Peace Talks Launched in Norway

Justice For Colombia News | on: Thursday, 18 October 2012

Peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian Government were formally launched today in Norway. Representatives of both sides’ negotiating teams attended the launch in a hotel in Hurdal, just north of Oslo. The launch had been delayed for some days, apparently due to travel complications for the FARC representatives and delays in lifting arrest warrants against them by the Colombian Attorney General.

"Alexandra" or Tania Nijmeijer, the Dutch member of the FARC has been added to the negotiating team for the FARC. Despite allegations that this was a last minute addition, sources from Colombians for Peace have said that the government knew about this for some weeks, but are not happy about her being added to the table, and some media have reported it as an attempt to curry favour in Europe.

The talks are due to continue from next week in Havana, Cuba. The agenda agreed by the negotiators includes 5 major points of discussion; land/agrarian development, illicit crops, political participation, truth and rights of victims, and the terms of ending the conflict. Significantly, economic policy has been left off the agenda. Civil society representatives have made it clear that social inequality – the root cause of the conflict in Colombia must be addressed in order to really put an end to the war, and for that, civil society needs to play a role at some stage in the negotiations.

The negotiators have agreed to begin with the agrarian issue, to be followed by the other themes in no specific order. Challenges expected include the issue of possible pardons or amnesties, and the complications of granting these given the fact the International Criminal Court now has jurisdiction over Colombia.

The issue of political participation is one of significance for opposition activists. The Patriotic March movement, a new social and political grouping of unions, indigenous and peasants has already lost members in recent months through murder and imprisonment, and senior officials have smeared the movement as ‘terrorists’. Senior opposition figures have expressed fear of a return to the experience of the Patriotic Union party – the left-wing party of the 80s which had around 5000 members assassinated by the military and paramilitaries. Several members of the FARC joined the UP during an attempted peace process, but left as a result of the persecution. The current climate facing the Patriotic March is not helping build trust in the political process.

Peace movement leaders have also expressed concern about the ongoing lack of will to agree a ceasefire. In a letter last month by Colombians for Peace (full text below) addressed to President Santos and FARC Commander Timochenko, they ask them to again consider the urgent need for an end to hostilities whilst the talks continue. President Santos’ reluctance appears to be a concession to the military hardliners within the administration. The letter makes some specific recommendations for both the FARC and the Government to consider agreeing to.

Despite the obstacles facing the talks, Colombian civil society has reacted with hope and has called on the international community to surround the talks with encouragement.

Colombians for Peace Letter


Bogota, September 26th 2012

President of Colombia
Juan Manuel Santos

Timoleón Jiménez, Secretariat of the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia- Ejercito Popular), Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, Central Command of the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional)

We send you a respectful greeting from Colombians for Peace.

Firstly, we want to reiterate our jubilation about the peace dialogues that have been advanced formalising the initiation of a process between the government and the FARC-EP and for the certain possibility that the ELN also join the conversations, to put a definitive aim to the armed conflict. Contributing to overcoming this bloody war that has caused us bloodshed for more than half a century, constructing between everyone a vision of peace with social justice, deepening democracy, and bringing to new generations a future of reconciliation and dignity is an ethical imperative. We are convinced that your will, together with your intelligence and generosity will make this possible.

For this reason, in this historic and unique moment, we invite you to evaluate our proposal, motivated by the recognition of the human pain caused by the continuity of indescribable damage to the lives of thousands of innocents who live principally in rural areas or cities, where they also suffer displacement and grief. Similarly, we think of the danger to our biological wealth, which is also affected and constitutes a loss for the country.

The motivation for this public letter directed to the President of the Republic and to the Senior Commanders of the insurgent groups is to consider again the need for a cease fire and a cease in the hostilities in addition a Special Agreement based on international humanitarian law.

This request was already made in January 2012 and on more recent occasions. We are conscious of the enormous responsibility and of the difficulty in bringing about such an agreement, but we believe that the reasons for it to come about, that you know well, are sufficiently valid. Its ethical necessity is inescapable; its urgency is evident; the possibility of it being agreed and verified, is tangible. Our starting point is your desire to make peace, your good faith and trust in the honour of your words, therefore, this being the case, why can’t we move forward by generating more trust, security and commitment? Why don’t you pre-empt us and remove the obstacles that could take away legitimacy from the dialogues?

Although the government and the FARC have declared their determination to complete the Agreement and to move forward addressing the points already agreed, it is not false to say, given past experience and the high sensitivity of the process, that this will be fragile if military offensives are also being carried out.

We think not only in the necessity of the Special Agreement from the imperative of creating certainty between the parties, so that understanding prevails without anything threatening the process of ending the conflict, towards peace, and but also we propose it due to the moral demands of the parties to the conflict, in so far as their obligations under International Humanitarian Law. In this sense it is not a contradiction. We know that humanitarian law exists precisely because of confrontation, but we ask you to take into account that while the armed conflict remains active, those who suffer most are the civilians.

