The Colombian Peace Process: Lessons Learned

From Charlie Pillsbury at Quinnipiac, a report from a fascinating conference.  Thanks for sharing!

The 16th Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates was held in Bogota, Colombia from February 2-4, 2017; the first time this summit had ever been held in Latin America. It brought together 27 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (12 organizations, 15 individuals), over 500 students (and their teachers) from 50 schools and universities, 25 countries and five continents. The summit was also open to the public. Through the good offices of the Albert Schweitzer Institute and its director David Ives, I and another law professor from Quinnipiac University School of Law had the opportunity to bring four law students, as part of a 50-person Quinnipiac delegation, which included about 40 students and a dozen or so faculty and staff.

There were nine plenary sessions over three days covering many aspects of peace, e.g., peace &…democracy, education, reconciliation, and sustainable development. Each one involved one or more of the Laureates or their representatives. As a student of dispute resolution, the session I found most riveting was Session 7: The Colombian Peace Process: Lessons Learned. This session, the first on Day 3, described a negotiation process between two warring parties, which spanned five years. The final agreement, first rejected by Colombian voters, then revised and approved by the Colombian Congress, ended the last war in the Western Hemisphere, a 52-year civil conflict that began in 1964.

What was extraordinary about this session was the panel’s composition, as it included the lead negotiators from both sides and represented the first time they had appeared together in public since the signing of the revised peace accords on November 24, 2016. The panelists, in the order in which they spoke, were:

  1. Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel, Panel moderator, currently vice president of the Toledo International Centre for Peace, and formerly an Israeli ambassador, Foreign Minister and Knesset member.
  2. Humberto de la Calle, Colombia, Head of the Colombian government’s negotiating team in Havana.
  3. Sergio Jaramillo Caro, Colombia, High Commissioner of Peace under President Juan Manuel Santos and a ranking member of the Government’s negotiating team.
  4. Ivan Marquez, Colombia, Chief Negotiator for the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo).
  5. Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor, Nobel Peace Laureate, 1996.
  6. Lord David Trimble, Northern Ireland, Nobel Peace Laureate, 1998.
  7. Jean Arnault, France, Special Representative, UN Mission in Colombia.

What follows in are my notes, capturing some of each panelist’s remarks.

Humberto de la Calle, Colombia. He thanked Sergio Jaramillo for his work in designing the approach (modelo) used in these negotiations. He then listed four key moments and topics. First, the initial unilateral cease-fire implemented by the FARC was an important gesture of good faith. Second, the priority given rural reform, noting that the first agreement in the peace accord deals with this topic. This conflict began in the countryside (el campo), so the negotiations had to begin there, too. Third, regional conversations held in almost every part of Colombia concurrently with the negotiations in Havana. Fourth, an innovative system of transitional justice, not just for the FARC, but for all involved and implicated in this conflict; and the central role of victims in the negotiations of this topic. Indeed, the accord’s fifth agreement is simply called “Victimas”. The agreement included a special focus on gender and women’s human rights, as the majority (@70%) of the estimated 8.5 million victims of this war were women.

The country has to learn that there is not just one truth about this conflict; there are many. And learning these truths is not just about knowing the history of the conflict, but about taking responsibility for our roles in it. Finally, this peace agreement is not simply a “small peace” ending a conflict, but a “large peace” opening new paths for Colombia and new opportunities for all Colombians. Implementing this accord will present the Government with significant challenges, not only bureaucratic and financial, but also moral (un desafio moral).

Sergio Jaramillo Caro, Colombia. These negotiations involved the two sides cooperating with each other without ever abandoning their ideas or their politics. The six months of secret negotiations behind closed doors and shuttered windows in a small room in Havana built trust between the parties and created the agenda for the negotiations. In addition to building trust, the secret negotiations strengthened each side’s commitment to the peace process.

Important to the success of these negotiations was the full participation of Colombia’s Armed Forces, including a number of generals. Also important was the involvement of the international community. The negotiations were formally guaranteed by Norway and Cuba and additionally sponsored by Chile and Venezuela.

The parties negotiated this agreement directly with each other without mediation, using a “single text” approach. While there was no formal mediation, whenever the parties reached impasse on any point, the guarantors Cuba and Norway played key roles in helping the negotiating partners overcome their impasses.

