Strategies for Consolidating Peace Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
This live Roundtable conversation took place on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
Our panel includes:
- Representative of San José de Apartadó, a Colombian human rights defender speaking for the local community
- Leslie Zelenko, Legislative Director for Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI)
- Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli (moderator), Director for the Andes, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
- Karin Ryan (host), Senior Advisor for Human Rights, the Carter Center
In 2016, Colombia and the former guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a historic peace agreement that ended five decades of internal armed conflict. This agreement—which is unique in that it integrated the recommendations and rights of victims, women, Afro-Colombian, and Indigenous peoples—has had some success in reducing violence in the country and demobilizing thousands of former combatants.
However, it has also seen a surge of new security challenges, namely the targeting and killing of hundreds of social leaders in some of Colombia’s most remote and conflict-ridden regions. These leaders are often critical to the lack of implementation of the peace agreement in their communities, and President Iván Duque’s administration has failed to provide for their protection. Even further, as Colombia enforces a national quarantine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, killings and attacks on social leaders and armed confrontations continue and have only become more targeted.
The COVID-19 pandemic should not provide the Duque administration with more elements to excuse themselves from properly protecting social leaders and investigating cases of killings. Rather, the Colombian government must provide protection and immediate and differentiated action on the public health crisis to susceptible communities across the country.
In the face of these security and health challenges, and the lack of protection from the Colombian government, the international community should seek to pressure the Duque administration to protect social leaders, while also supporting alternative, peaceful, and non-violent strategies for protection.
This online forum will explore one of those strategies: the creation of peace communities. In April 1997, one of the first such communities were formed in San José de Apartadó. Rural leaders came together to implement international humanitarian law and the principle of distinction for non-combatants in their community, designating the area free of all armed groups, including legal public security forces. Local forums helped establish rules that asked community members to disengage from violence, and also leaders began to form communal projects.
The peace community has faced challenges: it has registered at least three massacres and had more than 300 of its members killed. Authorities and armed groups have frequently interpreted the peace community’s declared neutrality as an affront, accusing residents of collaborating with various actors in the conflict.
The online forum will examine how the lessons from peace communities like in San José de Apartadó can serve as a model for citizen protection mechanisms. Additionally, the discussion will cover how key challenges are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and how the Colombian government should respond to them.
Finally, the online forum will explore how the U.S. Congress and the international community can support these communities and push for more effective protection of social leaders and civilians caught in conflicts worldwide.
AP photo / Fernando Vergara via WOLA