What is the State of the Implementation of the Colombian Peace Accord on its Fourth Anniversary?

24 November 2020 marks the fourth anniversary of the implementation of the Peace Accord signed between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP). Considered one of the most comprehensive and inclusive Peace Accords to date.

Four years after signing what is happening?

There were a range of early successes, however in the last couple of years implementation of the Accord has slowed down and it faces additional obstacles.

An early success was the laying down of arms by over 13,000 FARC-EP combatants and starting reintegration. The transitional justice system has established all the mechanisms necessary and begun to unravel more than half a century of war. The Truth Commission is on track to deliver its report in the Autumn of 2021, having held numerous events and collated an untold number of testimonies. These testimonies have been taken from victims both inside Colombia, and from survivors and victims of the conflict now living outside of Colombia.

However, other chapters such as “Towards a New Colombian Countryside: Comprehensive Rural Reform (Rural Reform)” has only seen 4% of the agreements implemented. The Rural Reform chapter is central to addressing inequality, abject poverty and insecurity in the rural areas. Whilst political participation for the FARC political party has been implemented the additional 16 seats in Congress agreed in the Accord for victims of the armed conflict, was blocked on 30 November 2017 by Congress. Colombian citizens have taken out a “Tutela” seeking to challenge this before the Constitutional Court. Added to the delays in implementation at this time, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated already existing vulnerabilities, including, social and economic inequalities.

Key achievements:

The Colombian state committed in the Peace Accord to ensure legal, physical and socioeconomic security for former FARC combatants. As well as incorporating provisions for addressing issues related to the victims of the conflict. These include provisions to address inequity, poverty and good governance and political participation. Together with a sophisticated mechanism for Transitional Justice, including no amnesties for conflict related sexual violence and other specific ethnic and gendered provisions.

The majority of the FARC laid down their arms and entered the reincorporation process. But there have been considerable delays on the part of the State in providing socioeconomic security in the form of economic projects. Initially, economic projects for former combatants were mainly supported mainly by international funding. However, before the pandemic efforts were being made by the state to move forward on this aspect of the Accord. Political participation in decision-making spaces and in productive initiatives remains limited for women former combatants, according to the UN Verification Mission. This confirms the importance of a continued integration of a gender perspective in the reincorporation programmes.

Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET)

The Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET, in Spanish) are a key provision in the Rural Reform Chapter for addressing inequality, the provision of basic services and state presence in the rural areas. This was strongly supported by international aid in the initial stages, allowing widespread local and regional consultations in the PDET areas in order to draw on local knowledge to build the development plans. Since then concerns have been expressed by local people and social organisations regarding the lack of an integrated approach to implementation.

If the state is to build trust with its citizens, then it is essential to fully implement the rural reform chapter. Expectations have been raised through the consultation on the PDETs (these are areas that are most impacted by ongoing conflict).

In order to keep building trust between the state and rural communities, it is important to guarantee inclusion and effective participation of social organizations during the implementation of the PDET . Kroc Institute

An evaluation for the four year anniversary of the implementation of the Peace Accord was carried out by la Mesa Nacional de las Plataformas de la Sociedad Civil (The National Roundtable of Networks of Civil Society Organisations)* created in 2017 to monitor the implementation of the PDETs. Community leader, Martín Sandoval, one of the participants in this roundtable stated,

After the signature and publication paraphernalia, there has been considerable frustration because there has been no consultation with the communities on the implementation of the PDETs. Things are being done by the Territory Renewal Agency (ART), but without the communities. They come to a village to construct something that people do not even know about and if the community makes any criticism, then they take it elsewhere. cited in El Espectador (unofficial translation)

The Peace Accord ensured a strong gender perspective in the provisions, yet rural women are seriously concerned that these aspects are not being advanced in the implementation of the Accord.

According to rural women the PDETs are not implementing key components for local communities rather they are concentrating on “works that are based on cement,” “they are not putting in market gardens or backyards suitable for keeping chickens and pigs” or advancing in health issues and prevention of violence, land rights for rural women etc. Women want to have a voice and to be consulted for this reason they are calling for a round-table to be established for consultation with women at the local level.

Transitional Justice

Colombia has developed an important and sophisticated Transitional Justice System (the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Non-Repetition) which aims to maintain the victim at the centre (point 5 of the Accord). In record time it has established three mechanisms, a Truth Commission (Truth, Coexistence and Non-Recurrence Commission), Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing (UBPD). There have been considerable efforts to stress the participation processes of especially women, LGBTIQ+ individuals and ethnic peoples. The Truth Commissions report is due out in the autumn of 2021. So far 22 National Truth Cases have been admitted. The UBPD, has opened various spaces for family members looking for over 100,000 disappeared during the Colombian conflict. These spaces of families searching for their loved ones, includes victims living in exile.

