Colombia peace process: Q&A

20 November 2017

Peace talks between the Government and the FARC hope to bring an end to over fifty years of armed conflict in Colombia

A peace agreement between the Government and the FARC guerilla hopes to bring an end to over fifty years of armed conflict in Colombia

What has happened?

Peace talks between the Colombian Government and the formerly largest  guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) began in October 2012 and took place in Havana, Cuba. They aimed to bring an end to over 50 years of internal armed conflict.

After more than four years of negotiations, on 24 November 2016 the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla group signed a final peace agreement. This followed an historic bilateral ceasefire signed on 23 June 2016, and the announcement on 24 August 2016 that a final agreement had been made.

On 2 October 2016, Colombians voted 'No' to the peace agreement in a narrowly won referendum, but a revised deal was approved by Congress on 24 November 2016.

In February 2017, formal peace talks started between the guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian Government, who reached a temporary bi-lateral ceasefire agreement ahead of Pope Francis' visit in September 2017.

Welcoming the news that a peace agreement had been signed, Sergio Coronado, Deputy Director of CAFOD's partner CINEP, said: “This deal explicitly recognises the commitment of both sides to replace bullets with dialogue”.

Ulrike Beck, CAFOD’s Colombia Programme Officer, said: "Alongside our partners in Colombia, we will continue our efforts to work for peace: a peace which the Church has been working for and pursuing for decades. At this time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to protect human rights defenders and those who have been working for peace."

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What about the other armed actors involved in the conflict?

Whilst an agreement with the FARC is a major step towards peace, other armed groups involved in the conflict did not take part in the talks, including the National Liberation Army (ELN), and right-wing paramilitary groups.

In February 2017, formal peace talks started between the guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian Government, reaching a temporary bi-lateral ceasefire agreement. Paramilitary groups – who were officially demobilised in a ‘Justice and Peace’ process of 2005 – continue to operate in some areas of the country and are not part of the negotiations.  

All parties engaged in the conflict have carried out numerous human rights violations. Civilians have been most affected by the conflict, particularly people living in rural areas including Afro Colombian, Indigenous and small-scale farmer communities, as well as human rights defenders, trade unionists and land claimants.

CAFOD’s long standing partner Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, Director of Caritas Colombia, said: “Being a human rights defender in Colombia is a dangerous, often deadly job. Despite positive progress in peace talks between the Colombian Government and FARC guerrilla group, and announcement of peace talks between the Government and the ELN, attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia have been increasing”.

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How many people have been affected by the conflict in Colombia?

The National Victims Unit, which was set up in 2011 and records crimes which have occurred since 1985 in the context of the armed conflict, registered almost 280,000 killings (the majority of them civilians), more than 46,500 people forcibly disappeared and over seven million people forced to flee their homes by 1 November 2016. The actual figures are expected to be considerably higher.

Women, men and children continue to be forcibly displaced from their homes. Colombia remains among the countries with the highest number of people internally displaced, it is currently second only to Syria.

Despite the peace agreement with the FARC, Colombia continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a human rights defender or community leader, with 51 defenders killed in the first six months of 2017.

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What are the challenges and opportunities ahead?

Colombia is beginning a long process of establishing sustainable peace, something that needs to be done at different levels of society and will take many decades.

For genuine and lasting peace, it will be essential to ensure the social, political, economic and cultural injustice which led to the conflict is addressed; victims have access to integral reparation; and that communities and victims of the conflict living in the regions are able to participate in the construction of peace.

After more than five decades of armed conflict the peace-building process will take time and international support and solidarity will be crucial. The ‘territorial peace’ that CAFOD’s partners are calling for needs to be built from the rural areas that have been most affected by the conflict and involve everyone - men, women and children, from grassroots and faith leaders to local politicians and business.

CAFOD's Colombia Programme Officer Ulrike Beck, said “We need to see real change on the ground to address the structural causes of the armed conflict, such as poverty and inequality, including the unequal distribution of land”.

"It is equally important that the millions of people who have suffered in the conflict have the possibility to learn the truth of what has happened in the conflict and can seek justice and reparation" said Ulrike Beck.

Who are CAFOD’s partners in Colombia and what role have they played?

CAFOD has worked in Colombia for over 40 years. Our programme focuses on peace-building, protection of human rights defenders and communities, people displaced by the conflict, sustainable livelihoods, work on business and human rights, and gender-based violence. Our Church and non-Church partners work with grassroots communities affected by the conflict.

The Catholic Church in Colombia plays a key role as an advocate for peace and human rights, the resettlement of uprooted communities, the participation of victims in the peace talks, and the need to ensure victims have access to truth, justice and reparation. They have also been involved in the peace negotiation - through official visits to Havana and by helping victims put forward their perspectives in proposals and interventions - as well as in monitoring their implementation.

One of our main areas of work aims to improve the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia, which remains challenging. In November 2015, two human rights defenders supported by CAFOD were killed as a result of their work defending land rights of their communities. In October 2017, José Jair Cortés, a 41-year-old local leader and human rights activist, was murdered near the city of Tumaco, in south-west Colombia. José was working with our local partner to educate people about the dangers of landmines, and repeatedly spoke out about violence from various armed groups in the region.

We are very concerned about the increase in threats and attacks against victims’ representatives, land rights leaders, faith leaders, human rights defenders, afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders and communities, and peace advocates and that it may increase even more in the aftermath of the signing of a peace agreement in Colombia.

Find out more about our work in Colombia

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