Designing peace: the Colombian peace process

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Dag Nylander, Rita Sandberg and Idun Tvedt

The peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) have become a global reference for negotiated solutions to armed conflicts.

The talks demonstrated how a well-prepared and robust process design can contribute significantly to the outcome of a negotiated settlement. In several ways the process broke new ground. The parties developed frameworks and established mechanisms that laid the groundwork for building legitimacy for the process and increasing confidence in it. The direct participation of victims at the negotiating table and the effective inclusion of gender in the process are examples of this.

Important elements of the process design included the following:

• a secret initial phase to establish common ground;
• a short and realistic agenda;
• a limited objective: ending the conflict;
• the principle that “incidents on the ground shall not interfere with the talks”;
• the holding of talks outside Colombia to protect the process;
• rules regulating the confidentiality of the talks;
• the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”;
• a high frequency of negotiation meetings to ensure continuity;
• direct talks with no formal mediator, but with third-party support and facilitation through guarantor and accompanying countries;
• the carefully tailored involvement of international organisations, including the United Nations;
• mechanisms for involving civil society in both Colombia and at the talks in Havana;
• the direct participation of victims at the negotiating table;
• secure mechanisms for transporting FARC members into and out of Colombia;
• gender inclusion by ensuring the participation of women and a gender focus in the peace agreement;
• broad and representative delegations;
• the extensive use of experts at the negotiating table and bilaterally with the parties; and
• the implementation of confidence-building measures.


The peace talks between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) concluded with the signing of a peace agreement on November 24th 2016 after five years of negotiations. The parties had extensive experience to draw on when they opened talks for the fourth time in five decades. Previous attempts had failed, but provided important lessons and references for the parties and the international community when President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC initiated contacts in total secrecy in 2010. For the purpose of this report the peace process is divided into three distinct phases: secret preparatory talks (2010-11); secret exploratory talks (2012); and formal, public negotiations (2012-16).