FEEDBACK – Colombia on the long road to peace…

Posted by: on Nov 17, 2015 | No Comments

Thanks to recent advances in the peace talks underway in Havana, Colombia is at a turning point in its history. However the context is still complex: with more than 6 million internally displaced people, Colombia is also one of the most heavily landmine-polluted countries in the world.

 


 

On 24 September 2015, following an historic handshake between the Colombian President Santos and Timoleon Jimenez, the leader of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), media outlets were reporting a “major breakthrough” in the peace negotiations that have been underway in Havana since 2012. Handicap International Foundation has met with representatives of the country’s indigenous communities to find out how they see prospects for the future.

Land rights have been at the heart of the Colombian conflict from the outset, and its correlate, the restitution of land, is at the centre of the current peace negotiations. Indeed, since the start of the conflict, many Colombians have been forced off their land. According to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre’s figures, in December 2014 the number of internally displaced Colombians stood at more than 6 million people, placing the country second in world rankings – just behind Syria.

Today, despite the political negotiations underway in Havana, indigenous communities report increasing pressure on land which has been disputed by many parties over the years, including the state, the FARC and the NLA (National Liberation Army), but also by paramilitary and emerging armed groups, economically-motivated to gain territorial control in order to be able to carry out all the different stages in the production and trafficking of drugs with no outside interference. Furthermore, the hold of private national and international companies over mineral extraction is also increasing. Until now these companies were kept at bay by the armed groups and security conditions. Yet, notwithstanding the number of interested parties, the agreements reached in Havana are only between the government and the FARC.

Persons recently displaced by the conflict in Amburra, Colombia. © Amandine Rave / Handicap International

Persons recently displaced by the conflict in Amburra, Colombia. © Amandine Rave / Handicap International

The indigenous and farming communities are therefore becoming increasingly concerned about the future of their land and their rights to live on and exploit it, especially as politics are changing the conflict’s existing dynamics. Indeed, in isolated areas where the government’s authority doesn’t reach, arrangements had sometimes been found with the different actors present locally. But now the communities are beginning to fear new outbreaks of violence, fuelled by actors who are not party to the peace process or by dissidents. Because of the high economic stakes involved in the cultivation of illegal crops, as well as the wealth of natural resources in the ground, indigenous and farming communities could still be deprived of the enjoyment of their land.

In this uncertain context, humanitarian demining is a major issue. Colombia is still one of the world’s most mine-polluted countries, with the highest number of casualties after Afghanistan. The peace talks in Havana have led to an agreement between the parties allowing “humanitarian demining” operations to be launched and pursued until at least 2021, but land is still a very sensitive subject, especially as mines are also used to defend territory.

The international community is impatient for a final peace agreement to be reached, seeing this as the long-awaited end to half a century of internal armed conflict. Although the recent advances made in Havana seem to be bringing prospects of peace closer than ever at the political level, ways still need to be found to ensure these advances benefit the civilian populations in their day-to-day lives – and this will call for strong engagement by the international community over the coming years. The end of the road is not yet in sight.