Tag Archives: Peace Negotiations

The Need to Negotiate – Suzanne Fenton

‘Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.’ So said John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address as President in 1961. It is a sentiment that could have significant and positive repercussions today given the protracted conflicts that we see in the Middle East in particular and the increasing rise of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

This position paper will focus on the lessons that may be learned from past conflicts and countries living in negative peace. It will attempt to explain why it is time for states involved in current conflicts to sit at the negotiating table and jointly develop a framework for peace.

In the case of Palestine, arguably the world’s most protracted conflict, Abu-Nimer and Kaufman (2006) argue that basic rights of Palestinians are violated on a daily basis. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the ‘other’; in this case, the Israelis who are equally in fear of Palestinian suicide attacks so both the perceived and actual security of both sides is continuously violated. Peace and understanding has no hope of succeeding in such as atmosphere of mistrust and a vicious cycle of violence. Any future political agreement must tackle these issues in a more effective, pragmatic way. As human needs of identity, security and access to political power are at the core of protracted communal conflicts, Abu-Nimer and Kaufman support a human rights framework combined with the Dual Concern Model whereby a party must consider the rights and needs of the ‘other’. “Addressing the psychological dimension of protracted social conflict is key to its resolution,” argue Abu-Nimer and Kaufman.

It is a subject that Powell (2014), chief broker of the Northern Ireland peace deal, is familiar with, and a principle he has applied in practice. He stresses the need to speak with the enemy, saying there can be no purely military solution to a political problem. Powell acknowledges the issue that, for many, talking to terrorists may give them legitimacy. A case in point is the world’s response to ISIS thus far is an emotional one, a human one of horror and disgust, and therefore the very notion of negotiating with ISIS, the act of reaching out, is abhorrent to most. However, it is impossible to generate any form of peace in Iraq and Syria, without negotiations forming part of the action plan. However, this is easier said than done. Both parties must be willing to lay out also to directly address the grievances of Sunnis who were marginalised for years by Baghdad. For some Sunnis therefore, ISIS is an improvement and there is simply no viable alternative currently (Collard 2015). Referring to peacebuilding in Afghanistan, Duffield (2007) argues that politics is now at the forefront of peacebuilding efforts. In the case of ISIS then, the political solution is to first understand it.

Yet still there are many civilians and politicians that recoil at the thought of negotiating with illegitimate groups that commit such horrific acts. While this is human nature, it is important to understand that ethically speaking, talking to terrorists may eventually help save lives. What politicians have done so far has had almost no effect. Surely it is worth trying a method that has proved instrumental in the past and one that could transform not only the political landscape of the Middle East, but also the lives of its people.

Unless this is done in a practical and immediate way, there will never be an end to the many conflicts we see today. We owe it to future generations to start talking.

Postscript

Powell notes that actions such as setting false deadlines can cause already-fragile negotiations to fail in the past. Successful actions of focusing negotiations is to have the common goal of agreeing general principles or framework agreement. Having a skeleton agreement in place in Northern Ireland, while causing initial upset, actually helped to make the Good Friday agreement possible by including issues and demands and ruling out others.

Another key issue that often causes a barrier to negotiating is explaining to the public that the government is talking to terrorists. Given the current political climate and the fact that ISIS commits such atrocious acts and in the full glare of the world’s media, this would be a challenge today.

The move towards a real peace deal is when both sides can see a viable political way forward. There must also be a shift from the military faction to the political. Without the move from military to political, peace is not possible. With the conflict in Iraq and Syria still in the hands of the military, there is still a definite political element at play.

