AuthorSantos, Juan Manuel

Not long ago, Uruguay's former president Jose Mujica said something that stuck in my mind: "Colombia is a laboratory for history!"

In a polarized world facing numerous political disturbances, sectarian warfare, terrorism, and even the growing and frightening prospect of nuclear conflict, I believe President Mujica was trying to draw attention to my country's hopeful, and perhaps unlikely, story of peace.

The fact that a country like Colombia was able to end a 50-year-long war that left millions of victims and untold bloodshed between sons and daughters of the same nation is a beacon of hope in today's disheartening global landscape.

Indeed, the negotiation process and our efforts toward building a lasting peace constitute a true laboratory of ideas, experimentation, and lessons learned that could help find solutions in other parts of the world with similar or worse problems.

We found answers in not giving in to terror and by shunning intolerance and hatred toward those who are different. Real answers lie in exercising a type of leadership that seeks to unite rather than divide. We require a constructive leadership that protects democratic institutions.

So what makes the Colombian peace process so special? I have been asked this question many times, and I believe that its most compelling characteristic is that it was not a process designed to set the rules and conditions for ending an armed confrontation. It was much more than that. For the first time in the world, a peace negotiation put the victims at the heart of the process, recognizing their sacred right to truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition. It was a pact of humanity.

For Colombia, ending the armed conflict also meant creating new possibilities for strengthening democratic institutions across our territory. There were many reasons for our violence, chief among them a lack of state presence in many rural areas. Peace in this context is therefore the seed for development, opportunities, progress, and the welfare of all our citizens, particularly those who suffered the most.

Paradoxically, it is the victims who are teaching the rest of us every single day that it is possible to forgive, to be generous of spirit, and to take firm steps toward reconciliation. They do so in stunningly altruistic fashion: they simply do not want any more victims in the future; they do not want others to suffer like they did. They want justice, but what they really need is truth.

As such, our peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia establishes an integrated system to address victims' rights, including reparations that began long before the negotiations, a Truth Commission, a Disappeared Search Unit, and most importantly, a Special Transitional Justice Tribunal that is being praised as a model for the rest of the world.

In every peace process, one of the most...

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