A Year of Peace: Has the Situation in Colombia Improved?

The 30th of November marked the one-year anniversary of the signing and entry into force of the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The United Nations Security Council marked the day with congratulations to the two parties ‘for the remarkable achievements of the peace process’.

But just how much has the situation changed in the last year? Has the state of affairs in Colombia really improved?

The 52-year conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC was the Western Hemisphere’s longest running conflict, displacing more than 7 million people, killing 220,000 and disappearing 25,000 more during its run. The FARC was infamous for ambushing government soldiers, kidnapping thousands of ordinary civilians, and shipping drugs worth millions during its reign of terror in Colombia.

A year after the peace accords were signed by Colombian president and the leader of FARC, the UN and others boast of considerable improvement. Among the changes in the past year, more than 12,000 former FARC combatants pledged to return to society, nearly 8,994 guns and other forms of weaponry were submitted to UN monitors in August, 77 of hundreds of secret arms caches have been destroyed, and the Red Cross received hundreds of child soldiers.

Image Courtesy of US Department of State via Wikimedia Commons © 2013, some rights reserved

Secretary Kerry with Columbian Peace Negotiators 


However, groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are claiming the human rights situation in parts of Colombia remains critical. As the FARC has left the territories it once controlled, in its stead, armed groups: paramilitaries, criminal gangs and guerilla groups clash over control of the regions and face no accountability for their actions. These groups, some of them formed after the peace agreement, are filling the vacuum left by the FARC and continue to sow discord and propagate violence throughout the country as FARC did before them, earning money by trading drugs and illegal mining. These armed groups violate human rights, killing Colombians and specifically targeting indigenous people and Afro-descendants. The peace accords between the Colombian government and FARC addressed the elimination of the largest source of conflict, but peace will not be realized in Colombia until all armed groups are eliminated from the country.

The peace accords and the Colombian government have faced additional criticism amid worries that confessed war criminals will be forgiven without apt punishment for their grave crimes and the hundreds of thousands of deaths and displacements they caused. The FARC leadership will be tried for their offenses, but most combatants will go free despite their crimes. Human Rights Watch has pointed out many flaws in the legislative proposals meant to implement the peace agreement with FARC, insisting that the government is not clear enough about what reparative actions it expects from former combatants or the consequences which confessed perpetrators will face if they do not comply with the sanctions placed upon them.

Further complaints about the reality of the peace agreement in Colombia come from former FARC rebels themselves, who claim that while the government has promised them much, progress and change are coming all too slowly. The former rebels fear that the government will not fully comply with the demands of the peace agreement now that the rebels are unarmed and lack the power they used to. Now free to move about the country after laying down their arms in August, about half of the former rebels have left the demobilization camps which the government put together for them. The peace agreement expected that the rebels would stay and become a part of the FARC’s new political party, but it is suspected that some have left the camp to join dissident factions of the FARC which are still armed. Those left in the camps complain about the conditions of their new home and the fact that they have nothing to do.

Many Colombians scorn the complaints of the former FARC rebels, many of whom have received amnesty despite their rebellion, and they still consider the rebels to be drug traffickers and terrorists. Even Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos publicly disdains the FARC’s complaints, saying the FARC leadership ‘is playing politics … for example, we deliver some construction materials ahead of the agreed time and they refuse to accept them, claiming they are the wrong size. Their strategy is to say we are not fulfilling our side of the deal’. The Colombian people and their government are reluctant to trust the FARC, and the FARC rebels reciprocate this reluctance. After 52 years of conflict, mistrust on both sides is perfectly understandable, but the implementation of peace will be difficult until this mistrust is resolved.

The Colombian Peace Accords have been slow to be implemented and realized, and uncertainty about the future persists for all parties involved. However, as the UN has touted, progress is being made and steps are in place to ensure continual progress. Fewer murders and kidnappings are sure signs of improvement as such tragedies plagued Colombia throughout the 52-year conflict; the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis claims the peace deal has already prevented close to 3,000 deaths. As mentioned previously, child soldiers are in the care of the red cross, and thousands of weapons and arms caches have been confiscated. The FARC rebels themselves, while not content with life in their demobilization camps, are looking toward the future, some giving birth in the camps after FARC rules forbidding pregnancy were reversed following the peace deal. Change is occurring, although not as quickly as most had hoped.

While there is much to critique in how the peace agreement has been implemented over the past year, there are also improvements to celebrate. Considering the incredible length of the conflict, surely resolution of the conflict will similarly take time. At the signing of the peace accords, the Security Council mandated a UN Verification Mission ‘to verify implementation by the parties of the process of political, economic and social reincorporation of the FARC EP and the implementation of personal and collective security guarantees’. Assessing the first year of peace, the mission agrees that Colombia must increase state presence and governance in former conflict zones to ensure lasting peace. It has laid out the next steps for the Colombian government, which include fully integrating former FARC combatants into civilian life and ensuring FARC combatants participate in political processes. So while Colombia may not be drastically different today than it was a year ago, with a plan for future improvement, surely it is on the right track to the full realization of peace.