WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

21 Dec 2019 | Commentary

Human Rights Trends of the 2010s: Peace in Colombia

The most game-changing event of the decade for Colombia was the signing of a peace deal between the Colombian government and guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016. The agreement ended 52 years of a civil conflict that left an estimated 200,000 dead and more than 8 million persons displaced, thousands disappeared and victim of abuses.

While the accord was far from perfect, it is a monumental achievement and a watershed moment for Colombia, as the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running conflict came to an end. Major challenges now lie ahead in terms of fully implementing the agreement, securing an inclusive and lasting peace, and reversing the lapse back into violence already prevalent in some parts of the country. 

The 2016 agreement came after several failed peace attempts and four years of complex negotiations, which the international community and U.S. government played a critical role in supporting. As part of the accords, over 13,000 members of the FARC agreed to disarm, while the group’s leadership established a political party known as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.

The government also made commitments to addressing some of the root causes of the conflict, including inequality and land reform. Other aspects of the accord, such as the historic Ethnic Chapter, recognized and accounted for the conflict’s disproportionate impact on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. Overall, it was an ambitious, sweeping agreement that provided important opportunities for the government to right historical wrongs and at last extend civilian authority over long-neglected rural areas. 

In the year leading up to and following the agreement, violence reached record lows—a level of peace that an entire generation of Colombians had never before experienced. But as the government’s commitment to supporting the accord lagged, Colombia’s fragile peace came under threat.

President Iván Duque’s administration has defunded and, in some cases, derailed key aspects of the accords, such as the transitional justice mechanisms that are key to guaranteeing justice and non-repetition of war crimes. Demobilized fighters have not received the promised support and resources to help them reintegrate into mainstream society; nor has the government followed through on promises to support small farmers and provide viable alternatives to growing illicit-use crops.

Most concerningly, violence is on the rise, with human rights defenders, environmental activists, and land rights claimants facing threats, attacks, and killings. Many of those targeted are from Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities; impunity for these threats and killings remains the norm. 

In many ways, the signing of the 2016 accords represented the first step in what will be a long, hard journey towards consolidating peace in Colombia. Strong financial support and forceful advocacy for peace accord implementation by the U.S. government will be crucial in ensuring that Colombia’s hard-fought gains aren’t lost. Unfortunately, in the latter half of the decade, a great deal of U.S. attention towards Colombia shifted towards issues of U.S. drug production and concerns about the threat of instability in neighboring Venezuela and the influx of migrants, rather than peace accord implementation.

See some of WOLA’s work on peace in Colombia: 

  • WOLA’s Colombia Peace blog, which documents and monitors progress in Colombia’s peace negotiations and accord implementation. 
  • The latest in our monthly updates about attacks against human rights defenders, Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders, and other social leaders.  
  • Honorees from WOLA’s 2015 and 2010 Gala—including AFRODES, the Association of Internally Displaced Colombians, and Justicia y Paz, the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace in Colombia—were recognized for their work in promoting peace and supporting victims of violence and displacement.