“Total Peace” in Colombia: A new step in the Implementation of the Colombian Peace Accord

24 November 2022, marks the sixth anniversary of the signing of the 2016 Final Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia‑Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) guerrilla group. 

The ambitious Peace Accord addresses the structural causes of over 50 years of armed conflict. As we pass the six-year mark, there has been a renewed commitment by the incoming government of Gustavo Petro (President) and Francia Marquez (Vice-President) to fully implement the Peace Accord.

During the Government of Ivan Duque, the implementation of the Peace Accord slowed to a snail’s pace, with parallel policies initiated under Duque’s Government entitled “Peace with Legality” failing to deliver on the implementation of the Peace Accord.

In 2021, the Kroc Institute reported that only 30% of the 578 stipulations in the Peace Accord had been implemented. The Juan Manuel Santos Government in the initial years after the signing of the Accord started to put in place the required legal, regulatory, and institutional infrastructure for the implementation process, the was finished under the Duque Government.

Nevertheless, there have been key areas of implementation, which are important for victims and for the sustainability of the peace process. The Transitional Justice System is up and running with the Truth Commission publishing its report on 28 June 2022, it makes a series of recommendations aimed at resolving the conditions that caused the armed conflict to persist. These recommendations are in line with its mandate, to elucidate the patterns and persistence of the armed conflict and recognise and dignify the victims in the country and in exile who suffered its consequences. The Truth Commission undertook exhaustive research and interviewed almost 24,000 people across the country and in exile. 

The establishment of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) was another important milestone. It has accepted a series of thematic and geographic cases – known as macro-cases, it will examine, identify and prosecute those most responsible. One of the most important milestones was the announcement of macro-case number 11 on sexual violence and other gender crimes in Colombia (sobre violencia sexual y otros crímenes motivados por el género) The incorporation of no amnesties for conflict related sexual violence in the Colombian Peace Accord was a first worldwide, as is this case in the JEP, on conflict related gender based violence. Colombia is setting the baseline for other Peace Processes with these two firsts.

Macro-case 11 will make it possible to investigate and prosecute sexual violence and other crimes related to gender, sex, orientation or identity committed by all armed groups during the armed conflict, including former guerrillas, paramilitaries, and armed forces.

Colombian Truth Commission’s report

Colombia’s Truth Commission released its final report on 28 June 2022. The Commission is holding events throughout Colombia and abroad to share its findings and recommendations for pursuing sustainable peace and national reconciliation.

The Truth Commission whilst recognising that the number of deaths in the conflict was probably higher, states it has been able to confirm approximately 450,000 fatalities due to the armed conflict, occurring between 1985 and 2018. Approximately 80% of these deaths were civilians who had nothing to do with the armed conflict. Those most responsible for these deaths were paramilitary groups (45%), guerrillas (27%), state agents (12%).

The Commission makes a series of proposals in the different volumes , aimed at resolving the root causes of the conflict and the reasons for its persistence.As well as seeking to lay down a foundation for an equitable society, guaranteeing the basic needs of the population are met, upholding citizens fundamental rights, and resolving inevitable differences and tensions without violence.

The legacy of the Commission consists of an extensive testimonial and documentary archive, multiple databases as well as the methodologies and audiovisual and artistic products that resulted from the broad process of social dialogue promoted during the Commission’s mandate

The Truth Commission’s report was published just before a change of government, the new government of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez, was elected on a manifesto that is committed to the full implement the recommendations of the Truth Commission’s Report and of the Peace Accord. This has created a favourable political context for pursuing a sustainable peace in Colombia.

However, this will not be without difficulties, Petro/Marquez entered office on 7 August 2022, and inherited a very difficult context. In the last four years, there has been a resurgence of armed conflict, especially in the rural areas, and an exponential growth in new armed groups including the presence of Mexican drug cartels. Between 28 June 2022 and 26 September 2022, the UN reported, that over 8,000 persons had been confined in their territory and over 13,000 forcibly displaced. The growth of armed groups and increase in violence are linked to the slow and partial implementation of the Accord.

New Government: Gustavo Petro

Gustavo Petro is the first left wing President and Francia Márquez, the first Afro-Colombian woman to become Vice-President in the country. The change of Government has generated enormous expectations with the introduction of the policies of “Paz Total” (Total Peace) which includes full implementation of the Peace Accord.

The first 60 days of Petro’s mandate saw strong steps toward his promises in terms of the Peace Process in Colombia:

The resumption of meetings with the National Commission of Security Guarantees, this Commission is mandated to develop policies that will lead to the dismanteling of the illegal armed groups, identification of the authors behind the crimes and to highlight and change policies that have facilitated the formation of these illegal armed groups. It has representatives from Government and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Its work is essential to sustainable peace in Colombia.

