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Colombia News Brief for February 24 – March 3, 2017

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Welcome to LAWG’s Colombia News Brief, a compilation of the last week’s top articles and reports on issues of peace, justice, human rights, and more in Colombia. 

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Two guerrillas members of the FARC-EP preparing for a party organized by the guerrillas in one of their camps.
Source: Alvaro Ybarra Zavala/Archivo Macondo

The Politics of Peace

•  Colombian Rebels Take Steps Toward Surrendering Weapons
Alba Tobella, The Washington Post, March 1, 2017
“Thousands of leftist rebels took an important step in Colombia’s peace process Wednesday by starting to give United Nations observers an inventory of the weaponry they will soon surrender. Under the peace accord with the government, March 1 had been the deadline for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to turn over 30 percent of its arsenal of assault rifles, machine guns and homemade explosives.”

•  Farc Inician Dejacion de Armas
El Espectador, March 2, 2017
“Este miércoles empezará el proceso en las zonas veredales. Antes de terminar la semana saldrán indultados de las cárceles del país 1.200 guerrilleros y ya están definidos los nombres de los 60 que saldrán de las zonas de concentración a hacer pedagogía por la paz.”

•  Looking at All Sides in Colombia’s Conflict
David Gonzalez, The New York Times, February 27, 2017
“When combatants lay down their weapons, it’s merely the beginning of peace. The harder task, especially in a conflict that has dragged on for decades, it to find social peace. The Spanish photographer Alvaro Ybarra found that to be the case in Colombia, where lawmakers last year approved a peace accord with the FARC rebels. Not only does each side have its own grievances, he said, but there often are vastly different perceptions of the conflict, with people living in bustling cities unaware of the hardships facing their countrymen in remote areas.” 

•  A Worrisome Number for Colombia’s Peace Prospects
Nick Miroff, The Washington Post, March 2, 2017
“Colombia’s peace deal was signed three months ago, and it remains a fragile newborn whose survival is no sure thing. The government’s pact with leftist FARC rebels to end their 52-year war faces threats from multiple enemies and opponents, and supporters of the accord have been alarmed by a wave of lethal attacks against community leaders and left-wing activists.”

•  Colombia Peace Accord: FARC Doubts Grow as ‘Demobilizing’ Zones Stumble
James Bargent, The Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 2017
“However, transitioning from an armed movement to a strictly political one could be at risk as well. Throughout the final stages of the peace process, in 2016, some 93 social leaders, allied ideologically with the FARC, were murdered, according to Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation. Since the conflict officially ended, the death toll appears to be accelerating, with 12 killed in the first month of 2017 alone.The violence against what the FARC sees as its political base is a concern. But they also feel the murders are evidence of a government that isn’t following through on promises to keep former FARC members safe as they enter politics.”

•  A Deadly Peace in Colombia as FARC Disarms
Toby Muse, Federico Rios, and Ben Laffin, The New York Times, February 24, 2017

“Colombia’s FARC rebels are taking the first steps to end their decades-long rebellion. But the lands the group ruled are now up for grabs, and locals fear those who may seize control.”

 Colombia Pardons First FARC Troops Under Amnesty Law
Telesur, February 28, 2017

Around 4,500 former FARC combatants are expected to be eligible for amnesty as part of the peace deal with the Colombian government. The Prosecutor’s Office of Colombia granted amnesty to four former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, on Monday as part of an amnesty law included in the historic peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government.

 Colombia Moves Against FARC Dissenters’ Criminal Assets
James Bargent, Insight Crime, February 24, 2017
“Authorities in Colombia have seized close to $100 million in assets allegedly belonging to FARC dissidents, as the state begins the mammoth task of identifying and dismantling the vast illicit interests that are being taken over by criminalized guerrilla splinter groups.”

•  Colombia Prosecutors Seize $98M in FARC Assets 
Mira Galanova, Colombia Reports, February 24, 2017
“Colombian authorities seized $98 million worth of assets belonging to the demobilizing FARC rebel group, the country’s chief prosecutor said Thursday.Most of the seized property was war booty derived from drug trafficking, extortion or illegal mining, Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez said at a press conference.”

