More than just peacekeeping: The UN’s involvement in Colombia’s peace process

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By: Felipe Franco Gutiérrez

Lawyer and Specialist in Administrative Law from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana

Candidate to International Relations and Affairs at American University

Peacekeeping is one of the multiple activities undertaken by the United Nations to maintain international peace and security throughout the world. However, the difference in terms of policy between peacekeeping and other activities related to peace and security has yet to be fully determined. This difference entails a crucial importance for states undergoing a major conflict, and view the UN as a strong partner with the tools necessary to undertake an active political process geared towards conflict resolution.

The United Nations has been a key participant in Colombia’s recent efforts to create a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Last year, the government and the FARC issued a declaration of principles regarding victims, inviting a delegation of victims to participate in the peace talks. Both parties requested that the United Nations (alongside other Colombian institutions) convene a series of forums intended for victims to present proposals centered on satisfying their rights to truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition. After this announcement, the parties issued new guidelines for multiple delegations of victims to participate in the peace talks. They invited the UN and the National University, along with the Bishops Conference of Colombia, to provide assistance in organizing the victims’ engagement in the process.

The UN’s involvement in the process has been through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). However, as a final accord with the FARC nears, the UN will have to play an increasingly crucial role.  Most recently, the International Crisis Group (ICG), an international NGO that works on conflict prevention issued the report “The Day After Tomorrow: Colombia’s FARC and the End of the Conflict” that comprises a series of recommendations for different actors involved in Colombia’s peace talks, including the international community. The report concludes that the international community has to be ready to lend support, both through a joint implementation committee and confidential political dialogues. Along these lines, this report also expects a request by the parties for a ceasefire and disarmament verification mission even before the final agreement.

The recommendations of the ICG fall into place when it comes to the UN mandate in terms of peacekeeping. In accordance to the UN’s Principles and Guidelines on Peacekeeping Operations, peacekeeping is not the same as peacemaking, peace enforcement or even peacebuilding.  It is necessary then to determine what function the UN should take in Colombia’s peace process.

Peacekeeping means the assistance of the UN in the implementation of agreements achieved by peacemakers. However, it is different from peacemaking, since ‘making peace’ relates to measures taken to address conflicts in progress and usually involving diplomatic action. To make matters more confusing, the UN can also intervene through peacebuilding, which involves actions targeted at strengthening national capacities for conflict management and enhancing the capacity of the state to carry out its core functions effectively.

The boundaries between these functions can be blurred on the ground. Regardless, UN’s efforts in the case of Colombia must address one key issue under the peace and security mandates: monitoring and evaluating. The ICG report refers to a sharply polarized environment in Colombia. What this means is that the UN must use all of its institutional architecture into monitoring the compliance of the terms of the accord by the signing parties. In a broader sense, Colombia needs the UN to be a true peacemaker, in the sense of providing terms of engagement between the civil society, government and the FARC.

The UN’s engagement with the victims of the FARC is essential, which will require a great deal of coordination between the OHCHR and the Colombian government. Finally, the UN would have to evaluate each specific initiative taken in this scenario, primarily by the state, to ensure the respect for the victims’ rights, and to secure a long and sustainable peace. Whether through peacekeeping or peacemaking, the UN’s participation in the peace process is determinant this time to set Colombia on a permanent path toward peace.

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