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Victims show the way to lasting peace in Colombia

6 May 2015 | by Thomas Mortensen

Last month CONPAZ, Colombia’s largest network for victims of the conflict, travelled to Havana to participate in the latest series of peace talks between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Their central message is that a truly lasting peace can only be achieved when the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition are recognised and fulfilled.

With our partners in Colombia, we have spent many years calling for a negotiated end to the armed conflict which has devastated the country for more than 50 years and continues to cause enormous human suffering.

A young girl holds a candle to commemorate her grandfather

Manuel's granddaughter holds a candle to commemorate the day her grandfather and 15-year-old uncle were killed defending their land. Credit: Christian Aid/Mauricio Morales

Less power, more struggle

The total number of people registered as victims in Colombia is over 7 million, including at least 220,000 killed, some 25,000 enforced disappearances (although this crime is underreported) 27,000 kidnappings, and at least 5.7 million displaced.

Those who have suffered most as a result of the conflict are the rural population and the most marginalised sectors of society; Afro-Colombians, indigenous people and women. A fact which might explain why the Colombian conflict, despite the magnitude of human suffering, has remained one of the world's most underreported humanitarian crises. In short, it is those with the least power that are suffering the most in this war.
 
Given the enormous suffering to the civil population, victims to the conflict were given hope two and half years ago when peace negotiations began with the FARC, the main insurgent group in the conflict.

Peace agreement more likely

Negotiations have made good progress and we think a peace agreement is increasingly likely, despite many obstacles. The fact that a signed agreement would include two of the key actors in the conflict, the Colombian state and the FARC, represents an important step forward on the path to peace. However, we believe it must go further. Negotiations need to include the National Liberation Army (ELN), another key insurgent group, but most importantly they need to include victims for a real and sustainable peace to be reached.

This is why the participation of CONPAZ at the peace talks in Havana is crucial. CONPAZ is the largest and most representative network of victims in Colombia, bringing together over 120 associations from across the country. Its members are victims of crimes committed by the insurgents, paramilitaries and the Colombian Armed Forces.

Crucially, CONPAZ is not only a platform for victims to demand their rights, but for them to formulate proposals for a solution. Having lived through war and experienced its effects first-hand, their contribution is central to building lasting peace.

One of the main proposals put forward by CONPAZ is for all parties in the conflict and society at large to establish a Truth Commission. Another proposal is for rural communities to help demobilised insurgents integrate in local communities to support reconciliation.

We think both represent highly valuable contributions from affected communities. Since many FARC combatants come from rural areas and many have relatives living in affected communities, it also makes a lot of sense for them to be re-integrated in those areas.

Victims' rights

The right of victims to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition is a widely agreed framework for a negotiated end to the armed conflict in Colombia.

The Colombian people and in particular the victims, must be allowed to have a say in the application of these concepts. It is therefore essential to listen to the victims, not only to understand their pain, but to hear their proposals and guarantee their rights as part of the solution.

CONPAZ demands justice not just on legal terms, but also socially and culturally too. Victims understand that justice will have to be balanced with political considerations, and that perpetrators (both the FARC and state agents) are expecting a certain degree of clemency from the crimes committed as a condition to reaching a peace deal. However, victims consider that the right to truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition are non-negotiable.

Deep structural reforms

Members of CONPAZ stress that, to meet guarantees of non-repetition and ensure peace is sustainable, the Colombian state, and especially the military, must undergo deep structural reforms, as they committed grave and systematic human rights violations.

For example, the military justice system and the intelligence structures must be reformed.  This must also come alongside the breakdown of illicit alliances between politicians, civil servants, businessmen, soldiers and paramilitaries.

So what can be done elsewhere in the world to build peace in Colombia? The simple answer is to help support victims politically and financially to demand their rights.

Without financial support to organise and claim their rights, victims, those who are most vulnerable in society, will be forgotten. Their voices must continue to be listened to in Havana and throughout the implementation of any peace agreement. The demands of CONPAZ are the demands of millions thousands of victims in this conflict.


Find out more

Discover more about our work in Colombia here.

About the author

Thomas Mortensen is Christian Aid's country manager in Colombia.

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