A Nobel for Colombian Peace Makers? Yes! (But to whom?)

In its current state, the Colombian peace process not only deserves but could in fact highly benefit from the symbolic effects that go hand in hand with being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
Recently, in a tight vote, Colombians said ‘No’ to supporting the peace agreement between the government and the FARC-EP. While we, the authors of this text, agree on the benefits the Nobel would provide, we did not quite manage to agree upon whom the prize should actually be awarded to. Laughably enough we managed to repeat the results of last week’s plebiscite and have a divided take on the issue. Here, for the readers to make up their own minds, we highlight the reasons as to why we believe the Colombian peace process is worthy of a Nobel and try to explain the causes of our dissonance concerning the potential prize recipient.

Colombians marching for the freedom of the people kidnapped by the FARC and the ELN. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

We will first present international and national factors marking the relevance of the negotiated end of the war between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government in the national, regional and global contexts. Then we will explain some of the reasons why ‘No’ voters recently won the national plebiscite and what that means for the continuation of the peace process. Finally, we will provide reasons for why we think different peace makers deserve Nobel recognition.

1. Relevance of the Colombian peace process: International factors

The Colombian peace accords have set a new standard for peace negotiations around the globe. This is a reality that no plebiscite can change. It is therefore very important to isolate the legal and the political components of these peace agreements by making a differentiation between national and international factors, in order to understand the true relevance in each context and how the international community must act to shield and strengthen the existing accords.

It’s necessary to highlight that these peace agreements were achieved in a record-short amount of time. We are talking about a 52-year-old conflict with around 8 million victims, the second largest crisis in the world regarding internal displacement, as well as the country with most landmines after Afghanistan. This is by far the largest conflict in the Western world after the Second World War. Following the statistics of professor Vicenç Fisas we can see that in Angola, after 26 years of conflict, the peace talks took 12 years, 8 years in Ireland after 29 years of conflict, 6 years in South-Africa after more than 30 years of conflict, 6 years in Guatemala after 30 years of conflict, and 3 years in El Salvador after 12 years of conflict. To reach a peace agreement in Colombia in just 4 years of negotiations is a tremendous achievement in itself.

These peace accords are at the same time the definitive turn of USA’s international affairs with Latin America, the doctrine of the internal enemy is over after Obama’s visit to Cuba and the USA’s unanimous support of the Colombian peace talks. $9940 million USD have been granted to Colombia in the past 15 years, of which 71% went to military aid (in addition to the normal military aid Colombia received as USA’s primary ally in the region). The Plan Colombia was changed by USA’s active role in the decision-making process of these peace talks together with Cuba and Venezuela, trough Bernie Aronson as Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process. Pablo Catatumbo said in Havana, last May, that the first words of Mr. Rodrigo Londoño “Timochenko” in their meeting with John Kerry were: “We were enemies in the past, now we will be reliable partners in the future”. This peace process is therefore the definitive beginning of a new horizon in the relationship between USA and Latin America.

If we expand the panorama we can see that the Colombian peace process has claimed back the role of the United Nations as guardian of world peace. This is the only true relevant success of Ban Ki-moon’s administration as peacemaker; in fact it is possible to say that this is just the second case of a real participation of UN in a negotiated solution to a conflict throughout UN’s history, to cite Antonio Caballero. The UN has been set as the main guardian of these agreements; both sides of the conflict seem confident in the UN’s role in the ceasefire process, and Colombia as a country is confident that the UN will collect and destroy FARC’s weapons. The Colombian peace process is in this sense a vindication of the UN’s role as a third party in conflict resolution around the world, in a time of many ongoing wars.

At the same time the structural components in the architecture of these peace accords are the crystallization of some of the most important developments in International and Humans Rights Law, inside the institutional framework of the UN-system. The territorial approach and gender perspective are structural elements that characterize these agreements, regardless of the depth of their specific developments in the peace agreement which can vary from concrete measures to complex statements. With a challenged National-State and a sophisticated vision of development that integrates humans, nature and all the complexity of their relations in a specific territory we can see how the ILO-convention 169 and its main idea of ‘territory’ is used as a key tool in order to create collective solutions and the ways in which these solutions can be implemented.

