ABColombia urges Colombian Government to pursue peaceful and negotiated solution to internal armed conflict

On 17 January 2019, the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (ELN) guerrilla group exploded a car bomb in front of the General Santander National Police Cadet School in Bogota, Colombia. This bomb injured 68 people and killed 21 Police Cadets. ABColombia rejects this atrocious attack, which is a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which the ELN claims to respect.[1] Cadets are students and have never directly participated in hostilities and as such they are not legitimate military targets. ‘They could one day enter the Armed Forces and become combatants, but until then, they remain only students.’[2]

Peace Talks started between the ELN and the Colombian State under Juan Manuel Santos; the parties established a Protocol in case the Talks broke down without an agreement. The protocol was signed between Frank Pearl, chief peace negotiator appointed by the Colombian government for the ELN Peace Talks, and Antonio García, head of the ELN delegation. It gave the ELN a 15-day timeline to return to Colombia should they walk away from the table without reaching an agreement, and states that military action against the rebels must cease for 72 hours allowing the ELN commanders in Cuba to reach bases in ‘agreed-upon’ areas. It also provides for the ELN negotiators to be accompanied to the airport by Cuban authorities, supervised by at least two other guarantor nations. The guarantor nations for the Peace Talks with the ELN are Cuba, Chile, Norway and Brazil.

Following the car bombing, the Government of Ivan Duque re-issued Interpol International Arrest Warrants for the ELN negotiators and asked Cuba to arrest and return them. However, given that the Colombian State, before starting Peace Talks with the ELN in Cuba, signed a Protocol outlining the agreements in the case of a breakdown of the Talks, the guarantor countries have insisted that the protocol must be observed. Nevertheless, President Ivan Duque refused to adhere to this protocol, saying it was made by the previous government.

However, such guarantees are a typical safeguard for peace negotiations. If these types of protocols did not exist, then third countries would never agree to provide a negotiation site or to act as guarantors. This decision by the Colombian Government, if pursued, will have serious implications on the international stage for peace processes, because it means that the possibility exists that other States could, at any given moment, unilaterally end negotiations and demand that the host country arrests the negotiators.

The international community has ‘warned of the “alarming negative precedent” set by failing to act on State protocols, not only for Colombia, but for peace efforts worldwide’.[3]

The basic conditions for peace negotiations are a minimum of reliable protections for all involved: for [Germany], that means rules which are respected in the case of the breakdown of negotiations.

Germany’s deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Roth [4]

ABColombia and its members reject the car bomb attack on the Police Cadet School in Bogotá. We urge the Colombian government to adhere to the state-established protocol with the ELN, and to continue working towards a peaceful and negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict in Colombia.

The actions taken by both the ELN and the Colombian Government are not in line with the desire of civil society and the international community to put an end to the armed conflict in Colombia


[1] Rodrigo Uprimmy, Is it valid for Colombia to demand that Cuba turn over ELN negotiators? (DeJusticia, 24 January 2019)

[2] Rodrigo Uprimmy, Is it valid for Colombia to demand that Cuba turn over ELN negotiators?

[3] Emily Hart, Colombia defies Germany over breaking international peace agreements (Colombia Reports, 13 February 2019)

[4] Cited in Colombia Reports: Emily Hart, Colombia defies Germany over breaking international peace agreements (Colombia Reports, 13 February 2019)

Further Information

ABColombia, Videos: Civil Society Voices in the Peace Process with the ELN

ABColombia, Communities in Chocó call on all armed actors in the Colombian conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law (15 February 2019)

ABColombia, Increasing concerns about aggravation of humanitarian crisis in Chocó (11 July 2018)

ABColombia, ABColombia welcomes bi-lateral ceasefire between the Colombian Government and the ELN (2 October 2017)