WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
23 Nov 2015 | Commentary | News

Congressman Sam Farr’s Latin America on the Rise Congressional Briefing Series


The following presentation was prepared by Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Senior Associate for the Andes, for Congressman Sam Farr’s Latin America on the Rise Congressional Briefing Series

I would like to express my appreciation to Representative Sam Farr for giving me the opportunity to present at today’s briefing. My remarks are geared towards answering the following question: What can the US do to guarantee that Colombia’s peace accord and its post-conflict aid package is socially inclusive and supports victims, the internally displaced and afro descendants?

Colombia contains over 6 million displaced and new displacements continue to take place on an ongoing basis, making it the country with the second largest displaced population after Syria. Sadly, Colombia’s protracted internal displacement problem is an issue that has lost visibility and attention at the international and national level in recent years.

There is concern that issue will only be further diminished by the termination of the conflict. As with all peace processes, there is a tendency to for the international community and national authorities to think that the termination of the conflict itself resolves the displacement issue. The focus with regards to IDPs turns to questions how to address IDPs and refugees’ return to their places of origin and/or how best to integrate the displaced in their areas of refuge.

Given the tremendous challenges that come with implementing peace accords, the pressure on authorities often leads to “resolving” it by arbitrarily assigning an end date to displacement. In other words, no longer considering persons who become or are currently displaced to require the attention and concern of internally displaced persons, rather just integrating them into programs designated for overall victims. Under the rubric that funds are limited and the IDP category no longer valid, the displaced are often address by programs that are generally targeted to the poor.

I argue that this is the wrong approach to take, since it can lead to new displacements and the generation of new conflict. In order to truly address displacement in Colombia, durable solutions are required. Various steps are needed to protect the rights of the displaced and to guarantee non-repetition of new displacement.

First, the Clarification Truth Commission must include in its investigations and findings on how all sides of the conflict and civil actors perpetrated displacement. In Colombia, displacement not only served the purpose of taking over territory or land grabs but it was utilized as a tool of war to gain military advantage against the enemy.

Second, victims of displacement should be recognized as such, perpetrators must recognize their responsibility for causing displacement and victims should receive reparations for this crime. In Colombia, displacement is a crime that is sanctioned by law. In reports and cases that form part of the Tribunals it is important that this crime committed within the context of conflict is identified, the modus operandi exposed with the full truth behind displacement told and perpetrators of this crime sanctioned.

Third, while the conflict may in the future be over, hundreds of thousands of mostly rural Colombians became impoverished due to displacement. Many continue to live in substandard and non-dignified situations as a result of becoming displaced. The damage done by displacement to social, community and familial networks is irreparable. However, efforts must be made to improve the socioeconomic gaps created by the disintegration of these structures. In this case, both rural and urban local durable solutions should be developed since the conditions vary greatly depending on where the displaced are located. As such, the best solutions are those that constructed jointly with the beneficiaries. Such programs must be consulted, developed and applied hand in hand with IDP leaders.

The peace accords need to be implemented in a manner that takes this the beneficiaries into account. A good way to do that is by integrating IDPs recommendations and concerns from the beginning as mechanisms are developed for executing the goals of the accords. This will guarantee that IDPs are better off as a result of the accords not left behind. The international community and national authorities can help by making sure that IDPs are granted priority standing in post-conflict programs designed to impact the structural roots of the conflict.

Colombia, however, is unique in many respects. It contains the most sophisticated and progressive legislation to address IDP issues. Also, it has developed a victims and land law that included IDPs that was put into motion before the conflict ended. In order to properly deal with IDPs in the post-conflict, it is necessary to take stock of the laws and programs existent for IDPs and determine what will transition into the post-conflict. An analysis by experts such as the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) will be required on what is really feasible at this stage for addressing IDP land rights given all the obstacles that process has faced. The analysis must also look at how the multiple Constitutional Court Decisions and orders on displacement apply in the post-conflict in order to make sure that specific concerns of women, leaders, ethnic minorities and individual IDP communities are addressed.

Further, a mapping of how the refugee and IDP populations will shift after the accord is required in order to make sure that post-conflict assistance is best utilized. Questions such as where people will return to, where do they plan to resettle or integrate? Perhaps at what stage of implementation of the accords require answers. Based upon the findings of these analyses and mapping exercises existing social programs and new aid that comes in should be adapted to handle the needs of the recipient communities and the ensuing population shifts.

Fourth, conflict resolution and reconciliation efforts will be necessary in areas of return where the demobilized, perpetrators, displaced and other victims will be coexisting. These efforts can address trauma, help the communities heal and rebuild persons’ humanity. The community councils, cabildos and local community and religious organizations should take the lead on such efforts. For them to take on this important role they will require financial support and capacity building in conflict resolution and reconciliation.

