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Colombia peace progress

Published Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Westminster Hall debate on the 'Colombia Peace Process’ has been scheduled for Tuesday 18 June 2019, from 4:30-5:30pm. The debate will be led by Jo Stevens MP.

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Background

In the period 1964-71 left-wing guerrilla groups emerged in Colombia, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National Liberation Army (ELN), the Maoist People's Liberation Army (EPL), and M-19. The roots of their armed campaign lie in the ‘La Violencia’, a ten-year civil war (1948-57) between the Liberal and Conservative parties. Communist guerrilla groups were excluded from the power-sharing agreement which ended the violence and they took up arms against the new unified government.

These guerrilla groups were largely concentrated in rural areas and controlled significant proportions of territory; many of them raised revenue by cultivating and trading in cocaine.

Peace initiatives by various Colombian governments in the 80s, 90s and 2,000s all failed to end the violence.

FARC peace accord

Former President Juan Santos, first elected in 2010, began a new peace initiative in 2012. After four years of negotiations, his government signed a peace agreement with Colombia’s main paramilitary force, the FARC, in November 2016.

The conflict was, according to the Economist: “the longest-running domestic conflict in the western hemisphere, [it] killed over 200,000 people and displaced around 7m”.

The main elements of the peace deal were:

  • The end of violence: FARC agreed to end their armed campaign and move their fighters into U.N.- monitored camps where they would disarm in phases over a period of 180 days.
  • Justice for victims of the conflict: Colombia would establish a transitional justice system (JEP). Special tribunals would adjudicate war crimes and other atrocities committed by the rebels as well as paramilitary groups and government security forces.

If combatants fully admit to their crimes, they would be eligible for alternative sentences (with a maximum of 8 years of restricted liberty) and ‘restorative’ justice aimed at making amends to victims. If they did not tell the truth, they would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution and sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

  • Rural development: the government promised to invest heavily in infrastructure projects and state-building in FARC- controlled areas which had previously seen very little investment.
  • Seats in Congress: FARC would be assured a minimum of five seats in Colombia's Senate and five seats in its House of Representatives for two legislative terms, starting in 2018. After that they would have to win seats competitively.
  • Ending the drug trade: FARC agreed to stop drug trafficking and work with the government to wean Colombia's rural farmers off coca.

Criticisms produce new deal

The peace deal was narrowly rejected by the Colombian people in a referendum in October 2016. President Santos made changes to the agreement to satisfy some of the less strident opponents of the deal. Rather than putting the new agreement to the people, Mr Santos ratified it through Congress, where the President had a governing majority.

The new deal still contained the most unpopular elements of the previous accord: firstly, seats in Congress for FARC – opponents of the deal wanted FARC leaders found guilty of the worst crimes barred for running from office until they had served their sentences; and secondly, the transitional justice system which, many Colombians saw as too lenient.

One of the most outspoken critics of the FARC peace deal was former President Alvaro Uribe (2002-10). Mr Uribe co-founded a new political party, the Democratic Centre (Centro Democrático), in 2013, largely to oppose the peace process in the 2014 elections.

President Duque elected

The 2018 Presidential elections were won by Iván Duque, a protégé of Uribe, who ran on a platform of overhauling the FARC peace deal and taking a tougher line against guerrilla groups. He promised to impose tougher punishments on crimes committed by the rebels and remove their guaranteed right to seats.

In the 2018 Congressional elections, the new FARC political party didn’t gain enough votes to win any competitive seats, achieving less than 1 per cent of votes for both the House of Representatives and Senate. Duque’s Democratic Centre party gained the second largest share of seats.

Implementation of the peace accord

The Kroc Institute, which monitors the progress of the peace accord, produced its third report in April 2019, finding that two years into the process “implementation continues to progress”. However, they stress that “continued work is needed to improve the quality of life for Colombians living in the territories and those most at risk of continued violence”. A press release announced:

  • One third (35%) of these commitments have reached advanced levels of implementation, meaning they have been fully implemented (23%) or are expected to be fully implemented (12%) within the timeframe stipulated by the Agreement.
  • Thirty-four percent of the commitments are in a state of minimal implementation.
  • Thirty-one percent of the total commitments have yet to begin implementation.

The press release also observed:

  • One of the main challenges in the implementation process is security guarantees for and protection of social leaders, human rights defenders, and FARC-EP ex-combatants and their families. The peace agreement provides instruments that can help respond to these security and protection risks, and it is important to deploy these methods, especially in rural territories.
  • It is essential to implement structural reforms included in the Accord that will improve conditions in rural Colombia.

Duque’s attempts to change the Accord

President Duque since his election has focused his criticisms of the FARC peace accord on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a parallel court system designed to try war crimes committed during the conflict.

In March 2019 Duque asked the Colombian Congress to review six parts of the 159-point law that regulates the JEP. Duque called for sexual crimes and drug trafficking offences to be excluded from the tribunal’s remit, and he criticised the terms of extradition and rules over sentencing for war crimes.

As the peace accord now forms part of the country’s constitution, a two-thirds majority would be required to re-write these parts of the accord.

Colombia’s House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, rejected Duque’s objections in April. The upper house, the Senate, did the same in May. The Senate asked the Constitutional Court to confirm that this ended the matter, and the Court ruled at the end of the May that it would be for Congress to change the peace accord, and they had rejected the changes. The Court called on the President to sanction the law that implements the accord.

As President Duque does not have a ruling majority in the House of Representatives and only a slim majority in the Senate, some analysts have claimed his objections to the accord are a political signal to his base, rather than a concerted attempt to disrupt the peace process.

However, supporters of the accord have argued that Duque’s attempts to change the terms endanger its implementation and set a bad precedent for future negotiations with other illegal armed groups, like the National Liberation Army (ELN).

ELN peace talks

Former President Santos had hoped to sign a ceasefire deal with the ELN, the second largest guerrilla group, before he left office in August 2018. However, the two sides were unable to reach a full agreement.

President Duque, while promising a tougher negotiating stance towards the ELN during his election campaign, did undertake talks with the guerrilla group. However, Duque suspended talks with the ELN after they were linked to a car bomb that exploded at a police academy, killing 21 people in January 2019.

Commons Debate packs CDP-2019-0150

Authors: Nigel Walker; John Curtis

Topic: Latin America

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