by Gina Torry
Unlike his predecessors, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos figured out that a winner take all, hardline, military approach would not win the war. Years of ‘military toughness’ by the Colombian government resulted in years of armed conflict, mass atrocities, horrendous human rights abuses, and a large proportion of the population living at or well below the poverty line.
Instead, President Santos sought to establish an inclusive, negotiated process of peacebuilding — recognizing that a peace most likely to last, and bring the country into prosperity, would not be won by force.
A negotiated peace is not easy — and arguably far more complex and complicated than waging war.
Also challenging is achieving a truly inclusive peace process that involves a wide range of stakeholders — not just men with arms and men in suits — and takes into consideration the impact of conflict on the lives of diverse populations and their multiple identities.
Remarkably, the Colombian peace agreement entitled ‘the final agreement to end the armed conflict and to build a stable and lasting peace’ — is an actual agreement for modern times.
The nature of armed conflicts and the landscapes across which they are fought have changed. Modern armed conflict rarely occurs between professional standing armies, but between nations states and armed groups waging violence across civilian populations.
Many mediation strategies, ceasefire and peace agreements have simply re-employed old models that are not equipped with frameworks to secure a lasting peace in today’s world.
During the Colombian peace talks in Havana, there was an historically high number of women and gender expert participants — including women appointed by President Santos to represent the Colombian government.
Women and gender experts brought a range of security needs and issues to the table, including those related rural, indigenous, Afro-descendent and internally displaced women, female combatants and those engaged in the FARC in non-military roles and the needs and concerns of the LGBTI community.
This inclusive process did not happen in a vacuum. A massive mobilization of women’s organizations, survivors of violence and other representatives were given the space to bring their needs and priorities to the government. Women were able to articulate how the war had affected their lives and their views on their right to safety, peace, land and redress to injustices.
The result is an agreement that reflects many of those concerns. The Preamble of the agreement explicitly states that:
Final Agreement places special emphasis on the fundamental rights of women, of vulnerable social groups such as indigenous peoples, girls, boys and adolescents, communities of African descent and other ethnically differentiated groups; the fundamental rights of the small-scale farmers, both male and female, the essential rights of persons with disabilities and of those displaced by the conflict; and the fundamental rights of the elderly and of the LGBTI community.
This language, and the inclusive text of the extensive agreement that follows, is unprecedented.
Until 2013, for instance, only three ceasefire agreements in history contained language prohibiting conflict-related sexual violence as an act that would violate the ceasefire. To date, few peace agreements contain any language on mechanisms for ensuring that sexual violence, used as a method and tactic of conflict – often in place of a gun – does not continue with impunity during ‘peacetime’.
The Colombian peace agreement, however, contains explicit language on sexual and reproductive health and ensures that conflict-related sexual violence ‘will not be subject under any circumstances to amnesty or pardon, that such crimes are excluded from temporary, conditional, early release’ and for the formation of a special investigative team on sexual violence crimes.
The road to peace can be treacherous, long, and paved with setbacks. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize reflects the hard work of the President but also that of all Colombians who have shown the world – and others facing the detriments of violence and conflict – that achieving an inclusive, non-military, people-driven peace is possible.
Gina Torry is a gender and security expert, specializing in gender and the protection of civilians in ceasefire and peace agreements. She is Co-Chair of Norwegian-based Partnership for Change (US).
This article was first published in Norwegian, in the newspaper Aftenposten, 11 October 2016.