On 2 October the Commission for Monitoring, Promotion, and Verification of the Implementation of the Agreement (CSIVI) was reactivated after 4 years without official meetings. This commission is made up of the representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP. Its mandate is to monitor and review progress of the implementation of the commitments made in the Peace Accord.

The resumption of Peace Talks with the  National Liberation Army (ELN), was announced at the beginning of October 2022, and the first meeting took place in Venezuela on 21 November 2022.

The Petro/Marquez Government’s policy of Paz Total which calls for all armed groups to declare a unilateral ceasefire and enter into dialogue with the Colombian  government , has been welcomed by the UN Secretary-General as a new step for peace in Colombia. The Colombian Minister for Peace, Danilo Rueda, announced that at least 10 armed groups, including the Gulf Clan (Clan de Gulfo) and dissident members of the FARC rebels, have agreed to take part in unilateral ceasefires with a view to engaging in Peace Talks with the new Colombian government.

Ambassador James Kariuki, the UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, in New York welcomed Colombia’s “renewed momentum for peace”, commended the focus on vital rural reforms including acceleration of land titling and purchase of land. Voiced concerns about the ongoing threats and violence faced by former combatants and human rights defenders, welcomed swift action taken by the Government to establish the 14 command posts recommended by the Emergency Protection Plan. Encouraged progress on implementing the gender and ethnic provisions of the Accord and welcomed re-initiating talks with ELN. He also highlighted the commitment to reinforce international cooperation to tackle narco-trafficking and bring to justice those that profit from the drugs trade.

Ambassador Fergal Tomas Mythen, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations in New York, welcomed the new Government’s commitment to intensify full implementation of the Accord, highlighted the need to prioritise implementation of the rural reform and the ethnic chapter. Highlighted that the re-establishment of peace talks with the ELN, and ongoing efforts for a ceasefire with other armed groups, were potentially another transformational moment on Colombia’s path to lasting peace. Voicing support for the transitional justice system, and its potential for a transformative impact on the lives of victims and survivors and for true reconciliation for all Colombians. Highlighted concerns about the continuing levels of violence, he stressed that the protection of all who work for peace was a critical requirement for a peaceful, stable, and equal future.

Future prospects and challenges

According to Martha Márquez, General director of the Centre for Research and Popular Education and Programme of Peace (CINEP/PPP), a major challenge faced by the Petro/Marquez Government’s Paz Total is attempting so many different initiatives at the same time, but she considers this is necessary, due to the complexity of the Colombian conflict. “It is not possible to negotiate with the ELN without implementing the agreements in the Peace Accord”. She argues that this is because the ELN need to have confidence that what they negotiate with the State will be implemented. She goes on to highlight that it is essential to bring the criminal gangs into the process of negotiations because in some regions, such as Chocó, the ELN itself, operates like a criminal gang. For Márquez whilst Paz Total proposals face numerous challenges they also open a window of opportunity for building a stable and lasting peace in Colombia.

The following information is taken from the Interior Ministry’s website:

The policy of Paz Total (incorporated in Law 418) grants powers to the President of the Republic, the High Commissioner for Peace and the Government, to advance negotiations with illegal armed groups.

It creates a high-level Commission, made up of the Minister of Defence, the High Commissioner for Peace and the National Director of Intelligence, which have already initiated a political dialogue with the ELN (the ELN is classified as a political group). However, if the armed group is classified as an organisation with a high criminal impact, they will not enter a political dialogue but can submit themselves to justice in accordance with the rules of the Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and rules defined by the Congress of the Republic.

Paz Total, Law 418, will establish Regions of Peace to carry out dialogues with illegal armed actors who wish to avail themselves of this Law. Likewise, temporary location zones with the presence of all the authorities are contemplated; however, they will NOT be demilitarized zones for the Security Forces.

The Regions of Peace will have Commissioners and be developed in specific areas across Colombia, these areas will be identified by a special type of violence that the Government wants to dismantle. There, local authorities and peace managers will engage in dialogue and agree with the different armed groups on how to advance, in order to achieve their dismantling.

‘The only way to make a Government of Change is with total peace, which seeks to achieve social justice… the Law of Total Peace is the new social contract that will guarantee fundamental rights … where Human Security will be based on the protection of life and its full realization from social, environmental, economic and cultural policies. In addition, the Social Service for Peace stands out, as an alternative to Compulsory Military Service, so that young people can decide what type of service they want to provide. Alfonso Prada Gil (Interior Minister, unofficial translation).

“This is a moment of hope in the country…and Civil Society Organisations will work to support… the peace process.” Martha Márquez, General director of the Centre for Research and Popular Education and Programme of Peace (CINEP/PPP)