 Colombia’s Ex-President Seeks Referendum to Alter Peace Deal
Miguel Salazar, Colombia Reports, February 23, 2017

“Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced on Wednesday that he will be seeking a referendum to force changes to an ongoing peace process with demobilized FARC rebels. The former president, whose family has been linked to war crimes relating to Colombia’s 50-year war with the FARC, has been resisting peace efforts since talks were announced in 2012.”

•  Colombia: Congress Votes to Confirm FARC as Political Party
Telesur, March 2, 2017
On Wednesday, Colombia’s House of Representatives voted 86 to 17 to approve the entry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, into electoral politics.The new law — which requires final approval by Colombia’s elected Senate — will guarantee FARC at least five seats in the House and five in the Senate until the 2026 elections, as well as formalize its participation in the upcoming 2018 elections.

•  Responsabilidad del mando y JEP: un debate complejo y polarizado
Rodrigo Uprimny, La Silla Vacía, 27 de febrero de 2017
El debate sobre la llamada “responsabilidad del mando” (RdM) en la reforma constitucional que incorpora la “jurisdicción especial de paz” (JEP) al derecho colombiano ha sido muy difícil, al menos por tres razones: i) es de enorme importancia, pues si no lo resolvemos adecuadamente corremos el riesgo de afectar la legitimidad y la seguridad jurídica del acuerdo de paz; ii) es jurídicamente complejo, por lo que puede resultar aburrido y difícil de entender para muchos; y iii) se ha polarizado indebidamente pues oficiales retirados de la Fuerza Pública, en especial de ACORE, han sostenido, equivocadamente, que quienes defendemos que la regulación de la RdM en la JEP debe respetar el derecho internacional hacemos parte de una suerte de conspiración de izquierdistas, que recibimos dinero para que los altos mandos militares sean juzgados más severamente que la guerrilla; que incluso sean juzgados “de la manera más violenta”.

 Amnistías y tratamientos penales especiales diferenciados: ¿un acierto en la construcción de la paz?
Todd Howland, Razón Pública, 27 de febrero de 2017

“La implementación del Acuerdo de paz ha comenzado con la concesión de un conjunto de beneficios judiciales a los actores involucrados en la negociación.Durante las últimas semanas los reflectores se han posado especialmente sobre la polémica referente a la no aplicación a los miembros de la guerrilla de la Ley 1820 de 2016 sobre amnistías e indultos. La respuesta del gobierno fue expedir el Decreto 277 de 2017, que busca llenar algunos de los vacíos dejados por la mencionada Ley para permitir su aplicación inmediata.”

•  Revolcón en la Corte Constitucional
Semana, February 25, 2017

“El cambio de cuatro magistrados es el revolcón más grande de ese organismo en la última década. En sus manos quedará el rumbo del proceso de paz, la reforma tributaria, la adopción por parte de parejas del mismo sexo y el desarrollo económico del país.”

 Colombia Kicks off Voluntary Illegal Crop Substition Program
Telesur, February 26, 2017

“The Colombian government, the FARC and rural communities have kicked off a program for producers to voluntarily transition from growing illicit crops to legal ones, marking an important step in the implementation of the historic peace agreement reached between the two sides of the more than 50-year-old conflict last year.” 

•  UNP lista para proteger a miembros de las Farc
El Espectador, 26 de febrero de 2017
“Ya están listos los decretos que reglamentan la participación de varios guerrilleros como guardianes de sus propias filas. Tendrán salario y prestaciones sociales y serán contratados por la Unidad Nacional de Protección.”

Ongoing Peace Talks with the ELN

•  Colombia’s ELN Rebels Demand Govt Agree to Bilateral Cease-Fire
Telesur, 27 de febrero de 2017
“The ELN, the government and far-right political leaders have taken starkly different positions on the attack and how it impacts the peace process. Accepting responsibility for a recent attack on a riot police squad, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla army, the ELN, urged the government Monday to speed up the peace process in order to reach a bilateral cease-fire, saying the bomb attack was meant to call attention to the urgency of an end-of-conflict agreement.”

 ELN y la estrategia del terror
Semana, 25 de febrero de 2017
“Desde 2015 Bogotá ha sufrido cerca de 30 ataques con explosivos de diferente magnitud, la gran mayoría perpetrados por integrantes del ELN. ¿Qué busca esa guerrilla con esas acciones terroristas?”

