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Peace Agreement in Colombia: the beginning of a new and more complex humanitarian crisis or a pragmatic scenario for change?
Gabriel Rojas

This article was written before the plebiscite to endorse or reject the peace agreement in Colombia. It is all the more relevant now that we know that the “NO” vote won by a small margin of sixty thousand votes, and that the Colombian government faces an enormous challenge in terms of the legitimacy of the peace process with the FARC rebels. The article presents the main arguments that are currently being discussed between those who supported the agreement and those who rejected it. It also suggests alternatives to reconcile these opposing positions in order to save the agreement and continue the difficult process of building peace in Colombia.

 A divided country

During September 2016, Colombians will have to carefully read the most important 297 pages of their lives. That is the length of the Peace Agreement reached by President Santos’ government and FARC-EP [1] rebel representatives in La Havana, Cuba, after four years of negotiations. In a country where the average amount of reading per person is less than two books a year, it is monumental task [2]. But it is the most significant one in half a century. After 52 years of armed conflict, 266 000 dead, more than 7 million internally displaced persons and 46 000 people disappeared [3], Colombia is finally facing the possibility of ending the armed confrontation with the oldest guerrilla army in the western hemisphere.

The only step left for Colombians to endorse the Agreement is a plebiscite: a direct participation mechanism designed by the Colombian Constitution to allow people to vote on a fundamental political decision made by the executive power [4]. Such a mechanism seeks to give legitimacy to the Peace Agreement through a single question: Do you support the Agreement to put an end to the armed conflict and build a stable and long-lasting peace? [5]

For Colombians the answer is not as straightforward as it might appear, despite the positive aspects of the peace process:

1. The Agreement has received support from the UN Security Council, who will verify and monitor the bilateral cease-fire and supervise the demobilization of combatants. UNICEF and the Red Cross will provide assistance to child soldiers.

2. Furthermore, governments as diverse as the United States, Cuba, Venezuela and Norway were actively involved in the negotiation and are committed to the successful implementation of the Agreement.

3. The transitional justice model that will be implemented after the signature of the Agreement is a ground-breaking proposal (celebrated by the International Criminal Court) [6] that combines the experiences of conflicts around the world to satisfy the rights of victims and demand accountability for perpetrators through alternative and restorative sanctions.

4. The content of the Agreement between the two parties includes structural changes to satisfy the fundamental and social rights of the Colombian population (particularly, land distribution and political participation).

5. Finally, as previously mentioned, the content of the Agreement will be put before the nation in the form of a plebiscite on October 2nd 2016.

[1] Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia – Army of the People (In Spanish).

[2] Official figures from the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE in Spanish). Available at Survey of Cultural Consumption 2014: http://www.dane.gov.co/files/investigaciones/eccultulral/presentacion_ecc_2014.pdf.

[3] Official figures from Registro Único de Víctimas. Available in: Unidad de Víctimas: http://rni.unidadvictimas.gov.co/RUV. 12/06/16

[4] Colombian Political Constitution. Art. 103. Law 134/1994.

[5] I translated the question formulated by Santos’ government on August 30th 2016 by order of the Constitutional Court, and after approval from the Senate. The question in Spanish is: ¿Apoya usted el acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera?. Available at Portafolio: http://www.portafolio.co/economia/gobierno/pregunta-del-plebiscito-para-la-paz-499968.

[6] According to the statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on the conclusion of the peace negotiations between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army: “The paramount importance of genuine accountability – which by definition includes effective punishment – in nurturing a sustainable peace cannot be overstated. As a State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Colombia has recognised that grave crimes threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world and stated its determination to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators and thus contribute to the prevention of such crimes. I note, with satisfaction, that the final text of the peace agreement excludes amnesties and pardons for crimes against humanity and war crimes under the Rome Statute”. Available at https://www.icc-cpi.int//Pages/item.aspx?name=160901-otp-stat-colombia.