Colombia's ELN guerillas responded Jan. 31 to the call made two days earlier by Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator with the FARC guerilla army, to include them in the peace talks. An ELN communique acknowledged that a delegation has been in touch with the government for the past two years to establish terms for opening a formal or "public" peace dialogue, and had expressed its willingness to take this step in November. The statement said the guerillas were still awaiting a response from the government. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)
A "peace summit" was held in Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena last week, as last year at this time, bringing together international experts and civil society representatives to discuss the ongoing process to end the country's multi-generational civil war. The conference came as the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution in support of Colombia's peace process, empowering a "special political mission" to the country to oversee implementation of pending accords with the FARC guerillas. (El Espectador, Jan. 20; El Espectador, Jan. 7) According to Colombia's Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), political violence registered over the past six months is at its lowest level since the FARC first took up arms in 1964. CERAC cited the FARC's unilateral ceasefire that came into force in July, and the government's suspension of air-strikes. The report found that both the FARC ceasefire and government air-strike halt had been broken, but registered only 16 clashes between guerillas and government troops over the past six months, resulting in the deaths of 17 guerilla fighters and three members of the security forces. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 22)
Colombian prosecutors will seek to charge some 1,500 civilians with conflict-related crimes allegedly committed by guerilla groups like the FARC, which is currently negotiating peace with the government. The civilians are all suspected of having either ordered or taken part in crimes like homicide, kidnapping, extortion and forced displacement carried out by leftist guerilla groups during Colombia’s more than 50-year-long armed conflict. Vice-Prosecutor General Jorge Fernando Perdomo said the civilians were incriminated by demobilized guerrillas of the FARC, ELN, EPL, ERG and ERP. In total, the transitional justice tribunal that will be put in place if peace is reached between the FARC and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos will prosecute tens of thousands of people allegedly involved in war crimes or crimes related to the conflict.
In a public ceremony held in the central plaza of Segovia, Antioquia department, representatives of the Colombian government on Dec. 20 formally acknowledged the state's responsibility in the Nov. 11, 1988 massacre, in which 43 residents were slain by paramilitary troops who fired indiscriminately as they swept through the town's streets. The ceremony, preceded by a march from the town's cemetery to the central plaza, was overseen by Guillermo Rivera, presidential advisor in human rights, and members of the government's Unit for Victim Reparations. Rivera admitted the massacre had been ordered by local politicians in response to the victory of the leftist Patriotic Union in the town's municipal elections. (El Espectador, Bogotá, Dec.. 20)
Human Rights Watch on Dec. 22 rejected a recently signed transitional justice deal between Colombia's government and FARC rebels, claiming it "sacrifices victims' right to justice" in efforts to make peace. According to the global rights organization, "the agreement sets out a regime of sanctions to be used by the tribunal that do not reflect accepted standards of appropriate punishment for grave violations." Consequently, the deal makes it "virtually impossible that Colombia will meet its binding obligations under international law to ensure accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes."
Colombia is seeking the extradition of an alleged former FARC medic who was arrested in Spain on Dec. 11 and is accused of having carried out hundreds of forced abortions on female guerilla fighters. The man, Héctor Albeidis Arboleda, has been working as a nurse in Madrid for the past three years, and is a graduate of Cuba's Inter-American University of Health. He is wanted by Colombia authorities for carrying out forced abortions on FARC fighters in Chocó and Antioquia regions. Colombia's Fiscal General Eduardo Montealegre, in announcing the extradition request, said, "We have evidence to prove that forced abortion was a policy of the FARC...based on forcing a female fighter to abort so as not to lose her as an instrument of war." A Fiscalía spokesperson told news-magazine Semana, "Several women died in these abortion practices, others were injured. Others referred to this as torture."
Colombia's House of Representatives on Dec. 3 agreed to hold a plebiscite to seek popular approval of a peace deal with the FARC. The House vote is not the final decision; a reconciliation commission comprised of member of both the Senate and the House will have to approve the final version. According to the bill as it is sent to the commission, the plebiscite will be held three weeks after publication of the full peace agreement with the FARC. For the peace deal to be approved, more than 50% of 13% of the eligible population must vote in the plebiscite. Concretely, President Juan Manuel Santos will need the approval of 4.4 million Colombians, less than 10% of the population, to validate the eventual peace deal. The peace process cxontinues in spite of vociferous opposition by conservatives who fruitlessly lobbied for a higher threshold. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 4)