by Virginia Bouvier, Colombia Calls blog, Washington, DC, June 7, 2014
In a press conference in Havana this morning, where Colombian government and FARC negotiators have been meeting since Tuesday to discuss the theme of victims, the parties presented a joint “Declaration of Principles for the Discussion of Point 5 on the Agenda: Victims.” The government’s lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, called the agreement an “historic step” in “putting victims at the center of the process.” (Read his statement here.) He noted, “Today is a special day. The hour of the victims has arrived.” President Santos noted in his Twitter account that this was indeed “great news.”
Iván Márquez (aka Luciano Marín Arango), the head of the FARC delegation, noted, “We are taking the first steps in a terrain plagued with difficulties, and enormous miscomprehensions born of the ignorance of the history, origin, causes, development and actors engaged in the longest internal conflict of the continent.”
In their joint communique (read it here in Spanish), the government and FARC delegates laid out the framework they have now agreed on for advancing their discussions on victims, and announced a number of important innovations for the next phase of the talks that promise to accelerate the peace process. View the announcement of chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle here:
Declaration of Principles: Another Milestone in the Path to Peace
The “Declaration of Principles” is a momentous document. Much as the framework agenda agreed in August 2012 (see here) was critical in establishing common ground for the peace talks agenda and methodology, this document lays out ten principles that will be a touchstone for the parties as they navigate the difficult terrain ahead. As with the framework agreement and the three agreements on agrarian development, political participation and drug trafficking and illicit crops already produced in the course of the talks, the Declaration constitutes another milestone in the path to peace.
The ten principles laid out in the Declaration include:
- Recognition of Victims
- Recognition of Responsibility
- Satisfaction of the Rights of Victims
- Participation of Victims
- Clarification of the Truth
- Reparation of Victims
- Guarantees of Protection and Security
- Guarantees of Non-Repetition
- Principle of Reconciliation
- Rights-Based Focus
Of particular importance in the Declaration, the parties recognize that the need to protect human rights and satisfy victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. In an introductory preamble, the parties recognize that “the satisfaction of the rights of victims is a fundamental part of the guarantees for the conquest of peace and that the termination of the conflict will contribute decidedly to the satisfaction of these rights.”
The parties agree also that respect for human rights and the reparation of victims is at the center of any accord. They agree that victims’ rights are non-negotiable, and the question is reaching agreement on how these rights might best be satisfied in the context of an armed conflict. The path forward necessarily requires talking with the victims, who to a larger extent than in most conflict-ridden nations, are highly organized in Colombia.
The parties in Havana recognize the need for new and multiple mechanisms for consultation with the victims. In the next round of talks, the parties announced that they will receive a diverse delegation of victims representing different kinds of victimization and groups to address the particulars of how victims’ rights might best be satisfied in the context of ending the conflict. The victims will thus have the opportunity to help the parties develop the particular content of the forthcoming agreement. The Declaration of Principles provides an important mechanism for carrying these conversations forward.
‘We Will Not Grant Each Other Impunity’
“We will not grant each other impunity,” the parties promise in their discussion about the need to acknowledge responsibility for the conflict. (“No vamos a intercambiar impunidades.”) De la Calle notes in his statement that the parties understand that the first step in satisfying the rights of victims is that everyone recognize their own responsibility. This of course requires the government and the FARC to recognize their own victims, he says, but the principle applies also “to all those who have been responsible for victims for half a century of conflict. Not only those who are and have been in arms.”
The Declaration also announces three innovations of particular merit that should speed up the peace process and strengthen the content of forthcoming agreements:
- The creation of a technical committee, to include members of both delegations, that will initiate discussions on the next agenda item dealing with the end of the conflict (point #3). This commission will meet during the next cycle, while others pursue the theme of victims, and help advance discussions on the final item on the agenda once an agreement on victims is reached.
- The creation of a “historic commission on the conflict and its victims”, composed of experts, who will consult with victims to help orient and contribute to the discussions on victims. This commission will not replace an anticipated truth commission which would include a broader participation of Colombian society and particularly victims.
- The creation of a subcommittee on gender, which will consult with national and international experts and include members of both delegations. This subcommittee will review the final agreement and prior agreements reached and guarantee that they have an adequate gender focus. It represents an important acknowledgement of the work of many women’s organizations in Colombia and globally who have underscored the many ways that gender shapes war’s impact on both sexes and therefore must be considered in designing solutions. Women’s contributions here will be important.
Forums on Victims
Finally, the parties called on the United Nations and the National University to organize forums on the theme of victims, much as they did previously on agrarian development, political participation, and illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking. They acknowledged the importance of prior regional forums organized by the Peace Commissions of the Colombian Congress in providing inputs from the victims. The requested UN-NU forums will include three regional events. The first would take place in Villavicencio on July 4-5. Others will take place in Barrancabermeja and Barranquilla, and a final national forum is anticipated in Cali. As De la Calle explained in a separate statement today (see here), the locations were selected to represent different regions of Colombia that have been hard hit by the conflict and “continue to suffer with special intensity, namely, the eastern plains, the Atlantic coast, the Magdalena Medio region, and the Pacific and southwestern region where Cali is located.
In the next round, the parties will continue to craft agreements on the issue of victims, and will be simultaneously advancing on the final substantive item on the agenda–the particulars of ending the conflict. They will grapple with what happened and why, how to best recognize the rights of victims and to restore their rights as citizens, how to recognize responsibilities of the parties and to acknowledge and address the damages inflicted on individuals, families, and communities, and the collective social fabric of the Colombian nation in the course of half a century of internal armed conflict.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the looming deadline for the presidential elections on June 15, one week from tomorrow. While the more cynical may consider the Declaration of Principles a mere political ploy to gain votes for the incumbent, like the previous agreements, the Declaration shows the seriousness of a process that is necessarily unfolding at its own pace around difficult issues. If the upcoming presidential vote inspires the parties to find ways to bridge their differences more rapidly, all the better. The candidates–President Juan Manuel Santos and Oscar Iván Zuluaga–are in the regions getting in their last public campaigning before the deadline. The race continues to be too close to call and the results for the peace process could be significant. (See my previous and forthcoming posts on this topic.)