On 7 February 2017, the Colombian government and the second largest Guerrilla Group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) initiated the public phase of the Peace Talks, in Quito, Ecuador. Postponed since March 2016, following two years of informal negotiations, because of preconditions set by the Colombian government regarding the release of former Congressman Odín Sánchez Montes de Oca. The path was finally paved for the start of the public stage of the Peace Talks with the release on 2 February this year of Mr. Sánchez and two imprisoned ELN members.
Although Quito will be the headquarters for these talks, sessions will also be held in Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Chile, the latter, together with Norway, will act as guarantors in this process. The parties outlined a six-point agenda for these negotiations: (1) Society’s participation in the construction of peace, (2) Democracy for peace, (3) Transformations for peace, (4) Victims, (5) Bring the conflict to an end, and (6) Implementation.
ABColombia and its member agencies Christian Aid, Oxfam, CAFOD and SCIAF would urge both parties in the Peace Talks to ensure that they include the effective participation of civil society organisations (CSOs), and in particular, that of the victims, women, indigenous, Afro-Colombian and peasant farmers. It is essential to continue the focus started with the FARC Peace Talks of maintaining the victims at the centre of the negotiations. This is vital for an inclusive process which offers the possibility of a sustainable Peace Agreement that incorporates economic inclusion and social justice.
We also urge the two parties to declare a bi-lateral ceasefire which will help to generate greater confidence in the process and improve the situation for civilians in rural areas. Security of the civilian population, community leaders and human rights defenders is crucial for sustainable peace and democracy in Colombia.
The Colombian Government must therefore ensure that the other illegal armed actor in the conflict, namely the neo-paramilitary groups also referred to as “criminal gangs” (BACRIM), are effectively dismantled. The persistence of these groups and the lack of advances in dismantling them is presenting major challenges to the sustainability of peace, particularly as they move in the power vacuums left by the FARC and exert violent control over the civilian population in these regions of the country.
There is an essential role for International Governments, like the UK who have provided £10 million to the UN Trust Fund to finance the implementation of the FARC Peace Agreements, to insist that the Colombian Government implement the Chapter of the FARC Agreement on Security Guarantees; in the light of the killing of 85 Human Rights Defenders and political activists in 2016 and over 11 in the first 23 days of January 2017. If this happens it will provide for a more conducive climate for the ELN negotiations and help to address the appalling increase in violence being reported by our local partners’ organisations in Colombia.
ABColombia, Christian Aid, Oxfam, CAFOD and SCIAF also urges the Colombian Government to issue an official invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders to visit Colombia, especially given the precarious situation of human rights defenders, who are key to peace building and ensuring sustainable peace with social justice.
• The ELN number around 2,000 combatants making them the second largest Guerrilla Group in Colombia after the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia –FARC) Guerrilla who signed a Peace Agreement with the Colombian Government on 28 November 2016. The FARC during the month of January 2017 moved nearly 6,300 troops into the “26 Transitional and Normalisation Zones” in order to disarm.
• The ELN Process will be more restricted in scope than that of the FARC given that they will have to take into account and to accept and incorporate agreements made with the FARC into the Peace Accord between themselves and the Colombian Government.
• Following the demobilisation process of over 30,000 paramilitaries, known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-defence Forces of Colombia-AUC) the mid-ranking commanders did not demobilise but formed the neo-paramilitary groups that continue to operate in Colombia; these are referred to by the Colombian Governemnt as BACRIM (Criminal Gangs). These groups since mid-2015 started to consolidate and increase in number. They are responsible for the majority of killings of human rights defenders and atrocities against the civilian population. They are now moving into the power vacuums left by the FARC Guerrilla as they demobilise.
• The UK Government has contributed £10 million to the UN Trust Fund and £1.7 million to the €95 million EU Trust Fund.
• ABColombia is the advocacy project of a group of five leading UK and Irish organisations with programmes in Colombia: CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, SCIAF and Trócaire. Amnesty International and PBI are observers. ABColombia members have over 100 partner organisations in Colombia. Since 1997, ABColombia has been working on promoting the voice of the most marginalised grass-roots groups in Colombia, mainly, Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, Peasant Farmers and women to the attention of the UK and Irish Governments and the European Union. We have accompanied our Colombian partners through some of the most intense moments of the conflict. Further info www.abcolombia.org.uk
• Louise Winstanley is ABColombia Programme and Advocacy Manager. She has worked on Colombia for the last 14 years, initially in-country and for the last six years with ABColombia based in London.
Louise Winstanley (ABColombia Programme and Advocacy Manager), please contact: • Louise Winstanley, ABColombia Programme and Advocacy Manager, +44 (0)207 870 2216; +44 (0)7920 886 874 (UK mobile) firstname.lastname@example.org