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The Colombian Peace Pact is setting new standards in international peace-building (despite its defects)

The peace pact between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), agreed upon on August 24, 2016, to put an end to their 52-year conflict is a unique example of successful international peace-building. In a world seemingly tumbling back into the dark past of national egoism, it is a welcomed reminder that progress through international dialogue is still possible – serious defects in the treaty’s justice section ought to be addressed rather quickly though. So what’s so innovative about the peace deal?


One key innovative feature of the Colombian peace process is undoubtedly the fact that, althought being led exclusively by Cololmbia’s national government, it made extended use of international diplomacy by engaging powerful third parties and even the international community as a whole. Not only did the governments of Norway and, of course, peace talk hosts Cuba play a pivotal role during the last four years of negotiations, but also special envoys from the US, the EU and single nations such as Germany contributed vastly to the positive outcome.

Shrewdly, the Colombian government used the talks to rebuild diplomatic ties with neighbours Ecuador and Venezuela, with trust being restored up to the point that the latter was accepted as a “sponsor nation”. Picking Cuba as the host country while keeping the US on board was another clever move by the Santos administration.

Second, international advisers available to both sides helped to broker deals in areas where international experience is most valuable (aka the most controversial issues): political participation and transitional justice. Much-needed lessons from past conflict resolution mechanisms, e.g. in South Africa, were incorporated into the ongoing talks. Positive side effect: The overcritical public opinion in Colombia was appeased.

Third, in addition to partial agreements on various agenda items, including political participation of former FARC fighters, victims’ rights, and drug policy, the process never lost focus on the ultimate goal of ending the conflict. In fact, from the outset there was a strategic plan that sharply distinguished between ending the conflict once and for all and the follow-up task of peace-building.


Peace Accords with serious “justice defects”?

But it ain’t all rosy. As the deal stands now, arrangements under the “victims’ and transitional justice agreement” are flawed, ensuring that some responsible for outrageous atrocities will escape genuine justice by allowing people who confess their crimes to avoid serious punishment.

FARC guerillas and members of the military who confess could avoid prison time all together. Instead, they would be subject to sanctions amounting to rather modest “restrictions on rights and liberties”: house arrest and community service. This is dissatisfying, to say the least.

The tough question to ask is: How much lack of “individual justice” is acceptable for enduring peace for an entire nation? 

Some say no confessed criminal should ever walk unpunished. Others say the framework for the transitional justice system (truth commission, special jurisdiction, compensation to victims) is a well-balanced effort and the best shot at achieving peace and reconciliation. I agree with the latter.


In other words:

(“Unjust peace is better than a just war”)


PS: A Parliamentary Question to the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia (I wrote on behalf of the PIRATE group) on the issue of the Colombian peace process can be found here (only in German).

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