“Peace is more than just a silencing of weapons”

Civil society proposals for peace

Ever since the peace negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government were announced, organizations accompanied by PBI, as well as other human rights and victims’ organizations and movements, have demanded a fuller incorporation of their perspectives into the talks in Havana.  Seeing that these demands have received little attention, the organizations and movements have felt obliged to publicly announce their proposals in an effort to inform those at the negotiating table as well as public opinion. In this way, they hope that the voice of civil society, and especially the victims of the Colombian armed conflict, will be taken into account and a strong and stable peace based on social justice is built in Colombia.[1]

Although the details vary, in general the demands and proposals coincide on a set of minimum conditions for an eventual agreement: real mechanisms for justice, truth, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition in response to violations committed by both the FARC and the armed forces; the dismantling of the political and economic structures that have supported corruption and paramilitary groups; and the strengthening of Colombia’s institutions. They also insist on separate negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) or their inclusion in the current negotiations in Havana. Furthermore, many are looking to demand a unilateral ceasefire in order to protect the civil population.

In order to achieve the former two demands many organizations and movements are contemplating the creation of a truth commission. According to the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (the CCEEU, a coalition of more than 240 human rights organizations many of whom PBI accompanies), it is essential that such a commission be composed of actors who have not participated in the conflict; those with experience in human rights, and representatives from academia, the church, victims’ organizations, and the international community.[2]

The working group on forced disappearances of the CCEEU is also pushing for the creation of a truth commission, monitoring mechanisms, public accountability and the monitoring of all application, conclusions, and recommendations. Likewise, the Network of Communities Building Peace in the Rural Areas (CONPAZ), with the support of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) (an organization accompanied by PBI), insists that such a commission be led by victims, that it function not only in Bogotá but also in the regions, and that is should help to generate a collective narrative of the violence in Colombia.

In the light of the current peace negotiations, the question of how justice is to be applied is not an easy one. It is only in recent days that the FARC and the government negotiators have begun to acknowledge their responsibility to the victims of the conflict.[3] Although the figures demonstrate that human rights violations have been numerous and in their majority of cases against civilians (for example, according to the National Centre of Historical Memory, more than 81% of murder victims associated with the armed conflict have been civilians[4]), social organizations and movements insist that these crimes be answered for. They also remind the state that international law, through treaties such as the Rome Statute, demands investigations and sanctions in cases of grave violations.

The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), an organization with wide ranging experience in judicial issues, has recently put forward a concrete proposal for a mechanism for transitional justice. CCAJAR recommends improved implementation of the 2005 Justice and Peace law, which set out a model of transitional justice for the demobilization of the paramilitaries. In light of the limited results this process has to date rendered, (of the 32.000 neoparamilitaries that participated, 4337 were charged, 19 were sentenced, and the majority of these remain in liberty[5]), CCAJAR proposes a Special Tribunal for Justice and Peace to which all those committed to a lasting peace process must present themselves. Those refusing to face this tribunal, or whom after having done so fail to help fulfil the rights of the victims, should be, according to this proposal, processed by Colombia’s regular judicial system. Integral to this proposal, CCAJAR insists that the benefits given to those responsible for crimes must take into account differentiated sanctions for instigators of state crimes, given the increased responsibility, according to international law, of state actors to protect the civilian population.[6]

The strengthening of institutions and the rule of law is another key part of the demands and proposals of social movements and organizations. They underline that to achieve this, it is essential that the armed forces and state entities involved in human rights violations be restructured; manuals, rules and legislation that reproduce the idea that certain sectors of the population constitute the “enemy within” be identified and discarded; state intelligence archives be purged of all information on human rights defenders, trade unionists, opposition politicians and activists, and members of social organizations.[7]

In the end, civil society organizations and movements make it clear that an agreement with the FARC and even with the ELN will not automatically lead to an end of the violence in Colombia, despite it being a vitally important step in this direction. This is because such an agreement will not affect the neo-paramilitaries and other illegal armed groups that continue to operate in Colombia, and because the implementation of any agreement will be key to a durable peace based on social justice. However, as Franklin Castañeda, President of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (FCSPP) stated during a seminar at the United Sates Institute for Peace in Washington, “If we fail to seize this great opportunity that history has given us then it is certain that we will continue to have millions of Colombians in the same situation [of violence]”.[8]


[1]             The title of this article is based on a speech given by Franklin Castañeda, FCSPP: “The Peace Process in Colombia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies for the Protection of Human Rights”, U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C. 28 March 2014

[2]             CCEEU: Planteamientos a la mesa de diálogo gobierno – FARC-EP sobre temas de derechos humanos en la agenda, 16 November 2012

[3]             El Tiempo: Paso histórico: por primera vez las Farc reconocen a sus víctimas, 7 June 2014

[4]             Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica: ¡Basta Ya! Colombia: memorias de guerra y dignidad, 2013

[5]             WOLA: “Poner Fin a 50 Años de Conflicto”, April 2014

[6]             Jomary Ortegon, CCAJAR: Speech: “The Peace Process in Colombia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies for the Protection of Human Rights”, U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C. 28 March 2014

[7]             CCAJAR, MOVICE, CCEEU

[8]             Franklin Castañeda: Op Cit

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