FARC Peace Talks: Northern Ireland Could Hold Answers, Analysts Say

By Dialogo
May 21, 2013

BOGOTÁ — The May 15 resumption of peace talks in Cuba between Colombia’s government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels has sparked renewed optimism that a settlement to the 60-year-old armed conflict is within sight.
But the road map to peace remains obscured by unanswered questions about punishing FARC for its crimes and whether the organization should be allowed to enter Colombian politics.
Some analysts suggest looking to Northern Ireland for answers.
“One of the key elements in the Irish case, and very relevant in the Colombian case, was the careful internal work within Sinn Fein to simultaneously maintain their base while also convincing the public — north and south of the border [with Ireland] —that they were a reformed, unarmed political party in a position to sign the 1998 accord,” said Irish attorney Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who specializes in human rights law.
The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which ended decades of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, was a complex, multi-party accord that addressed civil and cultural rights, the decommissioning of weapons, the role of police forces and other issues.
Ní Aoláin explained how, during the 1980s and 1990s, Sinn Fein’s Ard Dheis — or annual party conference resolutions — showed steady and progressive internal changes to ready the party, which historically has been associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, to run for political office. This internal shift required considerable strategic maneuvering, she said, and eventually led to a seismic shift, with Sinn Fein publicly endorsing the revamped Northern Irish police force at its 2007 Ard Dheis.
Analyst: FARC remains politically weak
Ross Frennet, a conflict analyst for London-based Strategic Dialogue, said that “in the Northern Irish case, the Provisional IRA’s jingoistic thinking that one way or the other ‘our time will come’ is what the FARC must avoid at all costs.” He added that “it was this thinking that led the Provisional IRA to actually ‘lose control’ of many Republican strongholds, due primarily to an ever-widening generational gap.”
The FARC did form a political party in 1985, together with the Colombian Communist Party, during peace talks with the government under then-President Belisario Betancur. But that Unión Patriótica (UP) party fell victim to political violence, and by the time of its demise in 2002, an estimated 3,000 members of the UP had been killed off by paramilitaries and drug lords.
“Today, as a political force, the FARC remains very weak, having isolated themselves through the use of increasing levels of sporadic violence and links with Mexican drug-trafficking cartels,” said Juan Carlos Palou, peace and conflict coordinator at the Ideas for Peace Foundation think tank in Bogotá. “These changes have broken social connections with their core rural bases and have created a bottleneck effect, pushing against their immediate transition into local or national politics.”
Analysts say FARC’s transition into democratic life will have to move beyond quick fixes and the rhetoric of Iván Marquez, the rebel group’s chief negotiator in Havana — who is insisting on full amnesty for FARC guerrillas.
“Much of this is about timing, including the ability to hold down partial agreements and marshaling the electoral campaign period until a final accord is hammered out late next year,” said Marc Chernick, a political science professor at Washington’s Georgetown University.
Added Palou: “Their goal now will be to consolidate existing left-wing groups and target a new political generation of young underground but capable Colombians in rural areas.”
How Sinn Fein came to the table
In a series of recent public statements, Colombia’s attorney general, Eduardo Montealegre, has said it would be “impossible” to punish every human rights violation — and that some impunity is inevitable. Palou agreed with that assessment.
“The Colombian criminal justice system simply cannot deal with the thousands of crimes committed by the FARC, and the hundreds of thousands of victims at the tail end of these crimes,” the political analyst told Diálogo. “While FARC leaders need to be held responsible for their crimes through the courts, punishment is still not the most important factor here. Forging a workable peace deal is still paramount.”
Chernick said the fact that more than 50 FARC members await extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges should not be overlooked — especially since FARC negotiator Márquez insists on guarantees that the Santos government will drop those charges.
María Camila Moreno, director of the Bogotá office of New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, detailed the need for an “integrated strategy” that includes “judicial security” as well as institutional reform and reparation for victims of atrocities.
Both Moreno and Palou underscored the need to seek out “macro-criminals” and prosecute large-scale, systematic crimes. However, Palou added, “the victims of the FARC’s crimes need to realize that many of the guerrilla group’s low-level members will never go to prison.”
Amnesty and ‘political prisoners’
Curiously, in the Northern Ireland peace process, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended the decades-old conflict had no explicit amnesty attached to it. Nor was any structured “truth commission” ever established. In fact, IRA prisoners were eligible for early release for crimes committed prior to the GFA’s signing.
“Many legal and political issues were deliberately shrouded in a sense of ‘constructive ambiguity’ to be able to bring ex-combatants and the state to the same table,” said Ní Aolaín, the Irish human rights attorney. “The release on license part of the GFA is a de facto amnesty, although nobody will ever use the word amnesty.”
More recently, she added, “it has become clear that general amnesty agreements where non-state actors have been involved in systematic human rights violations simply don’t work, because courts don’t uphold the amnesties.”
Gerard Hodgkins, a former Provisional IRA member who spent 15 years in jail on the outskirts of Belfast and went on a hunger strike in 1981, is particularly adamant on the question of political prisoners.