The gender perspective came into the negotiation as a claim from outside the table. An overwhelming majority of male negotiators did not contemplate the need for its inclusion, but as a result of creative and enthusiastic cooperation between the parties and representatives of civil society it has become an essential component to all chapters of the accord. This includes the creation of a gender commission with the mandate to revise and adjust each chapter accordingly. Here we can see the UN-resolution 1325 in action as main framework to secure gender equality in the transformation of conflicts.

Finally, the parties agreed on the use a transitional justice model based on restorative justice which makes use of international law tools against impunity, particularly of the Rome Statute and the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Fatou Bensouda, the current prosecutor of the ICC, made a statement a few weeks ago supporting the peace agreements as an example of no impunity and application of international rules to end armed conflicts. In conclusion we maintain that the Colombian peace negotiators found a way out of war that is respectful of the current international framework of justice, serving therefore as an urgent example to many parties in conflict around the world.

2. National factors

From a broad historical perspective, we are witnessing the last farewell to guerrilla warfare in the Western world. The biggest, the strongest, the oldest and the most impressive example of a popular military resistance, as Eric Hobsbawm called it, is defining the end of a political era in the Western hemisphere: the end of the idea of achieving power by military means, perhaps a definitive turning point towards democracy. That’s what peace in Colombia will mean in the long term, something of great value in itself.

The recognition of the political and social background of the armed conflict is at the same time the recognition of the responsibility of the State and the need for a deep structural reform in social, political and economic terms. All this, beyond the ocean of new laws and the difficulties in the implementation process, means a change in the political framework by peaceful means, despite the radicalism in the debates. As a matter of fact, after a very energetic discussion, Colombia had the most peaceful election day in its history last Sunday.

President Santos managed to unified the majority of the Colombian elite around the idea of a modern Colombia without war. This includes the military forces that for the first time in recent Colombian history took part in the peace talks. At the same time the left wing – with the obvious exception of the ELN -, is also a member of this broad national pact for a Colombia in peace. But the extent of this movement is bigger than the political parties. There were 206 official campaigns for the ‘Yes’ in total and 43 for the ‘No’. This is the biggest mobilization for peace in a country whit a social and political life tied to the war. Despite the meager victory of the ‘No’, the return to a state of open war with FARC is far away the Colombian reality. A profound change in the core of the political life in Colombia is happening.

In addition to this tremendous social mobilization for peace, we find the crucial and active role played by the victims in this process, and their recognition by the vast majority of the population as the main concern in everything that have something to do with the peace accords. By participating directly in the peace talks the victims gave the definitive boost to the peace agreements and a lesson of forgiveness and reconciliation to the whole Colombian society. Today, the need for truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition are the basis of the fight against impunity. The country started to recognize itself in the horror of the war crimes and human rights violations, and the victims became one of the most relevant actors inside the social movement.

Finally, FARC’s will for peace and its understanding of the political realities in Colombia and the world has been ratified all along the peace talks. The overcoming of the execution of FARC’ main commander Alfonso Cano in 2011, a large number of unilateral peace gestures (a two years long unilateral ceasefire, a clear order to stop the military training and the recruiting of new members, the suspensions of kidnapping are some examples), and finally, the positive response to keep the ceasefire despite the outcome of Sunday’s plebiscite, are some examples. There are no possibilities for a turning back to war, as Mr. Londoño “Timochenko” has said: “peace has come to stay”.

3. Why not give peace a chance?

On September 26, 2016 the peace agreement was formally signed in Cartagena in an extraordinary atmosphere of hope and mutual respect. A week later a plebiscite asked citizens if they supported the accords, which was the missing step before beginning implementation. Surprisingly for everybody, 50.2% of voters said ‘No’ against 49.8% who said ‘Yes’. Turnout was low with fewer than 38% of voters casting their votes. Abstention rates in Colombia are typically high, indicative of various deficiencies in the electoral system that make it hard for people in the country and abroad to actually vote, but also symptomatic of a nonconforming population who distrust the institutions and do not want to vote for what they believe is a failed system.