References

Abu-Nimer, M. and Kaufman, E. (2006) ‘Bridging Conflict and Transformation and Human Rights: Lessons from the Israeli-Palestinian Process’ in J. Mertus and J. Helsing [Eds] Human Rights & Conflict: Exploring the Links between Rights, Law and Peacebuilding, Washington: USIP, 277-307

Collard, R. (2015) ‘What We Have Learned Since ISIS Declared A Caliphate One Year Ago’, TIME magazine. Available at http://time.com/3933568/isis-caliphate-one-year/. Accessed on 20 June 2016

Duffield, M. (2007) Development, Security and Unending War: Governing the World of Peoples, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kennedy, J.F. (1961) ‘Inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy’, available at https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/JFK-Quotations/Inaugural-Address.aspx

Powell, J. (2014) ‘How to talk to terrorists’, The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/07/-sp-how-to-talk-to-terrorists-isis-al-qaida. Accessed on 19 June 2016.

Powell, J. (2014) Talking to Terrorists: How to end armed conflicts, London: The Bodley Head

Colombian People Reject Peace Deal with FARC

Last Sunday, 02 October 2016, the Colombian people voted against the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), which was signed a week earlier on 26 September. This significantly undermines the prospects of ending one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, which the recent historic peace agreement had the promise of doing.

The Plebiscite

A little over half (50.2%) of those who voted in the plebiscite on 02 October, voted against the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and FARC. Many of those who voted against the peace agreement are thought to have done so because the agreement was seen as enabling FARC guerrillas, who are seen by many as terrorists or criminals, to avoid punishment for wrong-doing and even secure legitimate places in the political administration; there is a distrust of those who have reached the agreement and a fear of what the agreement will lead to (Miroff, 2016). In general terms, the vote against the peace agreement is viewed as lack of confidence in the agreement rather than in a lack of commitment to securing a sustainable peace.

Crucially, less than 40% of Colombians voted (in part due to adverse weather conditions which made it difficult to travel to voting polls, especially in rural areas). Of those who did vote, the majority were from rural areas, which are generally the most affected by the conflict – with the notable exception of Bogotá, which voted in favour of the peace deal (Idler, 2016).

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Peace Agreement

The peace agreement was historic, signalling the end of one of the longest-running armed conflict in the world. It followed the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement three months previously, on 23 June, which followed the General Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace, which was signed by the parties to the conflict on 26 August 2012.

The General Agreement established a six-point agenda for the negotiations. The most politically-charged agenda point concerned the rights of victims. On 15 December 2015, an Agreement on the Victims of the Conflict was reached. Upon coming into affects, this agreement would establish a number of transitional justice mechanisms. These include a Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition Commission and a Special Jurisdiction for Peace with chambers, a Tribunal for Peace and a Unit for Investigation. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace will have jurisdiction for prosecuting members of FARC and the state armed forces for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed while participating “directly or indirectly” in the armed conflict. Focus will be on those with command responsibility and, in an effort to promote peace, sentences will be significantly reduced including non-custodial sentences for those who acknowledged their responsibility.

The Agreement on the Victims of the Conflict was positive in that it was negotiated rather than imposed and uniquely built upon considerable contributions from representatives of victims associations. However, as the plebiscite result reveals, there is considerable disquiet that many members of FARC will not be held accountable for crimes committed (if the crimes they committed carried less gravity, or they did not have command responsibility or even if they can show they did not know what was happening under their command). The plebiscite result also shows that while the agreement negotiations were inclusive and consultative processes, they were clearly not wholly inclusive or responsive to the needs and concerns of all groups.

Intractable Conflict

The conflict between the Government armed forces and FARC has lasted for 52 years. It is both one of the longest internal conflicts in the world and has a magnitude of harm surpassed by few other conflicts, although often overlooked beyond Latin America. Approximately 220,000 people have been killed, about 80% of whom were civilians, and there have been over 100,000 registered forcibly disappeared persons, and tens of thousands of kidnappings (BBC 2016; Bouvier and Haugaard 2016). For many years, Colombia has recorded the second highest number of recorded deaths from mines or explosive remnants of war (ERW) among all countries, with more deaths only in Afghanistan (Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor 2016). Colombia also has one of the world’s highest number of internally displaced persons (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre 2016). By the summer of 2016, the Unit for Victims’ Reparation counted over 8 million officially-registered victims (Rueda 2016). The UN also estimates that there are 5.8 million people currently in need of humanitarian assistance (UNOCHA 2016).

