HAVANA, Cuba – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that his government has reached an agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as part of the peace process that will see the United Nations monitor an eventual bilateral ceasefire that will come into effect once the final peace agreement is signed.
The peace talks in question between the FARC, Latin America’s oldest insurgency group, and the Colombian government, started in October of 2012 initially in Oslo, Norway and then in Havana, Cuba with the hopes of ending a conflict that has lasted over half a century.
In reaction to a ultraviolent crackdown on peasant organizations, the FARC militarized in 1964. As the primary guerrilla force, the FARC rebels have been engaged in war with the Colombian government since then, a war that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced several million more.
So far, an agreement on land reform has been achieved during the peace talks, along with the group’s future political participation and the topic of the illicit drug trade.
The last point that was agreed upon, which was transitional justice, carried with it the sub-point of suspect and victim recognition and reparation, the most sensitive subject given that it concerned all those affected by the conflict. As such, it was also the longest point as negotiation about the victims lasted 18 months.
In late September, Santos and the FARC’s top leader, Timoleón Jiménez “Timochenko” (whose real name is Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri) announced in Havana that a definitive peace agreement should be signed between the long-warring factions in March of 2016, six months from the date the two men met and came to the agreement in the Cuban capital.
Shortly after, another positive development took place as Santos accepted the FARC’s proposal for a bilateral ceasefire that could become definitive as early as January.
While the chance of a bilateral ceasefire manifesting by the end of the month is impossible, the latest development is making the once-unthinkable bilateral ceasefire a real possibility in the coming weeks.
In a joint announcement from Havana, the lead negotiators of the Colombian government and the FARC, Humberto de la Calle and Iván Márquez, respectively, explained that they had reached an agreement on a future bilateral ceasefire.
“This is just another gesture that shows how serious we are about this whole process, and this development specifically demonstrates the political aspect that accompanies the government and the FARC as we look to truly end this conflict,” said de la Calle. “The negotions have entered a final stage,” added Márquez.
According to the agreement, a tripartite mechanism that will be composed of members of the Colombian government, the FARC and the United Nations will monitor and verify the bilateral ceasefire and its components, including the bilateral and definitive cessation of hostilities between the two sides and the surrender of arms by the rebels.
This mechanism, according to both sides, will “generate confidence in the implementation of the peace process and guarantees compliance by both sides.”
At the appeal of the two parties in Havana (and through an official request presented by the Colombian government), the UN Security Council granted its participation in the mechanism.
The UN’s mission will be composed of unarmed observers from the 33-member Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC), or the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a regional integration bloc.
The observers, which will be chosen by the UN with the approval of the negotiating teams in Havana, will have experience in the field of national peace and reconciliation and will be based in Colombia for an initial period of 12 months, and their time in the country can be extended at the request of the government and the FARC.
Santos, speaking in Bogotá, explained that the mission would be carried out “using the usual practices employed by the UN in these types of peace process all over the world,” including the rule that delegates from bordering countries (which, in this case, include Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) could not send participate as observers.
“This action will constitute units of unarmed observers, just to make that clear. This will not be a peacekeeping mission marked by weapon-wielding soldiers with blue helmets,” Santos said.
The news of the agreement was welcomed and hailed as a step in the direction toward verifiable peace by various victims’ groups, along with international humanitarian organizations and foreign governments and regional bodies.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, also praised the development and said that he hoped the Security Council would be voting on the issue as soon as next week, but its eventual approval is all but a formality given the UN body’s highly favorable view on the Colombian peace process.
The rebels have adhered to their unilaterally-declared ceasefire since July of 2015 and it has paid dividends; last month, the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC) explained that in the July 20-to-December 20 period, the violence levels fell to their lowest point ever observed since the beginning of the conflict.
In fact, in the newest CERAC report (published Jan. 20), it was revealed that there has not been a single recorded incident of conflict between the two sides since November 30 of 2015, the “longest number of consecutive days with no violent acts” during the conflict.
The government, on the other hand, has refused to make the ceasefire bilateral but it has reduced military actions in areas where the FARC has a presence and stopped bombing raids on rebel camps. In another gesture, the government released on Wednesday 16 of 30 rebels held in prison for the charge of “rebellion” while the rest are expected to be released in the coming days.