Can Colombia’s “Peace Process” be successful?
By Carl MeachamAug 22, 2013
Last week, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry visited Colombia to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos and Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín. During his trip, Kerry pledged U.S. support for Colombia’s ongoing peace talks to end 50 years of violence with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla terrorist group.
According to the Colombian Ministry of Defense, the armed conflict has caused over 200,000 deaths, generated upwards of 350,000 human rights violations, and displaced over 4 million people. Given the magnitude of human suffering that has resulted from the conflict, negotiating an agreement with the armed groups involved remains vital if Colombia is to consolidate recent security and economic gains.
In October 2012, the Colombian government began meeting with FARC leadership in Oslo, Norway and Havana, Cuba to begin negotiations toward a peace agreement, negotiations which continue to this day. During preliminary discussions, the two sides agreed on five issues that need to be addressed to achieve real and lasting peace: rural reform, political participation for FARC supporters, the end of armed conflict, the elimination of illicit drugs and drug trafficking, and securing the rights of the conflict's victims.
Earlier this month, President Santos affirmed the Colombian government's interest in including the country's other major guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), in the negotiations.
In an effort to ensure the successful and legal implementation of the peace negotiations, the government introduced the Legal Framework for Peace, approved by the Colombian Congress and Supreme Court in June of 2012. The Framework provides the Colombian government the tools necessary to dismantle illegal armed group, with the primary purpose of providing justice to victims.
It also establishes a Commission of Truth, set up by judicial and extrajudicial entities to judge and sanction the illegal group's leadership charged with crimes against humanity—while simultaneously working to reintegrate into society other members who give up arms and accept responsibility for participating in the armed conflict.
The Legal Framework for Peace has generated opposition from national political leaders and some international human rights organizations.
As a result, the Constitutional Court in Colombia will review it later this month to rule on its validity. Media reports from Colombia suggest the Framework will be upheld, but with added conditions, particularly regarding impunity-related issues.
So as Colombians and international observers await the Court’s ruling, is the Framework the best way to achieve peace?
Q1: Where does the peace process stand today?
A1: To date, the FARC and the government have reached an agreement on the first issue they sought to address: rural reform, resolving to improve land accessibility, formalize agricultural properties, and bolster rural infrastructure. In many ways, this early agreement was an important first step, generating momentum for the continuation of the negotiations process.
After this first accomplishment, the groups began their discussion of the second point, political participation for FARC members. For this issue, The Legal Framework for Peace is particularly relevant, as one of its main provisions includes reinstating former guerrilla members into society and allowing those who are not part of the leadership to participate in politics.
However, this plan has provoked substantial backlash to the peace process. A number of the country's prominent political figures—not to mention several human rights organizations—believe that the FARC's actions make it undeserving even of negotiations, let alone of a legitimized place in Colombian politics.
Q2: Is a legal framework necessary to achieve peace?
A2: Given the length and the protracted nature of the conflict, a legal framework can prove invaluable by creating a realistic and transparent roadmap forward for the negotiations and resolution process.
Because of the expansive scope of the dispute and the vast participation in it, many believe it to be impossible to investigate and punish all FARC members, a process which would prolong the armed conflict rather than end it. In contrast, a legal framework is a potentially effective strategy, capable of guaranteeing that those most responsible for the violence and its associated human rights violations are brought to justice.
By focusing on punishing those most responsible, the Framework maintains its focus on securing the rights of victims, and also ensures justice for those victims affected by the conflict.
Q3: Can the Peace Process be successful without a legal framework?
A3: For the negotiations to be successful, all concerned need a dependable legal framework, one that establishes clear guidelines, consequences and that makes the government and armed groups accountable, incentivizing the parties to work together to achieve a solution.
Though imperfect, without a legal framework the peace process would become an ad hoc process without a context to force an outcome.
The Santos administration strongly believes that continuing to pursue a military victory is likely to prolong the already drawn-out conflict, generating more casualties and causing still more Colombians to fall victim to the human rights violations that have characterized the violence to date.
Following this logic, the 3.8 percent of Colombian gross domestic product (GDP) currently devoted to defense spending—the highest proportion in the region—may be better spent on developing and advancing the rural sector, but that shift can't take place until the FARC threat to that sector has been resolved.
The Framework offers that resolution by permitting the government to build the legal conditions for peace negotiations while protecting the rights of victims.
Conclusion: The Santos administration originally aimed to conclude the peace process by November of this year. With agreement only reached on one issue thus far, this looks increasingly unlikely. The other four issues are more controversial and will probably take longer to resolve as they deal with more sensitive topics: political participation for former guerrilla members, the end of the armed conflict, drug trafficking, and the rights of victims.
President Santos has expressed his willingness to extend the negotiations into February and March of next year. With legislative elections in early 2014 and presidential elections following in May, how the peace process might be affected by the elections—and under a potential new administration—is difficult to see.
However, the Constitutional Court's approval of the Legal Framework for Peace would ensure that any progress made is not lost and that the hard-earned negotiations continue. Should that happen, Colombia’s path to peace will have become clearer.
Carl Meacham is the director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Daniela Cuéllar, intern scholar with the CSIS Americas Program, provided research assistance.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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