The main challenge for the future is the participatory and inclusive implementation of the initiatives to continue building trust between the State and communitiesKroc Institute

Key challenges/ obstacles:

One of the primary challenges to the advancement of the implementation of the Agreement is the limited government financing of the institutions responsible for its implementation, highlighted by the UN Verification Mission report (Sept. 2020) “civil society and political actors, including the FARC party, have continued to voice concerns regarding the Government’s approach to the Final Agreement, including that the pace of implementation is slow, that there is insufficient use of the institutions created by the Agreement and that implementation is not comprehensive”.

The JEP is one of three central pillars of the Colombian Transitional Justice System to provide justice for the victims of the conflict. However, it has faced a series of challenges and obstacles by the ruling Centro Democratico Party. Upon entering office President Duque initially refused to sign the draft Bill on the JEP into law. More recently it has faced speeches seeking to undermine its work and obstacles in relation to its budget. Creating vulnerabilities and concerns as to legal security for former combatants, security forces and others willing to submit to the JEP.

In the draft budget presented by the Colombian Government to Congress for 2021, funding for key entities of the implementation of the Peace Accord remained insufficient. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) is one of the most affected entities. The JEP in 2021 would lack the additional money requested, amounting to 20% of the budget needed to operate next year.

The Covid-19 crisis is unfolding amid the implementation of the Peace Accord, shedding light on underlying conditions that undermine a sustainable peace in Colombia.  “The active and meaningful participation of women in the implementation of the Final Agreement has been affected by the economic and social consequences of the pandemic, including the loss of livelihoods and restrictions on connectivity and mobility”( UN Mission)

While for many communities in rural areas it was already a challenge to access participation processes, the pandemic has seen attempts to move the constitutional right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent on-line along with proposals to “simplify the process” raising major concerns. Not only is there a lack of technological connectivity in indigenous communities, their way of engaging in community consultation from their cosmovision, would be undermined by such a process. This move would not serve to protect Indigenous rights, not only, enshrined in the Constitution and international norms (ILO Convention 169) but also in the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Accord.

The UN has reported that armed groups have taken advantage of the lockdown and mobility restrictions enforced in response to the pandemic. Illegal armed groups have engaged in armed skirmishes to consolidate territorial presence and control of communities, confining communities and restricting their movements.  According to the Colombian Defence Ministry there have been 105 victims of massacres in Colombia between January and September 2020, an increase of 21% on 2019 and three times higher than  the first year of the implementation of the Peace Accord in 2017, as well as, forced displacements, confinement, threats and killings, disproportionately impacting peasant farmers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and women.

One of the key challenges to the sustainability of the Peace Accord is the unprecedented high level of killings and attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. Between January and June 2020, the UN received 91 reported killings of HRDs (45 confirmed the rest in progress). The UN Mission of Verification to Colombia stated  “ it is imperative for all actors to end the epidemic of violence against social leaders, human rights defenders and former combatants”.

Physical security for former combatants is threatened, with 224 former combatants killed, 20 disappearances and 53 attempted homicides as of September 2020. This state of insecurity, is a threat to the peace process and led to former combatants in a massive protest. On 21 October, former combatants left Mesetas, walking f to Bogota (125 miles) to highlight the dire situation, and calling for dialogue with President Duque. Over 2,000 former combatants converged in Bogota to protest against the murder of ex-combatants.

Failure to implement the Peace Accord quickly and fully is one of the factors contributing to increased situations of armed conflict in the rural areas of Colombia. The Peace Accord established both protection measures and provisions for establishing the National Commission for Security Guarantees a prevention mechanism for the killing of human rights defenders and former combatants. As this National Commission is mandated to develop policies that dismantle the neo-paramilitary, illegal armed groups and criminal networks, by identifying and prosecuting the financial backers and authors of the crimes. These groups are mainly responsible for killing HRDs and former combatants.

ABColombia calls on the Security Council and especially the UK as penholder on the Mission of Verification in Colombia and Ireland as it takes up its seat in 2021 on the Security Council to:

  • Appoint a UN Security Council Group of Experts in organised crime to support civil society representatives on the National Commission for Security Guarantees, and the Colombian State, to move forward in the development of policies to dismantle the neo-paramilitary and other illegal and criminal networks by identifying and prosecuting the financial backers and authors of the crimes carried out by these groups.
  • Fully support Civil Society representatives on the National Commission of Security Guarantees, to promote a response, further discussion and work on the roadmap they have presented to the Colombian Government and request that the UN Verification Mission monitors and reports on this
  • Support the full and coordinated implementation of the different chapters of the Peace Accord especially monitoring the implementation of the gendered provisions and listening to women leaders evaluation.
  • Support, monitor closely and request specific reports on the progress of the National Commission for Security Guarantees and implementation of the PDETs, paying close attention to the level of consultation with local communities, and ensuring that they are implemented in coordinated manner at the local level.

*The la Mesa Nacional de las Plataformas de la Sociedad Civil includes la Asociación Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos (ANUC), la Asociación Nacional de Zonas de Reserva Campesina (Anzorc), la Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC) y el Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) amongst others.