Colombia: “Total Peace”

With the promise of establishing substantial changes in Colombia, based on social and environmental justice and a transformation of the security policy, recently inaugurated President Gustavo Petro, faces serious challenges at a time of increasing sociopolitical violence. According to 500 Colombian human rights organizations, the outgoing Iván Duque administration left a legacy of “hunger and war, which became systematic human rights violations, increased violence against leaders and human rights defenders,[1] a reactivation of the armed conflict, an expansion of paramilitary[2] and other armed groups, as well as the expansion of illicit use crops and cocaine production in the country. [3]

In this context, the new president stated that he will prioritize social dialogue[4] as a pillar to resolve the armed conflict, which has persisted over six decades in Colombia. He also highlighted the need to protect to communities and human rights to overcome the country’s historic inequalities. The Petro administration has declared that “Total Peace,[5] a law recently approved by Congress, will be a cornerstone of his policy to disarm all illegal armed structures, open negotiations with armed groups, bring criminal organizations before the justice system, and definitively end the conflict.[6] The “Total Peace” policy includes several proposals from “Somos Génesis, a network of over 180 ethnic-territorial communities, victims of the armed conflict, and who, since 2020, have been calling for the signature of Global Humanitarian Agreements and dialogue with the armed actors, allowing them to live in peace in their territory.[7] Unfortunately, these petitions were not addressed by the prior administration.

One of the greatest challenges faced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, led by Danilo Rueda,[8] since day one of its mandate is to reverse implementation mistakes relative to the Peace Agreement signed in 2016,[9] which have been repeatedly denounced by victims, peace signatories, and human rights organizations. Since the Petro administration took office in August, dialogues were reactivated between the government and ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrillas,[10] 22 armed structures[11] have manifested interest in join the “Total Peace” proposal, and 10 illegal armed groups[12] have signed a multilateral ceasefire as an initial demonstration of their willingness to initiate peace dialogues.

Although this new paradigm opens up the possibility of a historical change, the violence continues, specifically affecting communities, social leaders, and peace agreement signatories, with a disproportionate impact on women, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples.[13] It is concerning that, to date, 154 human rights defenders[14] and 35 signatories of the Peace Agreement have been killed.[15] In addition, there were 87 massacres with 274 fatal victims.[16] Even though, eight murders were reported during the new government’s first month in office, September is the month, so far, with fewest leaders murdered in 2022.[17]

In response to this challenge, the coalitions of Colombian human rights and social organizations have prepared an emergency plan for the protection of leaders, human rights defenders, and peace signatories,[18] the policy to be implemented by the Ministry of Interior, with leadership from the new human rights director, Franklin Castañeda.[19] The emergency plan prioritizes 65 municipalities and six capitals in the regions historically hardest hit by the armed conflict,[20]and where major state abandonment and a lack of guarantees for the defense of human rights has been documented.

It is also important to note the installation of the Commission for Follow-up, Promotion, and Verification of the Peace Agreement’s Implementation and the re-installation of the National Commission on Security Guarantees, as was foreseen in the Peace Agreement, to develop a policy to dismantle the paramilitary structures and other social measures to protect leaders. Despite multiple calls from Colombian civil society and the international community, the Commission did present any advances during the previous administration.[21]

PBI Colombia.

[1] According to the last assessment from the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz), between the beginning of the Iván Duque administration, on 7 August 2018, and the end of his term, 930 social leaders and human rights defenders were assassinated. Additionally, 313 massacres were committed with 1,192 mortal victims. Cifras durante el gobierno de Iván Duque – Balance de la violencia en cifras – Indepaz

[2] Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos: HAMBRE Y GUERRA: EL LEGADO DEL APRENDIZ (, June 2022.

[4] A measure foreseen by the new government is binding regional dialogues, focused on listening to the needs and petitions of communities in the Colombia countryside relative to subjects like access to potable water, energy costs, climate change, security, territorial land management to achieve total peace, the fight against hunger, access to healthcare, energy transition, and others. The input will be used to create the National Development Plan for the next four years.

[5] The bill seeks to prolong the validity of Law 418 of 1997, known as the law and order Law, creating the legal frame to advance in the Total Peace policy.

[6] Red Somos Génesis: Carta Abierta 64, 26 September 2022.

[8] Previously president of the Inter-church Commission of Justice and Peace, a human rights organization accompanied by PBI since 1994.

[9] It should be noted that since the signature of the 2016 Peace Agreement between the Juan Manuel Santos administration and the Farc-EP, the territories abandonded by the guerrilla was occupied by other armed groups—both guerrillera and those arising from the paramilitary strucutre—who are fighting for territorial control, a situation that was addressed almost exclusively through a militarization of the territories by the Duque administration.


[12] These groups include the Central Command Structure (Estado Mayor Central) of the FARC dissidents, commanded by Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco”; the Second Marquetalia, led by Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Márquez”; the Gaitan Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) or Clan de Golfo, the Self-defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta and “several (drug trafficking) offices in cities.”

[14] Indepaz: tweet, 31 October 2022.

[17] The Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz) runs a human rights observatory that reported the murder of eight social leaders in September, meanwhile the numbers for previous months had not dropped below 13. February was the most lethal month with 20 defenders murdered.

[19] Human rights defenders and former president of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), an organization accompanied by PBI since 1998, and current Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of the Interior.

[20] The Pacific Coast and Mountains of Nariño, Cauca, Chocó, the Nordeste Antioqueño, Magdalena Medio, the Colombian -Venezuelan border, including Catatumbo and Arauca, and Putumayo.

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