The slow progress on Colombian peace
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been a major thorn in the side of the government of Colombia since the FARC’s creation in 1964 to fight rural inequality. Over the past 52 years more than 220,000 people have been killed, 6 million internally displaced and an estimated 77,000 registered as disappeared due to armed conflict in Colombia, with the FARC as a major reason why. Furthermore, the FARC is one of the last remaining terrorist organizations designated by the U.S. State Department in the Americas — the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia and Shining Path (SL) in Peru are the other two. The good news is that compared to the Taliban-Afghan peace process, Colombia and the FARC are doing considerably better.
Since the Colombian government and the FARC launched the reconciliatory process in November 2012 there has been steady progress, albeit slowly. The agenda for peace has already seen some major issues agreed upon including: justice for victims, land reform, ending drug trafficking, removing land mines, efforts to find missing persons and political participation for former rebels. However, two of the most contentious issues remain — demobilizing and decommissioning the FARC, but even in these, some positive signs are beginning to show face.
The FARC has long been accused by the government and human rights groups of using child soldiers, and last year there was an announcement that the rebel group would no longer recruit anyone under 18. While this may seem like a small move, it marks for the first acknowledgement by the FARC of recruiting minors. The group long maintained that its youngest members were the children of fighters or had joined the group after they had been orphaned.
This past week, more progress was made on the issue of child soldiers. The Colombian government and the FARC reached an agreement on children under 15 to leave rebel encampments and re-integrate into civil society. In addition, the children will be returned to their families if possible. The FARC agreed to assist in identifying the children and organizing their departure from their hideouts. On the government side, the agreement states that minors will be treated as victims of war and cannot be prosecuted or treated as criminals. Oversight will be provided by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration to ensure that both sides adhere to their promises.
While the progress on child soldiers has been great, the fact remains that the overall issue of dissolving the FARC has not made significant progress yet. The FARC has repeatedly stated concerns about their safety if they were to disarm, particularly fear of attacks from other paramilitary groups such as the ELN. This means that much like the oversight provided by UNICEF in re-integrating child soldiers back to society, somebody will need to guide the disarmament of the FARC.
There have been some ‘outside the box’ ideas in this area. For instance, the FARC suggested that Pope Francis should intervene and mediate the peace talks based on the hope of preventing any sabotage by the parties involved. While any idea to aid the peace process is clearly welcomed, perhaps finding a mediator isn’t what’s needed, but rather security guarantees for the parties involved.
It’s worth mentioning that a new United Nations mission in Colombia was created earlier this year to monitor and verify a future cease-fire once a peace accord is signed. However, if the FARC and Colombia want to conjure up some ideas on solving the issue, why not suggest to the United Nations an earlier deployment of the international observer mission. In addition to the observer mission, perhaps a small peacekeeping force could be created to ensure that paramilitary groups don’t attempt to fill the void left behind the FARC disarmament. The creation of a peacekeeping force would require approval by the United Nations Security Council, but that shouldn’t be difficult to achieve. A significant portion of the issues between the Colombian government and the FARC have already been solved, so perhaps it is time to show full international backing of the process by actively participating in the process.