SFS On Topic: Colombian Peace Referendum



After five decades of conflict, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached a peace deal in Havana, Cuba, which was announced on August 24, 2016. The agreement was settled upon after four years of negotiations, which laid out a road to peace in Colombia that provided paths to amnesty for many rebels and would deescalate conflict through disarmament and other incentives.

The Colombian peace agreement was put to a vote on October 2, 2016 in a popular referendum, the last step necessary for the deal to become official. Voters rejected the deal in a close vote (50.2% versus 49.2%), which will force the country to once again face the looming specter of another outbreak in conflict. The most recent ceasefire that resulted from the negotiations is due to expire at the end of 2016 after it was recently extended by President Juan Manuel Marcos. The path to peace remains complicated, though, with many rallying around former President Alvaro Uribe’s demand for stricter treatment of rebels.

Peace Deal Negotiations

Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), offered her thoughts on the implications of the proposed Colombia peace deal, particularly regarding gender, in the context of previous peace deals. She discussed how dynamics between negotiating groups manifested themselves in the actual agreement.

It’s very interesting, the role of women in Colombia….The high commission for peace that was established to oversee the peace process, has a gentleman at the helm. But the four major deputies are female. And there was a gender subgroup that was created, that throughout the peace process enabled the lens that women represent to be applied to the constitutive elements of that process, to get their response to it. So you had a real time engagement on the part of women into this peace process.

The Institute also interviewed Colombian human rights lawyers Adriana María Benjumea Rúa and Linda Cabrera about what the peace agreement means for Colombian women involved in the peace process. The interview took place as part of GIWPS’ ongoing research study about transitional justice in Colombia.  


Rejection and Future of the Peace Agreement

Father Matthew Carnes, S.J., Director of the Center for Latin American Studies, put the surprising referendum results into context, with an overview of the various factors that may have lead to the rejection of the peace deal by the Colombian electorate. Issues ranged from sentiments over amnesty and social justice to the complication of the document and low voter turnout. The close result came as a sharp surprise to many international and local groups–differing from polling leading up to the event, and a variety of dynamics could have exerted crucial influence.

“The government is looking for a way out on two fronts: with the opposition and with the FARC. There isn’t much room for maneuver to change the accord that was already reached. If they manage to make any amendment, it will be cosmetic. And time is running out to save it. It won’t be easy,” said Professor Marc Chernick to Yahoo News about the difficulties confronting the Santos administration as it attempts to address the problems with the peace deal that led to its rejection by voters. For more, click here

Georgetown’s Role in the Peace Agreement

Georgetown students have been involved in the the peace process for the last few years, through summer internships in Colombia. Naomi Glassman (MALAS’17) spent the past summer working for Colombia’s highest administrative court. While there, she helped the judicial system prepare for its post-conflict role by drawing on international examples of similar post-conflict situations.

naomi-glassman“This summer in Colombia, I worked for the team of Dr. Danilo Rojas Betancourth, the President of the Consejo de Estado (Council of State, Colombia’s highest administrative court), to help prepare a document on the role of administrative judges in the post-conflict that will be presented at the annual meeting of administrative judges in October. My role was mostly comparative, in looking at other countries that have had similar post-conflict transitions and the role of judicial reform and any relevant judicial decisions. In particular, we were looking at environmental, land, and electoral issues. The Consejo de Estado has jurisdiction over cases that involve the Colombian government, and thus has ruled on a number of cases of police and military misconduct and human rights violations, including the false positive scandal, even though I did not work directly on any of these cases. The preparation [that] the Consejo was doing for the post-conflict is important in showing that peace, and the peace process, will involve all of the branches of government. And that by looking at comparative international examples, which the Colombian negotiators also did, Colombia has been trying to learn from what has (and has not) worked around the world. The Consejo in particular has been particularly progressive in looking at the impact of the conflict on the environment.” –Naomi Glassman, graduate student in Latin American studies.