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Five lessons from the peace negotiation between the FARC and the Colombian Government

17 Jan 2017 18:48 | Camilo Eduardo Umaña H.



On October 2, 2016, the peace agreement reached between the Government and the FARC was submitted to a plebiscite. The electorate was asked whether they supported the final agreement. 34,899,000 people were qualified to vote, but only 13,066,047 (37.43%) actually did. The abstention rate was 62.57%. Most of the voters (50.21%) disapproved it. This choice made by 18% of the qualified voters.

*           The understanding of democracy as an electoral system is poor and needs to be reframed. Elections over humanitarian  principles or basic human rights should be discarded. For instance, even though a particular humanitarian measure as freeing sick or wound prisoners may be unpopular, humanitarian laws should prevail over vengeance.

*           The great electoral abstention rates worldwide suggest that democracy, instead of being an antonym of the "rule of few", is actually turning into a synonymous. Additionally, elections over peace agreements involve the risk of fostering more opportunities for war and may be politically unwise. Humanitarian measures should not be submitted to vote.

The “Final Agreement for the end of the conflict and the construction of a stable and endurable peace” is a highly complex document of 310 pages. Its implementation involves different constitutional and legal reforms. As a result of the plebiscite, the government could not politically nor legally implement the agreements. In spite of the existence of different legal exits to the problem, the agreement was not implemented due to the political turmoil that the elections created.

*           Peace agreements are political in nature but cannot advance without a proper legal framework. These agreements adopt different legal (and complex) forms, which depend on the ability of the legal system to adjust to the political landscape as well as the ability of the political system to frame its aspirations for peace within the legal structure and, at the same time, to be willing to prompt legal changes. In this sense, peace agreements imply the accepted interference of the political system in the operation of the legal system.

The judiciary in Colombia has acknowledged that the campaign against the agreements was mendacious and dishonest. One of the arguments of this campaign was that negotiations affected private property aiming at distributing private lands among the peasants. Another argument was that amnesties and restorative penalties for crimes committed during the armed conflict brought impunity.

*           The claim for justice that has been limited in the last years to a claim in favor of criminal law repression needs to regain a wider connotation. The human rights practice focusing on criminal law accountability has become a major argument functional to repression rather than to social justice. A human rights perspective on justice should allow thinking of justice as a human goal involving general social relations and not only those emerging from wrongdoings.

*           The end of the armed conflict (that in Colombia is still pending considering the presence of other guerrillas and armed organizations) should not be equated to peace. Peace is not only the absence of war but in particular the existence of a just society.

In the elections, the Catholic Church remained officially neutral. However, different catholic, evangelic and christian churches advocated for voting NO in the plebiscite. They claimed to be against gay couples, abortion, communism and sorcery. However, none of these matters was part of the peace agreement.

*           Latin America in general and Colombia in particular are living a transformation on the religious landscape. The Catholic Church that traditionally has predominated is falling into decline. Other religions with Christian and Evangelic roots are presenting an expansive manifestation and a great impact in society. The parishioners and the clergy of these religions are often disciplined and uniform in respect to their political ideas. These religious expressions (alongside with traditional Catholic positions) have become a relevant source of assimilation between political and religious ideas, practices and discourses. Such lack of distinction is widening as an utter reminder of the European Middle Ages.

The peace talks aimed at allowing the victims to participate in the negotiations. During the talks, 60 victims of the different actors of the armed conflict (the state, guerrillas and paramilitaries) were able to speak directly to the negotiation table. In addition, the UNDP and the National University of Colombia organized different encounters of victims (three regional and one national) with the purpose of sending a document expressing the expectations and demands of the victims in the process. In spite of these initiatives, different victims claimed that they were not properly heard.

*           Victims should not negotiate because they are not parties of the conflict. However, the restoration of victims and the society in general should be the focus of peace talks. With this purpose, victims should be able to actively participate on peace talks. Doing so, they may bring a human face to the conflict, contributing to the social awareness of the atrocities committed and pushing for having prompt and effective results.  

*           Victims may contribute for understanding the importance of preserving social bonds in times of  war. This may open possibilities for the innovation of the social scrutiny concerning criminal actions, not only in the course of a conflict but also in the context of ordinary wrongdoings.

*I would like to express my gratitude to
 Diana Duran for her, as usual, crucial observations for this text. 


  • 13 Feb 2017 18:30 | Susana Arrese (Administrator)
    Muchas gracias Camilo. Estoy deseando oir una charla tuya en Oñati sobre el proceso de paz en Colombia
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