“The peace process in Colombia needs full political participation, and all of FARC’s ‘political prisoners' [estimated to number close to 1,500] should be released,” said Hodgkins, 54. “A blank sheet should also be drawn up including the suspension of all extradition cases of both FARC and paramilitary prisoners to the United States.”
Irish authorities offer their support
In late April, Chernick attended a meeting of Colombian and Irish conflict-resolution specialists in Derry, Northern Ireland’s second-largest city and the place where the conflict began in the late 1960s. Together, they are drafting a series of “Derry Proposals” which include a more visible role for the United States to support the Colombian peace process.
While public opinion remains divided in Colombia between the search for peace and the need for justice, said Chernick, “the general consensus in Derry was the need for less punitive and more restorative means to move forward.”
Joe Costello, Ireland’s minister of state for trade and development, told Diálogo through a spokesman that Irish authorities would be happy to “share lessons” learned from their own peace process if invited to do so by either the Colombian government or the FARC rebels.
“The Irish government strongly supports the Colombian peace process,” Costello said in an email from Dublin. “We hope that the negotiations underway will bring an end to the long conflict there, which has caused so much suffering — and provide the people of that country with the peace and stability they deserve.”
well I am displaced they took my lands, with 4 brothers and their families, but I've always known the agrarian system to be in place in Colombia, it's bad but it exists, now these gentlemen are arriving, supposedly to defend farmers with their agrarian reform, after they mercilessly eliminated all the farmers who bothered them on their way, intimidated them so that the sectafero bought the land of the threatened farmers, they are barbarians, I hope the farc doesn't do like the cat, who covers the evidence after the fact, but they came to cover it, late, but the peace process has to happen, hopefully it all goes well. I think that the subject of Peace and Justice debated nowadays in our country Colombia is interesting, as a Colombian woman I would be willing to fully support the peace procedures advanced by the government in order to restore democratic order and the economic stability that has deteriorated due to so much generalized violence. I especially lean towards peace making, since it is a general constitutional right and it prevails over the concept of justice, which is a specific isolated subject. from all I've heard we owe this to God, the will of the farc leaders and president Santos, who have allowed this process to move forward The problem is complex, the FARC became a drug-terrorist organization, committing crimes without considering the (civil) injured parties, they are defending their right to function as a political party, and not saying anything about surrendering the weapons? so an armed peace?
they are very hurt on the military side and are trying to gain time, or to exploit the situation with the government, as good communists their weapons are lies and calumny, personally I think that these peace talks will not put an end to the problem, there are many things at stake, DRUG DOLLARS, THIS IS WHAT THE HEADS OF THAT GROUP CARE ABOUT. Their families live abroad like millionaires and most likely have bank accounts in Switzerland. The political class in Colombia is infiltrated by corruption, and everybody wants a piece of the state treasury money. The Army is tired after 60 years of war, and many are retiring to be hired by Saudi Arabia with an income 7 times higher than the one they earn in Colombia. In order to have a peace process, it's because a war has preceded. This war has been fought by the the lower and medium ranks of the armed forces and the well-known subversive groups, with a lot of blood and lives. Now a group receives many perks, while the other is having its rights denied. I ask, is it necessary to bring up the fact that the medium and lower ranks of the Armed Forces are being denied their IPC wage level, among others? will there be peace or are they forcing that group to start another war. what's going on with such bad men I do believe in peace but I wish it would arrive with social justice, although we have a small problem, and that's the father of the paramilitary of our dear and martyred Colombia. Come on, let's put an end to more than 50 years of fratricidal war. It is important and necessary that in this agreement between the guerrilla and the government in La Havana they keep in mind the freedom of the people who have been victims of violence, such as people that have been detained unfairly and labeled as part of the guerrilla without being investigated, solely because someone reintegrated accused them of being guerrilla people in order to gain benefits, and the members of the army, the CTI and others believed them because it is also good for them in order to obtain promotions and other perks. This is what I think, if the guerrilla wants peace they should demobilize and be given assurances, they want the military manpower reduced, but what will the soldiers who are dismissed do, they will take on the weapons and the violence will continue in the country and some will only change names Given the tremendous complexity of the FARC problem and the urgency to achieve peace, I think that we need to think big and suggest bold solutions such as this one: Forgive the Farc for everything, ths is where we have to practice the forgiveness that Christ taught us. Give them three seats directly in the Senate and the House, and in all the department and municipal council assemblies of the country, allow them to openly participate in politics to see if they can achieve more. Do not allow them to be eliminated with only one condition: they hand over the weapons, and stop committing crimes. Also, give them government houses and establish a citadel solely formed by guerrilla people, give them each a minimum monthly wage to live on. And I repeat "conditio sine qua non": hand over the weapons to the government, stop committing crimes, kidnapping, etc., free all hostages. And please, let's all live in PEACE, PEACE, PEACE, WHICH IS WHAT COLOMBIA NEEDS Commanding officers of the FARC in Havana, you fell short by being modest and including the holy mother church and ignoring the social issue of our country Colombia. She must also ask for forgiveness for not faithfully following the truth professed by Jesus our Lord, and since when has this said culpability been taking place? FOR OVER TWO THOUSAND YEARS?