Even though the Government of Colombia and FARC have expressed commitment to the ceasefire, there is significant cause for concern that what has been achieved over the last 4 years of peace negotiations may be undone. The ‘no’ vote is an added challenge to the many facing Colombia as it transitions to peace.

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Peacebuilding Challenges

The ‘no’ vote has demonstrated that there are significant socio-psychological challenges associated with moving away from a conflict that has lasted over half a century. In the first instance, accepting that there has been an armed conflict rather than efforts to counter terrorism and organised crime – as has often been portrayed by the state and accepted by large sections of the population – will be a challenge. It is necessary, of course, to accept there has been a conflict if the peace process is to be successful. While it is important that people feel justice has prevailed and those who have been responsible for atrocities are held to account, there is little hope that FARC will commit to a new peace agreement which results in criminal prosecutions for many of their members. This may mean that even before a new peace deal is negotiated, FARC members may join other guerrilla or armed criminal groups.

Moreover, the results of the plebiscite indicate that it is not, in fact, those people who may been victims of the conflict that have voted against what they see as treating FARC too leniently; aside from the capital, it was generally the urban centres rather than the rural locations, which the conflict has tended to hit hardest, that people voted against the peace agreement. There is a need, therefore, to encourage those from urban centres, who may have seen less of the conflict than their compatriots in rural locations, to consider that there has indeed been a conflict, which needs to be addressed by peacebuilding measures, rather than a fight against terrorist activities, which needs to be addressed with criminal sanctions.

Even moving beyond the ‘no’ vote and engaging in peace education among all groups, there are many other immediate challenges to the prospective peacebuilding process.

In the first instance, any agreement between the Government of Colombia and FARC will only address the conflict with FARC and not the other guerrilla groups active in Colombia, notably, Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN – in English, National Liberation Army), the second largest guerrilla group after FARC. The peace deal will also not address the presence and activities of armed criminal groups (former/quasi paramilitary groups) or BACRIM as referred to in Colombia (bandas criminales emergentes – ‘emerging criminal bands’). The prospective demobilisation of FARC also carries the risk of other guerrilla or criminal groups taking control of formerly-FARC controlled territory and criminal enterprises. Preparations are already afoot for such reorganisation, which is likely to result, at least in the short-term, in increased levels of violence associated with organised crime.

Organised crime in itself poses one of the greatest threats to the prospective peacebuilding process. Organised crime has a stranglehold on Colombian society, and has helped sustain and escalate the conflict and undermine security and the rule of law. High levels of impunity and links between guerrilla forces, armed criminal groups and the state in organised criminal networks will continue to undermine security and the prospect for peace.

Other threats to the peace process are typical of a post-conflict environment, and include the proliferation of small arms; the normalisation of violence; the psychological impact of trauma engendering distrust and fear; insecurity and an absence of the rule of law; and lack of confidence in the state and its ability to provide services. In many parts of Colombia, particularly rural, peripheral and border areas the state and its institutions lack any presence or legitimacy. These places have tended to be trapped in cycles of violence and poverty, and exploited by illegal armed groups.

Extremely high levels of human rights violations – notably against human rights defenders, women, indigenous leaders, Afro-descendant community leaders, trade union representatives, and journalists – also threaten to jeopardise a prospective peace. Colombia has one of the worst records of assassinations of human rights defenders: last year, over 54 human rights defenders were killed (The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2016). This constitutes about a third of all global deaths of human rights defenders that year (Front Line Defenders 2016). High levels of impunity and corruption, widespread presence of guerrilla and armed criminal groups, and lack of state presence or legitimacy, combine to help ensure the high level of human rights violations will continue – even after a peace agreement comes into effect– unless these enabling and causal factors are addressed. And unless they are, any peace secured will be piecemeal and short-term.

