After 52 years of conflict and years of negotiations, Colombia’s peace process saw a major breakthrough in August 2016 when the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC-EP) signed the peace accords officially ending hostilities.
Despite this big success and the significant disarmament of the FARC-EP since September 2017, many peace activists and practitioners on the ground have raised concerns over the agreement’s slow implementation. Key issues, such as political corruption, the reintegration of ex-combatants and the forced substitution of coca crops, have prevented several milestones from being reached, which risks undermining the peace process altogether.
In turn, this has resulted in limited opportunities for many Colombians to meaningfully participate in the peace process. More importantly, even though the FARC-EP have laid down their weapons, other paramilitary groups and criminal gangs are on the rise across the country. Limited access to the job market, poor infrastructure and a lack of schooling means that many rural communities are resorting to illegal coca farming just to get by.
Women’s organisations have fought long and hard for the peace agreement to include the principles enshrined in UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda under UNSCR 1325. Grassroots organisations’ inputs during the negotiation phase led to the creation of a Gender sub-Commission, ensuring that the peace agreement has a gender focus (the first ever in history).
Similarly, an Ethnic Commission was created on behalf of several CSOs focussed on the rights of indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other ethnic groups. These local groups eventually succeeded in including a chapter of the peace agreement focused on ethnicity. These steps were taken to incorporate sustainability into the peace agreement given the traditional underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in Colombia’s political processes.
The Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) or LIMPAL (as it is known in Spanish) have been active in Colombia for the past twenty years, providing alternatives for vulnerable populations to generate sustainable peace. As part of this work, LIMPAL launched a project that helps women to learn about Colombian legislation regarding women’s rights issues, measures of access to justice for victims of sexual violence and UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security. This newfound knowledge will allow them to monitor whether the peace agreement is working for women on the ground.
Likewise, Corporación Descontamina seeks to address the inability of state-led DDR (Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration) programmes to meet the basic necessities for demobilised people, such as insufficient access to psychological support. Corporación Descontamina organises local projects to promote non-violent communication and psychological support in a men’s jail where ex-paramilitaries and ex-guerrillas live together. Moreover, Corporación Descontamina fulfils an important role by stepping into the DDR process, where some problems are harder to solve because of a lack of trust in the government as a former party to the conflict.
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó consists of 500 peasant farmers who come from a war-torn region (Urabá in this case). They are faced with either confronting the daily threats made by existing guerrilla and paramilitary groups (due to the many economic interests in their land) or being co-opted into illegal coca farming. They are also learning about their human rights and are bringing cases against combatants through the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to raise awareness and discourage future attacks.
In the face of new paramilitaries competing to take over the power vacuum left by the exit of the FARC, such examples of inclusive, non-violent grassroots approaches become more pertinent than ever. Grassroots initiatives and CSOs need to be more present and supported in the implementation of peace, both at the national level and by international community. Moving from the peace deal to a stable and inclusive peace in Colombia means that an important role is reserved for those who can identify gaps in the implementation of the peace agreement. By connecting and streamlining the different existing approaches to peacebuilding and ensuring that local voices are included in national processes, it might be possible to build a peace that is more comprehensive and sustainable for all Colombians.