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Colombia's 2016 peace agreement: has it been fulfilled?

Were truth, justice and reparation for victims achieved? Are the institutions that were created under the framework of the Agreement working as they should? Did the government and the ex-combatants fulfill the commitments undertaken? But more importantly, was peace truly achieved? Español

DemocraciaAbierta
12 December 2019
Signature ceremony
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"Firma del Nuevo Acuerdo de Paz" by CINU Bogota is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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On November 24th, 2016, Colombia signed a peace agreement between ex-president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the then commander-in-chief of the FARC, Rodrigo Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko. They signed the lengthy document of over 300 pages, that sealed the route to peace the country was to follow over the next 20 years.

The agreement lost its momentum when, submitted to a national referendum in the same year, it became a political tool for manipulation. Political irresponsibility resulted in Colombians losing the hope of ending one of the region’s longest and bloodiest conflicts, that has claimed around 262,197 lives lost according to the Colombian Centre for Historical Memory.

So much has happened in Colombia since then - a change in government, ex-combatants filling political posts, recent local elections opening the door to political alternatives and, in recent weeks, massive social unrest - that a reassessment of the agreement’s implementation is fitting.

The questions that need to be answered are: Were truth, justice and reparation for victims achieved? Are the institutions that were created under the framework of the agreement working as they should? Did the government and the ex-combatants fulfill the commitments undertaken? But more importantly, was peace truly achieved?

Colombia’s current polarised state makes finding answers to these questions quite complicated without being branded as sympathizers of one side or the other. In any case, we present a short, objective assessment of the agreement’s implementation three years on, and an explanation of why there are more concerns than achievements.

So much has happened in Colombia since then - a change in government, ex-combatants filling in political posts, recent local elections opening the door to political alternatives and, in recent weeks, massive social unrest - that a reassessment of the agreement’s implementation is fitting.

The agreement and the victims

The victims of Colombia’s armed conflict were at the center of the agreement of 2016. Out of the six points agreed on, one is exclusively dedicated to them, especially to their right to “justice, truth, reparation and no repetition”. As a result, the Truth, Justice, Reparation and No Repetition Integral System (SIVJRNR in Spanish) was created, out of which the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP in Spanish), the Truth Commission and the Entity to Search for Disappeared People are born. These are the entities that provide the over 200.000 victims with a direct route to participation in the peace process.

Even though there is a lot left to be achieved, this might be the part of the agreement where the most ground has been covered, or at least where some results can be highlighted. For instance, out of the 214 accounts that the JEP had received up to October, 2019, 104 were submitted by victim’s organizations. Moreover, the JEP extended the deadline to submit said accounts, from March 2020 to March 2021, per a request by more of these victim’s organizations, as its the main mechanism through which their perspectives and their truths can be heard.

The JEP has also called for victims to get accredited in the cases that are currently being analysed, to have their rights upheld during the process. Various victim’s organizations have even already participated in hearings, as was the case with the Mothers of Soacha group.

JEP invites victims to get accredited
JEP invites victims to get accredited | https://www.jep.gov.co/Sala-de-Prensa/Paginas/jep-invita-a-las-victimas-de-secuestro-de-las-farc-ep-a-acreditarse-en-el-caso-01.aspx

Institutions created under the agreement’s framework

To determine if the institutions created as a result of the agreement are working as they should, we must explore the numerous obstacles Ivan Duque’s government has created that prevent the functioning of the JEP.

The most evident of these obstacles was the political maneuver to block the JEP’s Statutory Bill, or the main set of rules the jurisdiction had to follow to function. It is worth mentioning the JEP already had a set of ground rules to follow, which is why it had been functioning since June, 2017. However, the Statutory Bill was pivotal since it regulated the mechanisms by which ex-combatants would be monitored and the mechanism through which victims would participate, among others.

To determine if the institutions created as a result of the agreement are working as they should, we must explore the numerous obstacles Ivan Duque’s government has created that prevent the functioning of the JEP.

In November, 2017, the Bill was approved and heavily adjusted by Congress. The next step was for the president to approve it, give it its final seal. In what many people called a political power play to slow down the jurisdiction’s functioning, the president did not approve the Bill and objected to six of its articles, moving it back to square one. It is interesting that the president objected articles that Colombia’s Constitutional Court had already declared unconstitutional, meaning he not only objected to the Bill, but also to the work of the Judiciary.

In this context, the JEP’s Statutory Bill, which had been approved by the Court and by Congress in 2017, was only ratified by the president in June, 2019. This is not even taking into account the delays in the disbursement of the institution’s budget that also hindered their work.

Has peace been achieved?

Many have criticised Colombia’s former president, Juan Manuel Santos, for the end-of-conflict rhetoric he promoted and for expanding the reach of the agreement when the country was and is still engulfed in conflict. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Colombia still has five armed conflicts within its territory.

Additionally, the government has not lived up to its commitments, especially with regards to crop substitution and land distribution. As a result, more conflicts have arisen in areas where FARC dissidents operate.

Homicides graph - Fundación Ideas para la Paz
Homicides graph - Fundación Ideas para la Paz | Gráfico homicidios - Fundación Ideas para la Paz

The figures above, produced by the FIP, suggest two things: the peace agreement has had significant impacts which meant 2016 was the year with the lowest homicide rates in recent Colombian history. However, it also shows the fragility that comes with this peace processes, and the importance of upholding promises with responsibility and commitment.

The difficulties that have come with the agreement’s implementation have been many, and the lack of political will makes this assessment somewhat negative. There is an urgent need to push the peace agenda before the situation on the field deteriorates to the point where war resurges, a war that many had thought of as over.

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