Global Policy Studies & International Security Politics and Governance

Peace and Victims: An Interview with Christian Voelkel of the International Crisis Group

Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) resume next week in Havana, and the highly anticipated round on the issue of victims is up for negotiations. At the table, 15 delegates will represent over 4,000 victims’ organizations and more than 6 million victims of murder, kidnapping, sexual violence and forced displacement. Reaching an agreement that meets victims’ calls for justice will be the most challenging test of the national process thus far.

The current peace process has progressed further than all previous attempts at ending the decades-long armed conflict. The current success of the talks has encouraged the National Liberation Army, or ELN, to also partake in peace negotiations.

Many outside of Colombia are familiar with the FARC insurgency, but few recognize the ELN, a second guerilla army engaged in a violent armed conflict with the Colombian government. Despite being the smaller and lesser-known militant group, the ELN commemorated its 50th anniversary this July with several attacks, and an end to their conflict with the government would mean peace for an even greater number of Colombians.

To learn more about the ongoing peace talks with the FARC and the potential engagement of the ELN, I spoke with Christian Voelkel of the International Crisis Group in Bogotá.

Current negotiations are taking place amidst ongoing hostilities. A recent attack by the FARC killed a two-year old girl and has Colombians both infuriated and alarmed. Dr. Voelkel explained a few of the reasons why the peace process did not first stipulate a ceasefire.

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Twenty months into the peace process, the FARC has committed fewer attacks; however, given the continued, albeit low-level, violence has Colombians worried. As the parties progress closer towards a peaceful conclusion, the FARC must complete its transition from a rebel army to a political group.

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As a distinct militant group, the ELN will have a separate negotiation, but the two peace processes must be coordinated along a number of issues, including transitional justice.

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Even if the parties in Havana finalize a complete agreement, peace in Colombia will require years of political and social transition. Dr. Voelkel describes how the peace process transforms the leadership of the armed groups into stakeholders that can ensure substantial transformation for the country.

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