For “territorial peace” to become a reality, differentiated approaches must be taken to address the concerns of women, the elderly, Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons, displaced and non-displaced. WOLA recently visited Colombia with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in a delegation led by Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia. The objective was to assess how Afro-Colombians and trade unionists are viewing the peace process and to determine what is required to make sure that peace and post-conflict, not only integrates their perspectives, but guarantees that these sectors are better off.

On October 5, the delegation participated in a Forum on Afro-Colombians and the peace process at the Memory, Peace and Reconciliation Center in Bogota by CONPA. More than 300 Afro-Colombians all over the country participated in the event. They subsequently marched from the Center to the Plaza Bolivar (located in front of the Congress) under the banner of “Otra Vez Sin Nosotros” or “Once Again without Us.” This slogan refers to the fact that Afro-Colombians as a collective group are not included in the peace negotiations and that this is the third time in Colombia’s history where afro descendants are excluded from a historical development that will greatly impact their lives. The first was when slavery was abolished and the slave owners received reparations while the newly freed Africans did not. The second moment was during the Constitutional Assembly of 1991 that led to a new political constitution where Afro descendants had to ask an indigenous representative to voice their concerns since they were not present. The indigenous representative helped guarantee that Transitional Article 55 that later paved the way for the development of law 70 of 1993, the black communities law, was included in the new constitution.

While Afro-Colombian victims have formed part of the five delegations that visited Cuba and these have included CONPA members, their participation was limited to presenting their views as victims of abuses perpetrated by the FARC and others. The collective issues that affect Afro-Colombians and their territorial authorities have yet to be consulted and integrated into the pre-accords. A factor, unless it is remedied and the opportunity still exists to do so, will significantly weaken the sustainability and durability of the peace agreements in Afro-Colombian areas.

Afro-Colombians leaders are in favor of the peace process and believe that while it will not resolve all of the long-standing structural issues facing afro descendants in the country that it is an opportunity to demobilize one of the conflict’s long-time actors and to construct a new reality for Afro-Colombians. The CONPA is asking for a seat at the table not just for participation’s sake but to guarantee that the accords agreed to by the Government and the FARC take into account the concerns, rights and recommendations of Afro-Colombians.

Amongst the issues that require raising with the table are the rights of Afro-Colombian victims to truth, justice and reparations; monitoring of the bilateral ceasefire and de-escalation of the conflict in Afro-Colombian areas; guarantees for independent political participation for afro descendants in areas the FARC plans to foment their political base; addressing the illicit drug issue in Afro-Colombian territories in an effective and non-harmful manner and an agrarian reform effort that strengthens and respects the collective land rights of Afro-Colombian peoples.

Afro-Colombian authorities, organizations and leaders want the peace to be long-lasting and sustainable. To guarantee that this takes place they will need to be involved in the reintegration and reconciliation efforts that will take place in their territories between the demobilized and victims of the conflict. Security efforts in Afro-Colombian areas will need to be worked out with authorities in order to make sure that they actually work. Afro-Colombian women leaders highlighted the need for the Constitutional Court orders for displaced women and their leaders to be respected in a post-conflict Colombia.

Today, I recommend that the U.S. act quickly to remedy this gap by implementing the recommendations found in the CBTU delegation report (copies available). Below, I highlight just a few:

The U.S. Special Envoy, Department of State, Labor Department and Embassy should:

-Take action to guarantee that Afro-Colombian territorial authorities and representatives unified in the CONPA platform are integrated in the peace dialogues taking place in Havana, Cuba.

-Support the CONPA’s recommendations and efforts to guarantee an inclusive peace process and post-conflict effort that addresses the concerns of Afro-Colombian victims and communities.

-Publicly condemn violations of the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan and human rights abuses committed against Afro-Colombians and indigenous populations.

-Work with Colombian counterparts to address the human rights, labor rights, collective land rights and protection concerns affecting Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. In particular, guarantee full implementation of the U.S. human rights conditions for Colombia’s receipt of military aid.

USAID should:

-Work with the CONPA to create a post-conflict peace package that expands the current Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program (ACIP) so that it addresses the myriad of labor, human rights, justice, displacement, women, youth, collective land rights and environmental issues facing afro descendants.

-Guarantee that all USAID funding to Colombian institutions is vetted and includes strong monitoring mechanisms to prevent corruption and misuse of funds. Funding to strengthen governmental programs for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities must include the condition that communities affected are previously consulted and that these programs operate with full transparency and integration of those communities.

On September 23, Colombian and the FARC announced that they had reached an accord on transitional justice. While the full details of the accord are not yet known, I will talk about some of the initial responses we received from our partners concerning the accord and what the U.S. can do to help.