‘No’ voters have expressed a variety of reasons. Preference of a punitive over a restorative transitional justice model; distrust in the rebels’ promise to lay down arms for good; rejection of the agreed guarantees for political participation of demobilised combatants and of state monetary support for them, which they consider unfair. A different set of reasons voiced especially by organized Christian voters and less related to the specifics of the agreement are: rejection of socialist ideas and disapproval of the legal recognition of gender equality in the form of abortion and LGTBI rights. Furthermore, sectors of the population have manifested personal aversion for president Santos and the consequential denial to cooperate with “his” peace with the FARC.

4. The Nobel Peace Prize

There are two main views about giving the peace prize to Colombia this year. According to the first, the Nobel Prize would constitute a much needed sign of support from the international community to the Colombian peace process in the aftermath of the plebiscite. We agree with this stand. Given that many of the reasons of ‘No’ voters are related to the inherent rejection of guiding principles of International Law (e.g. the suitability of restorative justice models to allow transitions from armed conflicts to peace, and mandatory inclusion of gender perspectives and LGTBI equal rights in national legislations), proper backing by the Nobel Committee would not only strengthen the peace process but also aid current progressive legal mobilizations in Colombia. It would moreover give ethical affirmation to the 49.8% of voters who favoured a negotiated peace over persisting in an improbable military defeat.

The other view maintains that the Nobel Committee should not intervene in the internal affairs of Colombia, especially when undergoing a tangled political situation where the Nobel Prize could possibly have negative effects. But, couldn’t the denial of the Nobel Prize also have negative effects in Colombia? it could certainly be used by the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign to support their accusations of the agreement not being suited to allow for truth, justice and reconciliation, which would only widen the fissure opened by the results of the plebiscite.

As said earlier, the Colombian peace accords have set a new standard for peace negotiations around the globe and that is a reality that no plebiscite can change. Because of the national and international relevance factors highlighted above, we absolutely encourage a Nobel Prize to the Colombian peace process. However, we understand that there are different views as to who should be awarded a Nobel.

One way of understanding the Nobel Prize that is utopian and was defended by one of us in last years’ PRIO blog, would not support a Nobel prize for Mr. Santos and Mr. Londoño “Timochenko” due to their involvement in war related harms. In this light, the recognition could be best deserved by key persons involved in the Havana negotiations, who from a civilian standpoint have contested violence and made great sacrifices for the sake of the peace process. Negotiators and the group of representatives of the victims of the armed conflict are only examples. The plebiscite showed signs of a deep conflict in a divided (49% v. 50%) and indifferent society (62% did not vote). There is abundance of peace heroes whose recognition could be of great symbolic value for all Colombians in their reconciliation process.

Another way of understanding the Nobel Prize however allows for the acknowledgement of Mr. Santos and Mr. Londoño “Timochenko” as possible Nobel laureates together with a representative group of victims. The victims showed that they have transformed the peace movement into a big social movement with the support of at least 50% of the population, in a country where five years ago talking about a peaceful solution to the conflict was tacked as a terrorist act. The parties at the negotiations table, FARC and Mr. Santos’ government, keep their commitment to peace even after the outcomes of last Sunday, the bilateral ceasefire and open dialogues for a quickly solution are in place. All of them together (parties in the negotiation and victims) represent the core of this peace attempt in Colombia, inseparable factors of an equation that is challenging the warlords in a 52-year-old conflict and now they need a decisive boost from the international community.
“It is very easy to be wise after the event”, wrote Hector Abad F. in El País two days ago, referring to the many analysis that today point out what went wrong with the plebiscite. But what the Colombian peace process needs more than ever is unanimous international support. Real support for the victims and their role in this big effort for peace, and thoughtful support for a well-structured peace agreement. All the elements that made this peace talks the real sure winner of the Nobel peace prize are still in place, all elements that honor the memory and the will of Alfred Nobel.

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