On 5th September, more than 20 indigenous, black and mixed race communities, in the conflict zones sent a letter making an urgent call to agree on a Bilateral Cease Fire. In the two weeks since, these same communities, signatories to the letter, have had their lives, integrity and property affected by indiscriminate attacks with machine guns and bombings, by threats, pressure, damage to goods needed for survival; some civilians have died or been injured, as has been reported to us. More and more families and communities suffering grave infractions of International Humanitarian Law and the general effects of the armed conflict have added their names to this request.

The fact that the FARC and the ELN express their disposition to apply humanitarian law opens the possibility of a Special Agreement that, bilaterally agreed with the government, will represent a step forward in the trust required to arrive at a happy end to the conflict.

In this sense we invite the President, to order this Special Agreement that will see the materialisation of specific aspects that will be a transcendental step towards preventative protection and a humanitarian project, a prelude to peace to follow.

In the case that President Santos continues to make the judgement that the government should not cease the operations of state forces against the guerrillas, and that they continue their armed activity, we request that they at least address a Special Agreement for the humanisation of the conflict, as the precepts of the general application of International Humanitarian Law indicated in Article 3 of the Geneva Convention of 1949 or the additional Protocol II of 1977 have not been sufficient to prevent the barbarity.

These laws admit the possibility of ad hoc, special and precise agreements on principles and aspects of International Humanitarian Law, that do not mean a halt in hostilities, that are completely the subject of the verification you all deem adequate, be it through national, international or mixed missions, with the participation of civil society, people identified as protected under international law, children, women, journalists and medics.

Taking in to account this urgent appeal by real victims, from beings that have suffered and have the right to be listened to, we ask you to discern this valuable possibility, that has served in other conflicts to acclimatize towards final agreements for an end to the confrontation and watch over the fundamental right to life.

We understand the reasons for which the president has decided to maintain military operations and equally those argued by the guerrillas of both the FARC and ELN.

Our proposal does not attempt to hinder, torpedo or create any difficulties for a constructive agreement. Not at all. On the contrary: we want it to facilitate understanding, to bring the sides together, to protect trust and credibility, not only between the parties, but throughout the whole of society and the international community to achieve the most support possible, to culminate in the [peace] process that we all long for.

In this way, based on what is made possible by Common Article 3, the expression of basic considerations of humanity, with the sole intention of avoiding further harm from the useless prolonging of the suffering of the unarmed population and of the conflict itself, assisting in the specific ways this can be carried out, we invite you to reflect and observe a Special Agreement for unrestricted and verified fulfilment.

Mr. President and Commanders of the guerrillas, we bring you this proposal of a Special Agreement, suggesting respectfully some elements that can be debated for inclusion, of a preventative nature and with moral aims with the purpose of preventing unnecessary and irreparable damage to the life of civilians and of the combatants also, so that there is respect for our common dignity, so that there is respect for civilian goods in impoverished areas of conflict, so that ecosystems are respected, in order to resolve past and present situations that require a meeting of wills, called together and held to account by reason, for the significance of humanitarian aims as a shared value of us all, while a peace agreement is signed.

In this way we propose the discussion of the possibility of a Special Agreement on concrete aspects of Humanitarian Law, lasting the greatest possible time, at least for 90 days, extendable, starting from the 8th October 2012.

On the possible aspects for contemplation in relation to commitments by the FARC and ELN guerrillas, for example:

* Cease unilaterally the growth in the use of land mines, assume a commitment to update maps of all existing land mines to date and warn the civilian population in areas where these explosives are found.

* Open the information provided on these weapons, or make available during this period, to be looked at by an international entity or mission created for the purpose, that has the confidence of the insurgency and is agreed on by the government, so that this entity can conserve the document and hand it over for the deactivation of the mines once agreements have been signed on this issue.

* The guerrillas will remain in the areas and routes of their normal activity, respecting the living and working spaces of civilians and the goods the depend on for survival.

* The guerrillas will suspend offensive actions against state forces and sabotage against any type of public or private infrastructure.

* The guerrillas commit to identifying cases of persons, be they civilian or military, deprived of their freedom by any circumstance, to account for their current condition, and assume responsibilities for and ensure the safety of their life and integrity.

In respect of the possible aspects to contemplate for the government, for example:

* Abstention of state forces from all kind of bombings and machine-gun fire as part of offensive operations that affect civilians, respecting their working and living spaces and the goods they rely on for survival.

* State forces will maintain their regular presence and mobility, but abstain from offensive operations against the guerrillas, maintaining control of the areas already under their control.

* Facilitate the mechanisms and conditions for a discreet way, such as a national, international or mixed commission, to visit the prisons and be made aware, diagnose and propose measures for attending to the humanitarian situation of those deprived of their freedom as a result of the armed conflict.

* The provision of a unified and systematised database on the people forcibly displaced throughout the decades, with the aim of making possible, with the implementation of the agreements, the clarification and location of their whereabouts, or the location of unidentified bodies of civilians or combatants.

We think that it is possible to assign a role in this Special Agreement to the Defensoria del Pueblo or other specialised entities of countries that you agree on, to verify the fulfilment of this application of Humanitarian Law, for which they could request information from the parties and have in situ facilities.

We thank in advance your consideration of our proposal and where possible a response to the proposal. With respect, we sign off, with feelings of hope for peace in Colombia.

Colombians for Peace

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