In conclusion, he noted two major obstacles to peace treaty implementation. First, the challenge of bringing the shared vision that guided the parties at the negotiating table to a divided country, which must be committed to making this agreement work. Second, the politicians. Every candidate who runs for office in the 2018 elections, including for President, should be asked by all Colombians whether or not they will respect this peace process. He worried that presidential candidates would not respect the accords reached in Havana, because at times the desire for power can overcome the desire for peace.

Ivan Marquez, Colombia. The FARC decided to exchange its guns for votes; to reject the reason of force, for the force of reason (la razon de la fuerza para la fuerza de la razon). Every human being wants peace and life, including freedom of speech and conscience. The FARC, per the peace agreement, is currently moving from the territories they occupied and controlled to six transitional points and 20 “normalization” zones where the Government had agreed to establish camps where the FARC will leave (dejar) their guns with UN officials. As the FARC travels to these zones, we are not marching with white flags of surrender, but toward peace and democracy.

He expressed great concern, however, that the Government was not keeping two important promises. It had not yet finished constructing the temporary camps in these 20 zones, and it had not yet enacted the promised amnesty law, preventing FARC members from being charged with sedition and insurrection for their participation in this conflict. He hoped that the good intentions the Government has shown will materialize, and these issues will be addressed.

He ended by saying that the FARC now wished to fight to defeat poverty, inequality, exclusion, the dirty war, and apathy. We hope that future generations will say “thanks to the peace treaty of Havana, we have a good life (una vida digna).”

Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor. Timor Este means “East East”. We are a small country at the east end of the world. The conflict in East Timor was very different from the war in Colombia. In 1975, after the end of the Vietnam War, Indonesia invaded East Timor; but, like the Japanese who invaded us during World War II, were never able to conquer us. During this 24-year war with Indonesia, our fighters never killed a single civilian; we only killed Indonesian soldiers. Our peace agreement, which gave us independence from Indonesia, was approved by a 1999 referendum.

The challenge of treaty implementation was much different than what Colombia now faces. We only had to improve diplomatic relations with Indonesia. Colombians have to reconcile with each other. What made our task easier was our determination during the war not to demonize the people of Indonesia. Our struggle was a political one with their government, not an ethnic or religious war with them, even though we are primarily Catholic, and they are mostly Muslim. As a result, today we have very good diplomatic relations with Indonesia.

He urged that the Colombian peace accords be implemented in an orderly and consistent manner, with help from the Armed Forces and civil society at all levels. This was the way to resolve big and small problems.

Lord David Trimble, Northern Ireland. I think it’s very hard to compare one peace process with another and extract lessons from one to inform another. Each conflict is sui generis; and so is each peace process. I have no advice, therefore, to offer the Colombians.

The war that ended with the 1998 “Good Friday” peace agreement began in 1969, when the British army came to help local police keep the “peace”. This led to Bloody Sunday in 1973, which was followed from 1975 to 1992 by many failed negotiations. They failed because neither the Republicans nor the Unionists were ready to recognize that victory could not be achieved by force. Despite these failures, during this period, the security forces succeeded in frustrating the warring parties, and a number of grievances were addressed, including exclusion from the political process and the unequal distribution of public goods. In December 1993, the parties finally agreed to a cease-fire and expanded political participation. The political institutions put in place by the 1998 Good Friday agreement have faced challenges, and have required and will continue to require negotiating new agreements. But despite these problems, what alternative is there to dialogue?

Jean Arnault, France. Given the dramatic increase of civil conflicts in the world since 2010, Colombia’s peace agreement stands out as an exception and a model for the world. He drew four lessons from these negotiations. First, the importance of trust, which in this case was fostered by the secret negotiations preceding the public ones and by the international guarantors and sponsors. Second, the participation of military leaders. Third, the emphasis on victims, not just as beneficiaries of the peace process, but from the outset as active participants in it. Fourth, in developing a system of transitional justice, the tension between justice and peace can never be completely resolved. In this case, as good a resolution as possible was reached through the negotiations.

Ultimately, the test of any peace agreement is in its implementation. He saw three major challenges. First, the capacity of the Government to extend the rule of law into the territories, especially those formerly controlled by the FARC. Second, rural economic development. Third, illegal economies that have undermined and frustrated attempts to achieve peace in other civil conflicts, especially in Africa.

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