Lessons from implementing peace agreements: what next for Colombia?

Conflict in Colombia has deep roots, with over 50 years of armed conflict between state and non-state armed forces, more than 220,000 people estimated dead, and five million internally displaced people (ICG, 2013). Since the 1980s, there have been many formal and informal peace negotiations between the state and the different non-state armed groups. But no agreement to date has brought peace to the country.

In light of current negotiations between the Colombian government and the largest guerrilla group – the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) – this rapid review gives an overview of the evidence on lessons for international community involvement in the implementation of peace agreements and demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) programmes.

Lessons from peace processes and negotiations and DDR in Colombia include:

  • Colombian peace processes and negotiations and DDR initiatives have been undermined by the failure of the Colombian government to protect the security of civilians and ex-combatants.
  • As demobilisation in Colombia has only happened with a few groups, the cycle of violence has not stopped. Some armed groups feel that others have had favourable treatment, despite being responsible for serious crimes.
  • Some have warned that amnesty laws for combatants have institutionalised impunity.
  • Reintegration activities have been underfunded. General DDR processes have focused on political dimensions, while neglecting important economic and social reintegration (such as psychosocial support).
  • Almost half the members of Colombia’s armed groups joined the groups as children, and therefore have specific needs during reintegration (such as education).
  • Only 15 per cent of child combatants have access to DDR programmes.

Lessons from international community engagement in peace and DDR activities in Colombia include:

  • While Colombia has historically been reluctant to include the international community in its peace processes, there has been an increased internationalisation of the conflict and peace processes since 1999 – this has led to greater opportunities and demands for international community involvement.
  • The international community can play a variety of roles, notably: a donor role; a diplomatic role; a mediation role; a verification and monitoring role; and an observer role.
  • The literature emphasises that the international community can play particularly useful roles in: legitimising peace processes; monitoring and verification of peace agreements or DDR initiatives; and championing human rights.
  • Key challenges are the coordination among donors and the focus of donor activities on terrorism and drugs trafficking to the detriment of other issues that matter to achieving peace in Colombia.

Lessons from international community engagement in the monitoring and verification of compliance with peace agreements in other countries include:

  • In regards to actors, the UN plays the most important role. However, the use of ‘Friends Groups’ for strategic coordination between third-party actors can support the successful implementation of peace agreements, if the group of countries is small, with a high degree of commitment and similar interests in the conflict. Advances in technology, globalisation and the retreat of the state have led to NGOs playing a greater role in monitoring and verification.
  • A key challenge in evaluating lessons for the international community is being able to separate out the challenges emanating from domestic actors and those from international actors.
  • Monitoring teams must be gender-balanced, not gender-blind.
  • Case study examples provide micro-level lessons on verification in El Salvador, Guatemala, Kosovo and Bosnia.

Suggested citation

Herbert, S. (2013). Lessons from implementing peace agreements: what next for Colombia? GSDRC Rapid Literature Review. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham