for civil society and for the victims to be able to directly monitor the implementation phase of the agreements.
- Drugs: One of the main sources that the FARC and the other illegal armed groups (Guerrilla and Paramilitary) use for financing their operations and the arms acquisition has been drug production and trafficking. As an example, the FARC control portions of national territory to grow coca leaves in order to produce cocaine, as well as create paths for exporting the drug. a) What is going to happen to those portions of land that are in control of the Group? In the past, the guerrilla group took control of a specific portion of the Colombian territory and imparted their own law and “guaranteed security” to the population. This was feasible because of the absence of the governmental institutions and structure that could not reach those places. b) How will the government mobilize its structure to secure those territories? c) Are there other illegal groups interested in controlling them?
The announcements regarding the peace process between the FARC and the Government generate a sense of hope, hope that the path for a definitive peace is starting in Colombia. Although there are many steps that still need to be taken to fulfill the goal of peace, this process is active. Let us continue to hope that the outcome will be one of justice, truth, reparation, guarantee of non-repetition, and reconciliation for the society in Colombia.