28/03/17: The Colombian peace process

The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) hosted a joint roundtable event in conjunction with ABColombia and Tierra Digna on 28 March 2017 to discuss “The Colombian Peace Process: Current challenges and the role of the international community”.

We would like to thank Chris Matheson MP for chairing this event.

The speakers were:

  • Johana Rocha – Environmental and Human Rights Lawyer, Research Centre for Social Justice “Tierra Digna”, Colombia (JR);
  • Christine Winterburn Wright – Head of the Andean Team, Americas Directorate, FCO (CWW);
  • Louise Winstanley – Programme and Advocacy Manager, ABColombia (LW).

The main points which arose were as follows:

  • Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Colombia have a special role to play in peacebuilding, but are currently at increased risk, even though the FARC and the Colombian Government are no longer fighting each other. In 2015, 63 HRDs were killed, while in 2016, 80 (and maybe as many as 125) were killed. HRDs are also facing increasing threats, which are difficult to investigate but have created a climate of fear. HRDs need to be protected. (JR)
  • There are common factors in the killings of HRDs: the HRDs in question have been working on the peace process, land rights, or environmental issues, or oppose activities undertaken by the extractive industry; the authorities say they have no idea who is behind the killings; and there is widespread impunity for those who harass, threaten or kill HRDs. (JR)
  • The crisis in Colombia is complex: the guerrillas are being demobilised and the paramilitaries often then occupy the vacuum. 31 out of 33 departments in Colombia have a paramilitary presence, despite Government Ministers asserting that paramilitaries no longer exist. There is concern about the possibility that the history of aggression will be repeated. (JR)
  • In the past five years there has been forced displacement not only as a result of armed conflict but also because of extractive activities, both legal and illegal. Extractive activities are linked to human rights breaches, including environmental damage and negative health impacts. (JR)
  • Commitment of the relevant parties to the peace process is commendable. (CWW)
  • Security is a major concern. Often the FARC had guaranteed local security; with their departure, however, new armed groups may be able to move in and attack people opposed to their presence. (CWW)
  • Implementation of the provisions of the Peace Accords is key. The UN Trust Fund is supporting its wider implementation, as is the EU Trust Fund. The UK’s focus includes assistance with rural reform and gender rights.  More generally, the UK is prioritising Business and Human Rights, which includes getting UK private sector support for peace-building; PSVI; and, HRD support.  Colombia remains a UK human rights priority country because the UK believes it can help make a difference there. (CWW)
  • The Presidential election cycle in Colombia will commence soon, with the election due in 2018; this could make it harder to get key legislation adopted. (CWW)
  • It is important to develop a diverse and stable economy. Many communities remain isolated so better infrastructure will be needed for them to reap the peace dividend.  The UK is also keen to conclude a Free Trade Agreement(s) with countries in the Andean region, including Colombia. (CWW)
  • For peace to be secured, crimes committed by security forces need to be addressed. (LW)
  • Though the Amnesty Law, protecting the FARC guerrilla group from prosecution for minor crimes, has been passed by Congress, implementation is likely to be more problematic. The Chapter on Security Guarantees, for human rights defenders, political activists and demobilising FARC Guerrilla, in the Peace Accords provides for the investigation, prosecution and dismantling of the economic and political structures behind the paramilitary groups, and the UK should support its implementation. (LW)
  • The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has played an important role in Colombia.  It is important to ensure that the Office continues in Colombia and that its mandate includes an Annual Report to the Human Rights Council.  Also crucial is that UN Special Rapporteurs, particularly the UN SR on HRDs, are able to visit Colombia. (LW)
  • Corruption is a big problem and difficult to tackle, especially with paramilitaries having infiltrated every level of the Colombian Government. As civil society organisations (“CSOs”) can hold Government officials to account, including in local areas, and are able to help with policy formulation and monitoring implementation, continued support to CSOs is very important. (LW)
  • Land restitution is sometimes being complicated by the land having been given to companies for commercial activity. The Colombian Government has been taken to court by companies seeking big compensation payments after having been forced to give land back. (LW)

The PHRG will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia closely, particularly in connection with the targeting of HRDs, and to raise its concerns with relevant interlocutors.