•  Colombia Government Slams ELN Rebels as they Admit to Bogota Bull Ring Bombing
Miguel Salazar, Colombia Reports, February 27, 2017
“Colombia’s government peace negotiators on Monday slammed the Marxist-inspired ELN rebels for jeopardizing the ongoing peace process after they claimed responsibility for last week’s bombing outside a bull ring in the capital.The rebels issued a statement on Sunday admitting they were the perpetrators of the bombing at the Santamaria bull ring in the neighborhood of La Macarena, Bogota that left one dead and 25 people injured, much to the disgust of the government.”

•  ELN asume autoría de atentado en La Macarena
El Tiempo, 27 de febrero de 2017
“La cuenta en Twitter de Ranpal (Radio Nacional Patria Libre, autodefinida como radio oficial del Eln) difundió la noche de este domingo un comunicado en el que le atribuye la autoría del atentado perpetrado el pasado 19 de febrero en el barrio La Macarena de Bogotá a ese grupo guerrillero.Ese día “un comando guerrillero urbano del Eln atacó con explosivos a una patrulla policial del Esmad”, se lee en el comunicado.”

Human Rights Issues

•  Families of Victims of Colombia’s Paramilitaries get their Day in US Court
Sibylla Brodzinsky, The Guardian, March 2, 2017
“Friday’s hearing marks the first time that Colombia’s brutal paramilitary leaders – who escaped trial for crimes against humanity at home because of drug charges in the United States – will face their victims in a US court, according to the Henríquez family’s attorneys.”

•  Colombia Braces for Impact of Returning Drug Traffickers and Paramilitaries
James Bargent, Insight Crime, March 1, 2017
“Although many of the recently released drug traffickers, warlords and corrupt officials may well opt for retirement and a quiet life, recent history suggests a significant number may not. Those that do choose to return to the world of organized crime may find the currently volatile Colombian underworld full of opportunities.”

•  Colombia Paramilitaries Won’t Stop Killing Human Rights Leaders
Telesur, February 27, 2017
“Communities demand security from the Colombian authorities after yet another activist was murdered in the wake of the peace deal.Yet another Colombian human rights defender has been murdered after a violent group attacked him in the Cauca region, amid the ongoing outcry by activists over the crisis of fatal violence against social leaders and calls for the government to ensure security and protection from paramilitary groups in the country.”

•  Colombian Rights Activists Killed in Record Numbers in 2016
Telesur, February 23, 2017
“The number represents a 22 percent rise since 2015, as assassination attempts rose by 29, “a violence against human rights defenders and social leaders that has worsened to levels not seen in 10 years,” the report stated. People related or close to defenders and leaders were not counted, but also deserve thorough investigation, said the report.”

•  ¿Está la Fiscalía preparada para investigar asesinatos de líderes sociales?
Verdad Abierta, 28 de febrero de 2017
“Los conflictos internos a raíz de la nueva Unidad para el Desmantelamiento de Grupos Sucesores del Paramilitarismo, la renuncia de Alexandra Valencia y la reformulación en las estrategias tejen un manto de duda sobre la efectividad del Ente Investigador.”

•  Colombian Civil Society Organizations Highlight LGBTQ Violence in New Report
HRC Staff, Human Rights Campaign, February 24, 2017
“The report found that homicides committed against LGBTQ people continue to increase each year, and that in 2015, there were a total of 110 deaths — the highest number since 2012. Forty-three of the cases were directly linked to prejudice based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

•  Big Win for Colombian Community Against Canadian Mining Giant
Telesur, 2 March 2017
“On Tuesday Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the residents of Marmato, a small Indigenous and Afro-Colombian community in the center of the country, in their 10-year fight against a massive open pit mine project by Canadian gold giant Gran Colombia Gold Corporation.”

•  Multi-ton Seizures Point to Return of Massive Cocaine Shipments
Leonardo Goi, InSight Crime, March 2, 2017

“The most likely explanation for this is the ongoing cocaine production boom in Colombia, the world’s largest supplier of the illegal drug. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that Colombian coca cultivation rose 39 percent between 2014 and 2015, and that its annual potential cocaine production has reached 646 metric tons. With that much product flooding the market, it’s unsurprising that drug traffickers are taking bigger risks in the hopes of even bigger payoffs.”

*The Colombia News Brief is a selection of relevant news articles, all of which do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Latin America Working Group.