In addition, there are significant socio-economic inequalities and a huge gap between the rich and the poor. These factors can fuel grievances. They can also leave the poor vulnerable to further victimisation and creates the conditions which justify or deny crimes against them. Unless a peace agreement addresses these socio-economic disparities, the peace process will not bring peace and security to those who remain the most vulnerable to insecurity and violence. Consequently, any peace will be fragmentary and unsustainable, and the poor will remain vulnerable to exploitation, violence and other crimes.

There are also significant humanitarian challenges as a result of the conflict and a concern that those in need of humanitarian assistance may be overlooked in the peace process. These challenges are also likely to test a prospective fragile peace.

Even if agreements are renegotiated and received broad-based support, implementation of those agreements will be much more difficult than the process of reaching those agreements. Issues concerning transitional justice, land restitution and the demilitarisation, demobilisation and reintegration of FARC combatants will always be highly sensitive and pose challenges to the peace process. These challenges are compounded by poor economic conditions and limited resources to invest in peacebuilding. Generating additional funds to support peacebuilding internally will be difficult as it will involve raising taxes among those who have – in large part – regarded FARC as terrorists rather than combatants engaged in armed conflict.

Nonetheless, there is the promise the negotiations between the Government of Colombia and FARC will recommence and include former president Álvaro Uribe, an influential leader of the ‘no’ campaign. More inclusive peace talks, including those who campaigned against the peace agreement, could result in a more workable agreement and one which responds to the concerns and fears of all groups. There is still the commitment of parties to the conflict to negotiate a peace agreement. Now what is required is public commitment to a proposed peace. This requires that the public are more engaged in the negotiation process – to both be informed by it and inform it.

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References

BBC (2016) ‘Colombia Farc: Ceasefire signed to end five decades of war’, BBC News, 23 June 2016. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36611952 (accessed 05 October 2016).

Bouvier, V. and Haugaard, L. (2016) ‘Colombia’s Peace Accord on the Missing’, USIP Peace Brief 211, July 2016, Washington: USIP. Available online at http://www.usip.org/publications/2016/07/25/colombia-s-peace-accord-the-missing#.V5ZS9Jsj1-Q.twitter (accessed 05 October 2016).

Front Line Defenders (2016) Annual Report 2016. Dublin: Front Line, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Available online at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/2016-annual-report (accessed 25 July 2016).

Idler, A. (2016) ‘Colombia just voted no on its plebiscite for peace. Here’s why and what it means’, The Washington Post, 02 October 2016. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/10/03/colombia-just-voted-no-on-its-referendum-for-peace-heres-why-and-what-it-means/ (accessed 05 October 2016).

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (2016) ‘IACHR Condemns Killings and Threats Directed against Human Rights Defenders in Colombia’, Press Release, 25 February 2015. Available online at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2016/021.asp (accessed 25 July 2016).

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (2016) Global Report in Internal Displacement. Geneva: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Available online at http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/publications/2016/2016-global-report-internal-displacement-IDMC.pdf (accessed 05 October 2016).

Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (2016) ‘Colombia’, Country Profile, Geneva: Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor. Available online at http://www.the-monitor.org/en-gb/reports/2016/colombia/casualties-and-victim-assistance.aspx (accessed 05 October 2016).

Miroff, N. (2016) ‘Colombians vote against historic peace agreement with FARC rebels’, The Washington Post, 02 October 2016. Available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/colombians-vote-on-historic-peace-agreement-with-farc-rebels/2016/10/02/8ef1a2a2-84b4-11e6-b57d-dd49277af02f_story.html?tid=a_inl#comments (accessed 05 October 2016).

Rueda, L. (2016) ‘One step closer to peace in Colombia: implications for accountability’, Centre for International Criminal Justice (CICJ) Commentary, Amsterdam: CICJ. Available online at https://cicj.org/2016/06/one-step-closer-to-peace-in-colombia-implications-for-the-accountability-for-international-crimes/ (accessed 05 October 2016).

UNOCHA (2016) Humanitarian Needs Overview: 2016. Bogotá: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Available online at http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2016_colombia_hno.pdf (accessed 05 October 2016).