WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
28 Jun 2016 | Commentary

The Inclusion of Ethnic Groups Is Essential For A Lasting Peace in Colombia

On June 23, the two negotiating parties announced a bilateral ceasefire, a historic act that demonstrates that there is no going back on peace in Colombia. On June 27, the parties privy to the Colombian armed conflict, the Colombian government, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) met with leaders from Afro-Colombian communities to discuss how to best guarantee that the agenda for peace will become a lasting reality for the 25% of Colombians that identify as members of this demographic. The start of this conversation, and the one which occurred on June 26 with Indigenous community, is essential to guarantee the effectiveness of the accords and to minimize the risks that this conflict will repeat itself in the ethnic zones of the country.

During the past 18 months the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), a unified platform of nine national and regional networks of Afro-descendant civil society groups that include displaced people, women, religious leaders, territorial authorities, unionists, and youth members, has fought for the right to be heard and to have their recommendations taken into consideration in the peace process. In March of 2016, CONPA joined forces with the Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (ONIC) and created a joint peace platform for ethnic minorities titled the Ethnic Commission. In an autonomous manner, and taking into account the historic changes in the country, these groups organized themselves, analyzed the pre-accords, and constructed the principles to ensure that the rights of their populations will be strengthened in the transition and implementation of this process.

WOLA, which has accompanied this process from the United States, jointly with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, highlights that the following themes should be touched upon in order to guarantee peace and justice in areas where ethnic minorities reside, as it is they who have been the most disproportionately affected by forced displacement, conflict, and overall violence.

Guaranteeing of Collective Rights of Ethnic Minorities

The peace accords should not only guarantee a respect of collective rights acquired by Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities, but should also facilitate the development of other rights that seek to overcome the historic exclusion of ethnic groups as the foundational principle of the social state of law, democracy, and peace. It is the national government that has the constitutional obligation to protect these rights. Consequently, the FARC-EP must work towards this goal as one of its largest contributions to the dismantling of structural factors that have been causes of the social and armed conflict in the country.

Comprehensive Implementation Conjointly with Ethnic Leaders    

With regards to the implementation of the aforementioned, it is hoped that a sustained dialogue between the parties and the Ethnic Commission will permit the strengthening and preparation of ethno-territorial organizations for communication with state institutions and the FARC over the forms in which the accords will be implemented in Afro and Indigenous territories. This will involve workshops and socialization conferences for the accords and for the elaboration of roadmaps between these communities and organizations. For this to be effective, it will require consulting and risk-mitigation regarding new conflicts that may emerge in these territories once the accords are signed. This includes the designing of a certain type of observatory body and methodology to systematically follow-up on what is occurring in these territories, and to then report the findings to the International Verification Mission and the various state bodies. Finally, it is necessary to prepare for the participation of the organization of the Ethnic Commission in the different institutional bodies that will be created for the overseeing of the accords, such as the rapid response programs and other projects within the framework of the application of the Cuba accords in ethnic areas.

Resources and Protection of Leaders        

The national government should provide the economic and institutional resources that will be necessary so that the pathway agreed to with the Ethnic Commission can be implemented efficiently. The international community should ensure that within the framework of the post-conflict financing there is an aid package that is specific for the needs of Afro and Indigenous and that guarantees the sustainability and capacity of ethnic authorities to monitor, record, and implement the agenda of the peace process. Additionally, it is necessary to improve the protection of said leaders, as they have been assassinated, harassed, and threatened in the past, during the transition and post-conflict.

The reasons as to why ethnic groups should be included, and the risks that face if this is not the case have been exposed by WOLA in previous documents. Read, Colombia’s Peace Process: Integrating Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Rights.