Victims, human rights and ethnic minorities’ organizations in Colombia have celebrated this accord. They view it as a creative and unique opportunity to resolve the structural issues that underpin judicial impunity in Colombia. It is compatible with international standards and it emphasizes the rights to truth and reparations over penal sanctions. For most victims, finding out the full truth of what happened to their loved ones and the elements behind the crimes committed is more satisfactory than having a perpetrator keep silent and carry out a long jail sentence. Many note that the fact that the accord includes other actors may help get to the heart of most violations and that this is in accordance with the UN principles on businesses and human rights.

Again, these are first impressions because the full extent of the accord and its 75 points is not yet public. Based upon this preliminary information it would be important for the U.S. to do as follows:

-Once the full accord is made public, it should encourage Colombia and the FARC to fully disseminate its contents to Colombian society at the national, regional and local level. The contents will need to be fully understood not only by the 60 victims that went to Havana but the broader networks of victims and their legal supporters.

-Guarantee continuity like Special Envoy for Peace to monitor implementation of the accords and that U.S. supported conflict efforts are effective.

-The U.S. Congress should establish a working group that oversees U.S. support for the peace process and implementation of the accords. This group may consider doing a bilateral post-conflict plan with Colombia that underscores the rights of victims and ethnic minorities to truth, justice and reparations.

-Give political support that strengthens victims’ organizations, raise awareness of victims’ situation and recognition of their situation in Colombian society, their participation throughout whole process—Truth Commission and Tribunals.

-Give financial support should strengthen local victims’ organizations whose initiatives and reparation proposals. For example, the CONPAZ has proposed ideas like the regional universities for peace, infrastructure, and other ideas.

The accord establishes a Truth Commission that will be applied regionally. Political support so that victims organizations like CONPAZ (134 communities), Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), MOVICE, ASFADDES, Familiares Colombia (disappeared), Pais Libre (disappeared) and others can help determiner priority regions of the country and the methodology of the Commission. In the regions decided, the victims’ organizations must form part of a working group with the Commission to guarantee that efforts for truth, justice and reparations best addresses their regional and local needs and concerns.

It is vital that support from the U.S. should include victims’ efforts to present their criteria and recommendations for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in particular the naming of magistrates (11 in the Truth Commission and 25 in the tribunals (that include internationals). To help make this process easier, the U.S. can provide psychosocial and legal support to victims, legal and forensic support to human rights organizations. It goes without saying that inclusion of the victims’ organizations and recommendations should be done in an integral fashion in all post-conflict efforts supported by the U.S. This includes infrastructure projects, agricultural and others. Reparations efforts are most meaningful if they integrate the perspectives of affected victims and populations.

Another positive development of the peace process is the agreement on the disappeared. Again, the U.S. can assist with victims and human rights organizations’ capacity to intervene in the Search Committee for the Disappeared. Colombian civil society organizations and victims groups with a breadth of experience on disappearances should be brought in to figure make this Committee effective in achieving results.

In closing, there are a few “lessons” learned in dealing with victims from the the justice and peace process with the AUC paramilitaries and two issues that require addressing to make this peace process successful. International and national authorities should learn from the justice and peace process with the AUC and avoid making the same mistakes. They should monitor and advocate so that perpetrators who receive alternative penalties spill the full truth. If it is found that perpetrators are telling the full truth, action must be taken right away to immediately put into the ordinary justice system. If not, this greatly undermines the process and leads to major frustrations on the part of the victims.

Further, during this process it is essential that the authorities are extremely sensitive to victims’ needs and that they avoid re-victimizing victims. Re-victimization can happen at all levels of the process. For example, the paperwork given to perpetrators that explains the reasons for truth telling must foment reconciliation not just emphasize that doing so reduces their penalties. Also, authorities should encourage the perpetrators to recognize the truth without justifying their actions. The hearings should be made public to all and broadcast in the radio and TV so that what is communicated is known by the broader society. Authorities also need to make sure that the files for the processes are available in their full forms to victims’ lawyers.

Finally, two related issues, security and the ELN guerrilla, which require addressing to consolidate peace in Colombia. Stronger and more effective efforts must be undertaken to dismantle the operational capacities of paramilitaries. If this is not done, there is a risk that these groups could sabotage the peace effort. Also preventive efforts should be taken to minimized recruitment of these groups of the demobilized members of the FARC and armed forces.

Effective security guarantees, are required. Not just for the demobilized FARC but also for civil society actors that will lead the peace efforts. Colombia’s protection system does not work and it must be improved. A first step would be to root out corruption. One way to do it is to do away with privatization of services. Second, subcontracting should be stopped and escorts directly hired.

Last but not least the country will need to deal with the ELN guerrillas. If it is too late to include them in the FARC process, guarantee that there is coordination between the two processes to make sure coordinated that they complement each other. As I quickly outlined in my presentation, there are many challenges ahead as Colombia moves towards peace. However, since the U.S. supported the war for long, now has the opportunity to support and consolidate peace.