Risk of violence in majority of ‘peace districts’ ahead of vote for seats in congress

In under two months’ time, one of the core components of Colombia’s peace agreement will finally become active, almost five and a half years after the signing.

On 13 March, representatives from 16 of the regions most impacted by conflict and state abandonment will finally be elected to Congress under the agreement’s terms on political participation. The so-called Special Districts for Peace will be enacted for the duration of the 2022-26 electoral term, having long been delayed by strong opposition on the right of Congress.

However, aspiring candidates have faced substantial obstacles which have impeded them from standing. Now, new findings by Colombia’s Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) have raised further concerns over the process of electing victims’ representatives.

In a report, the MOE has warned that more than half (58 per cent) of the 167 municipalities that will elect the 16 representatives face high risks of violence and possible electoral fraud. It warns that 97 municipalities are affected, with 43 of those deemed at an ‘extreme’ level of risk, located mainly in the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia, Catatumbo in northeast Colombia and Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Nariño in the southwest. Another 44 municipalities are at ‘high’ risk, which includes some in the aforementioned regions as well as Chocó in western Colombia, Nariño’s Pacific zone and southern areas of the neighbouring departments of Meta and Guaviare.

According to the MOE, authorities have not taken sufficient measures to address threats to the electoral process, with around six weeks until votes are cast. Currently, at least 403 candidates are registered to stand. However, there are fears that paramilitaries and other armed groups, as well as powerful political actors, could attempt to prevent candidates from standing or push for their own preferred choices, with violence the most likely method of achieving this.

The MOE’s findings should provoke an urgent response from authorities to ensure a transparent and secure electoral process. However, with the date fast approaching, there is little time to implement the measures that will finally provide conflict victims with the political involvement that the peace agreement promises them.