Peace spoilers in the aftermath of the presidential elections in Colombia
On June 4th, following the presidential elections in Colombia, the Swedish Platform for Colombia and the Swedish Parliamentarian Friendship Association for Latin America held a seminar on the topic: Peace Spoilers in the aftermath of the presidential elections in Colombia at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm.
The seminar was divided into two parts. During the first part, three panelists gave their views on the conflict and how peace can be consolidated in Colombia; Ana Maria Rodriguez, Human Rights Lawyer at the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Catalina Uribe, Conflict and Security Officer at International IDEA and Dr. Oscar Jansson, Researcher at the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology at Uppsala University.
During the second part of the seminar, representatives from three different Swedish political parties elaborated on how Sweden can support Colombia in the peace process; Christer Winbäck from the Liberal Party (FP), Ulrik Nilsson from the Moderate Party (M) and Valter Mutt from the Green Party (MP).
The seminar began with the moderator, Sofia Nordenmark Human Rights Advisor at the Swedish Church, giving a brief introduction to the conflict, stating that Colombia, in 2013, saw the highest number of attacks on human rights defenders in the last 10 years. In some areas of the country the intensity of the conflict has risen since the start of the peace negotiations, and there have been little signs of actual peace on the ground.
The first panelist, Ana Maria Rodriguez, argued that after over 50 years of armed conflict in Colombia, it has become clear that what is needed is an improved situation for human rights defenders. During her presentation, Ana Maria stated that since the paramilitary groups are responsible for the highest number of such attacks in the country, it is of outmost importance that the Colombian state takes a holistic approach in addressing all human rights abuses. Ana Maria stressed that we need to listen to the voices of the victims and that meeting their needs must be given the highest priority by the government. Another key challenge is that impunity reaches over 90 percent of all cases in Colombia, where cases of human rights violations are particularly at risk. This shows that the international standards must be respected to a higher degree in the country. Ana Maria continued by stating that the end of the armed conflict in Colombia does not necessarily mean an end to human rights violations. Structural problems will continue to exist in Colombia and have to be dealt with on a long term basis. Another alarming fact underscored by Ana Maria is that international cooperation support is diminishing very quickly in Colombia, which leaves civil society extra vulnerable just when they need support to be able to take a more prominent role in the peace process. Ana Maria concluded by pleading to the ones present at the seminar as well as the international community as a whole to keep a close eye on the peace negotiations in Colombia.
The second panelist Catalina Uribe, explained during her presentation how organized crime affects the peace process in Colombia. International IDEA has during the last years been focusing on exploring the connection between organized crime and politics. Much emphasis in their work has been put on how the peace process is moving forward in Colombia. Catalina stated that organized crime is not only a particular issue for Colombia, it is a global concern facing many countries today, especially the ones dealing with the most severe forms of poverty and social vulnerability. She argued that organized crime – as can clearly be seen in the case of Colombia – thrives on conflict and restricts civilians’ capacity to use the legal system, which puts them in a very vulnerable position where they have limited opportunities in accessing legal remedies. Although there is a lot more to be done, she stated that great progress too have been made during the last three years. The peace negotiations are a result of this. She concluded by affirming that continuous consultation has to be made with civil society in order to move forward. We need to make sure that NGOs from the most marginalized communities also get their voices heard.
The third panelist, Dr. Oscar Jansson, identified three key areas that he argued need to be addressed in regard to the Colombian peace process: rural development, drug trafficking and the conflict between the guerillas. These tensions have made the situation reach alarming levels in recent years. Oscar stated that in order for Colombia to construct and sustain peace it is important that the politicians in Colombia take these issues more seriously and also understand the connection between them to a larger degree. Political participation and representation of the Colombian population is vital in this respect. He stressed that Sweden should be involved in facilitating this process too. Oscar concluded by reaffirming that in order for Colombia to consolidate peace it is important that the political participation increases; the future of Colombia depends upon it. The international community has an important role to play here.
After the presentation of all three panelists, the Colombian Embassy gave their view of the matter. The representative from the Embassy reiterated that a possible peace deal may not be the end of violence in the country and that it will take much more than that to build up sustainable and fair peace in Colombia. It is undeniable, they argued, that many important steps need to be taken from the international community and NGOs to improve the situation in Colombia. They did however emphasize that the social indicators in Colombia are actually improving; largely due to the progress made within the Colombian economy. If looking at the social indicators of Colombia, the Embassy stated, one will see that the unemployment rates are much lower today than they were just a few years ago. The Embassy concluded by stating that human rights issues need to be addressed in a wide manner and that probably the most important phase of the negotiation is embarked on correctly; recognition and reparation of victim’s rights.
Second part of the seminar
The second part of the seminar consisted of a debate between Swedish parliamentarians regarding Sweden’s role in Colombia and the proposal from the Swedish Platform for Colombia that Sweden promotes a donor conference in view of a possible peace deal. Christer Winbäck, from the Liberal Party (FP), stated that the Colombian peace process has long been an important question for Sweden. In order for Sweden and the international community to support peaceful solutions to the conflict in Colombia, it is important that these kinds of seminars and discussions are given higher priority. Only through communication and active debate can a sustainable peace process take place. Ulrik Nilsson, from the Moderate Party (M), emphasized the need for creating a sustainable state in Colombia. He stated that it is a much harder task to defeat oppression than to eliminate poverty. That is why it is so important that every violent act is taken to court and bring criminals to justice. Ulrik argued that the best way for Sweden to support Colombia in its peace process is by providing advice on how to build up strong institutions and through free trade agreements. Valter Mutt, from the Green Party (MP), stated that it is important that Swedish civil society give their support to Colombian civil society organizations. He stressed that the Swedish companies must act according to human rights principles and norms.