What prospects for peace in Colombia after the referendum?

What prospects for peace in Colombia after the referendum?©Flickr
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
3 min 20Approximate reading time

The world was expecting an end to half a century of conflict in Colombia, but on October 2 the Colombian people voted “no” to a peace accord signed on September 26 by President Juan Manual Santos and the leader of the Marxist Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombian jurist Maria Teresa Garrido, who now lives in Switzerland, thinks there is still hope for peace, given the expressed determination of the peace signatories and the fact that the accord was rejected by only a narrow margin (50.2% against and 49.8% in favour). The agreement provides for transitional justice mechanisms, including a Special Court to try perpetrators of the worst crimes and reduced sentences for those who confess.

JusticeInfo: Why do you think the Colombian people rejected the peace agreement?

Maria Teresa Garrido: I think there are various factors, and we need to understand that the referendum was on the whole peace accord. It was decided by the negotiating parties as part of their talks in Havana that the validation mechanism would be a popular referendum and the question that would be put to the people was “Do you accept the peace accords or not?”. So it was the whole package that was being put to the people.

I think people voted “no” for different reasons. It is possible that some people rejected even the idea of negotiating with the FARC. I think one of the reasons for this group of people is that in the popular Colombian imagination for the past 30 years, the guerrillas have been seen as terrorists, with links to drug trafficking. So it was ignorance of the fact that negotiation is possible with an armed group, and that wars end either through a military victory or through negotiation. There are others who understand that it is completely legal to negotiate with an armed group, and it is likely that these people said “yes, we want peace, but not at this price”. The price in question is that, in the agreement that was signed, there are no fixed prison sentences.

JI: Discussions are currently under way, notably between the government and opposition, to try to relaunch the peace process. Do you think there are points on which the agreement can be renegotiated?

MTG: I think so, yes. The most important thing is that the negotiating parties, that is, the FARC and the government, have clearly shown several times their will to look again at the points questioned by those who voted “no”. That doesn’t mean everything is going to be renegotiated but that these points will be discussed. So the will of the parties is clear. The ceasefire, which has been extended to December 31, gives us time for this new round of talks. But it is also clear that the discussion cannot continue indefinitely. There is a deadline. Those who wanted to present proposals had a set time to do it, and they have done it. I think that is more than honest. It is positive in the sense that those people who had doubts or who felt excluded have been given the opportunity to bring their views and aspirations to the table to extend the legitimacy of the final accord.

JI: Do you think the agreement, as it is now, is good for the victims?

MTG: Yes, because in this agreement there is something unprecedented in the history of transitional justice, which is to have put victims at the centre of the negotiating process. Representatives of various categories of victims went to Cuba: victims of the armed forces, victims of the guerrillas and even victims of paramilitary groups. They met their torturers face to face and expressed their pain. As for the perpetrators, they were able to ask for forgiveness and be accorded it. I cannot conceive of people who are better placed to give a green light to this agreement than the victims.

Also, what has been decided in terms of transitional justice is access to a special procedure, provided that the truth is told. Not an incomplete or dishonest truth. The system is designed so that there is a permanent cross-check. For the victims, truth is essential.  The victims have therefore said they are ready to demand less punitive justice, lighter sentences in exchange for more truth telling, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition.

JI: Do you think the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Santos, just days after the accord was rejected, can have an impact on the peace process?

MTG: Yes, because there is an international dimension to this process, of which the “no” voters are not aware. And the support of the international community in the peace process has been crucial. The role played by Norway, Chili, Ecuador and of course Cuba have been essential. But also the international legal dimension. The agreement, with regard to its transitional justice provisions, is in line with all the international Conventions to which Colombia has signed up. This Nobel Peace Prize says that those who met together in Havana are not crazy people, but that everything was done within the rules. These agreements respect Colombia’s Constitution and international obligations. The international community is also a guarantor, and is vigilant. This Nobel Peace Prize is a sign from the international community, which is saying: “You have worked in a serious and professional way”.