The Current Situation in Colombia

A USIP Fact Sheet

January 27, 2016

After 50 years of armed conflict, a peace accord between Colombia’s government and the country’s oldest rebel group is on the horizon. Talks in Havana that President Juan Manuel Santos began with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) in 2012 have successfully addressed the toughest issues, and a final agreement may be reached in 2016. An end to the conflict would leave Colombia with a massive task of reconciliation. The war has created 7.6 million registered victims, left more than 220,000 dead and uprooted over 6 million—the second-largest number of internally displaced people in any country, after Syria, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Post-accord challenges also will include reparations and land restitution to victims, reintegrating FARC ex-combatants into civilian life, implementing the peace terms locally, and addressing the socio-economic disparities and political exclusion that have long been at the root of the conflict.

USIP’s Work

For more than a decade, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) has helped prepare the ground for a political solution to Colombia’s armed conflict. The Institute’s research and policy discussions stimulate fresh thinking on how to foster peace, while small grants and technical support help Colombians build their capacity for mediation, conflict resolution, and strategic planning. Through its contacts, USIP helps connect local, national, and international initiatives dealing with the conflict. The World Bank, the Colombian government, and others have adopted models developed by USIP-supported projects in Colombia on topics such as preventing youth recruitment by armed groups and healing the traumas of war. The Institute’s recent work includes:

Colombia Peace Forum. This USIP-based series of roundtables, established after peace talks began in 2012, produces creative analysis of the conflict that informs the thinking of U.S. and Colombian policymakers and opinion leaders. It convenes academics, Colombia specialists, and government officials for discussions with those often left out of formal peace processes, such as women, victims, and ethnic communities.

Supporting Peace Processes. The Institute distills lessons from past attempts at peacemaking in Colombia and elsewhere, and counsels international envoys and others with a stake in the peace process on how it can be strengthened. USIP also advises and helps fund local initiatives for peace, contributes expertise to historical memory projects, and facilitates dialogues to reduce violence. To ensure a more stable, comprehensive peace, USIP is encouraging talks a second rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). The Institute funds a collaboration of academics and ex-ELN members seeking to clear obstacles to government talks with the group.

Empowering Women for Peacebuilding. USIP developed and supports a network of 30 women mediators from a dozen regions of Colombia to serve as catalysts for reconciliation in the aftermath of a peace accord. They will help prevent and mediate disputes between ex-combatants and victims, mitigate tensions involving ethnic groups, and foster communication between citizens and government. USIP has designed training materials to facilitate the program’s expansion.  

Strengthening Civil Society Contributions to Peace. USIP has funded creation of a network of regional and local committees in 10 of the country’s 32 political subdivisions as models for getting citizens involved in peace and reconciliation. The committees, which include local government and civil society organizations, are working with Colombian authorities to ensure that peace accords reached in Havana are implemented and monitored locally. USIP also is also looking ahead to address other sources of violence in Colombia, including conflicts over land rights, natural resources, and environmental and development priorities. In the oil-rich northern department of Arauca, USIP funded and facilitated dialogues involving companies, local authorities, and communities. The results have, for example,  generated alternatives to the companies’ plans to displace dozens of families. 

USIP Publications

Institute staff and experts publish in-depth reports, timely policy briefs, and articles that distill expert research, lessons learned, and problem-solving solutions to advance peacebuilding in Colombia. Recent publications on Colombia include:

USIP Events

USIP frequently hosts events, bringing together thought leaders, scholars, experts, policymakers, and elected officials. Recent events on Colombia include:

Historical Memory and Transitional Justice in Colombia. In a day-long Peace Forum event, 14 scholars and practitioners analyzed the place of historical memory in creating a successful system of transitional justice—one that that deals with rights of victims to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees that past abuses won’t be repeated. They made recommendations for the truth commission that is expected to be set up following a final accord.

Women Working Towards Reconciliation. Catholic and Protestant women peacemakers from a USIP-supported network discussed strategies for post-conflict reconciliation. They shared examples of their work and discussed the model of psycho-social assistance and training they have developed for working with victims and ex-combatants.

Opening the Peace Process to Afro-Colombian Stakeholders. How can Afro-Colombians and other excluded groups deepen their participation in the peace process, and what are the risks if they cannot? A new alliance of Colombia’s leading Afro-Colombian groups made the case at this Peace Forum event for including their perspectives and those of indigenous people in the Havana talks.

Peace From the Regions. Colombia’s government has called for “peace from the ground up” that would engage regional institutions, local authorities, and diverse social sectors to put an eventual peace accord into practice. Fleshing out the unsettled mechanics of the plan was the subject of this Peace Forum event.

Paths to Reintegration.  Helping former insurgents transition to a productive civilian life will be a major challenge following the signing of a peace accord.  Two panels at this Peace Forum event analyzed successes and pitfalls of demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration from around the world and from Colombia’s past.

January 27, 2016