Peace and the way forward

Government and FARC sign agreement after 50 years’ war

Today, PBI celebrates that after 22 years of accompanying human rights defenders in Colombia, it is witnessing the signature of a peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It is a fundamental step towards ending more than 50 years of armed conflict which left eight million victims,[1] most of them civilians.[2] It is a huge step towards a less violent society with more respect for human rights, and hopefully more justice. The Government and FARC are committed to, from now on, “breaking any type of connection between politics and the use of arms”.[3]

PBI works throughout the world to open space for peace and deal with conflict without the use of violence, and believes that all human rights defenders have a fundamental and vital role in transforming societies with violent conflicts into societies at peace and with social justice.  The peace that was signed today in Colombia has been negotiated during talks between the Government and the FARC during the last four years, but it has above all been the product of the struggle and work of decades by human rights organisations, victims and Colombian social organisations. As a civil society it has put forward many proposals for reform and many of them are reflected in the final agreement signed today.  PBI Colombia is proud to have accompanied them during this long, difficult and dangerous job, which took the lives of many people.

The signature of this agreement, however, is not an end point: it is the beginning of an even more important stage. In the agreement there are great opportunities to improve guarantees for defending human rights and achieving a more just society. It includes mechanisms to find out the historical truth about serious crimes committed during the conflict and achieving justice for victims, mechanisms to improve protections for those who defend human rights or lead the political opposition, including recognising the persistence of the paramilitary phenomenon and the threat this represents, as well as measures to fight it and investigate its crimes.  There is an opportunity to strengthen recognition for the Family Farmer Reservation Zone and create a land fund for farmers who do not have access to it.  The agreement also includes more holistic policy for facing the illegal narcotics problem, which goes beyond war, repression and fumigation, multiple guarantees for the political opposition and incentives for social movements to take part in politics.

The issues discussed at the negotiating tables coincide with those set out in the report of the Historical Commission of the Conflict and its Victims,[4] on the structural causes of the armed conflict between the FARC and the Government. The implementation of the agreements is a necessary guarantee for the peace signed today to be lasting and sustainable.

The celebration of peace today is the great final event of this process, but it is mostly a great beginning.  What follows next is an even more important stage: what was agreed must become reality.

First the agreement will need to be put to a referendum: Colombian society will need to express itself in favour or against the agreement.  In the campaign for the “YES” to a final peace, the social movements will again play a vital role, because there is strong political opposition, violently expressed, of sectors who see their interests threatened by what was agreed in Havana.[5]

In the coming months there will be a large-scale social mobilisation that will not be without risk for those taking part.  It should be remembered that in recent years political violence has increased,[6] and most of the attacks against human rights defenders were committed by neo-paramilitary groups.[7]

After the referendum comes the implementation of the agreements.   Participation by victims, organisations, movements and communities in the transitional justice mechanisms like the Truth Commission, the Special Search Unit for Disappeared Persons, and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will be wide and important, given that the organisations have been documenting and investigating cases for years, or accompanying relatives in the search for their loved ones. The Office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that “There are repeated attacks against the victims’ representatives, especially those bringing cases for violations attributable to State agents”. [8]

Organisations like the World Council of Churches have expressed that it will be fundamental to put into effect what was agreed on oversight of the implementation to be provided by civil society organisations.[9] Even more so according to social organisations, because of political reforms by the current Government that go against the advances on human rights issues agreed in Havana:[10] the new Police Code which increases the criminalisation of social protest,[11] and the Zidres Law, which according to Oxfam, causes “negative effects in terms of the concentration and expropriation of land”.[12]  Despite the end of the armed conflict with the FARC, the Government has not wanted to negotiate reform of the Armed Forces, which some social movements argue is necessary to guarantee that the crimes committed during the armed conflict are not repeated.[13]

Another fundamental step towards building a lasting and sustainable peace is the negotiation process with the Army of National Liberation (ELN) which was announced in March 2016 but which has stagnated since.  Without an agreement with this guerrilla group as well, the violence of the armed conflict will continue in many parts of the country and the transition to a culture of peace and non-violence will be undermined.

Now is not the time to stop supporting and accompanying those who defend human and environmental rights, with all the challenges and risks that it generates, nor to look away because Colombia “is now a country at peace”. The organisations, groups and communities need now, perhaps more than ever, for the eyes of the world to be on Colombia at this historic moment that will determine whether peace will come with social justice, a peace for everyone and a peace that lasts.

Hendrine Rotthier


[1] El Tiempo: Víctimas del conflicto en Colombia ya son ocho millones, 16 April 2016

[2] Basta Ya!

[3] Agreement on security guarantees, p. 1.

[4] Comisión Histórica del Conflicto y sus Víctimas: Contribución al entendimiento del conflicto armado en Colombia, February 2015

[5] El Tiempo: ‘Existen estructuras armadas que están acechando el proceso de paz’, 24 April 2016

[6] Cerac and We are Defenders / Programa Somos Defensores

[7] Programa Somos Defensores: El Cambio ( Annual Report 2015), January 2016

[8] United Nations Human Rights Council:  Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia, 15 March 2016

[9] Contagio Radio: “Veeduría social será fundamental para el cumplimiento de Acuerdos de Paz”, 29 January 2016

[10] Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos: Cambios para la vida, derechos para la paz; Declaración política asamblea anual Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos, 11 July 2016

[11]     Contagio Radio: Nuevo código de policía es dictatorial y viola ddhh: alberto yepes, 18 June 2015; Colombia Informa: Derecho a la protesta en el nuevo Código de Policía: ¿en contravía de la Paz?, 27 June 2016

[12] Oxfam: Colombia: las falacias detrás de ZIDRES, una ley de “subdesarrollo rural”

[13] Ccajar: Ante ola de asesinatos, exigimos creación de Comisión de Alto Nivel de Garantías de No Repetición, 16 March 2016


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