Social Development Strategies in Peace Processes: Colombia and Guatemala.

Author:Stich, Shawna

Since 1945, there have been an estimated 150 armed conflicts around the globe, leaving approximately twenty million people dead and an additional sixty million victims of violence, the large majority (80%) of whom were civilians (Cox & Pawar, 2013). The United Nations' (UN's) Sustainable Development Goals identify peace as a necessary foundation for development, with Goal 16 focused on promoting peaceful societies with accountable, inclusive, and effective institutions (UN, 2017). Within the international community, there is a growing emphasis on leveraging social development strategies for successful reconstruction following internal and interstate armed conflicts (Cox & Pawar, 2013). Recognizing armed conflict as a threat to social development, human rights, and life itself, social workers should be committed to supporting effective peace processes.

This article will compare and contrast the utilization of social development strategies in peace processes following civil wars in Colombia and Guatemala. Based on that analysis, I will present recommendations for Colombia to successfully implement its peace accord, which was signed in December 2016, and to foster meaningful and lasting peace. Most experts agree that upholding human rights, realizing a participatory process, and enhancing human well-being are three core elements of social development (Cox & Pawar, 2013). This article will analyze the Colombian and Guatemalan peace processes as they relate to each of these three elements. It will provide an analysis of development strategies in each country's peace process, followed by a critique of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, recommendations for Colombia's peace implementation, and implications for social workers.


Colombia's Civil War

In approximately 1964 to 1966, members of Colombia's communist party and other left-wing liberals formed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to push for land reforms and justice for the poor (Priest, 2013). Around the same time, left-wing students and intellectuals formed the National Liberation Army (ELN) with similar political ideals and goals for reform. The FARC and the ELN became the largest and most influential of the guerrilla groups in Colombia's civil war. Over the course of the armed conflict, the guerrilla groups perpetrated extensive violence against civilians (Yuhas, 2016). Another central player in Colombia's civil war was a large network of right-wing paramilitary groups, which emerged in retaliation against the FARC and operated from 1982 to 2006 with support from the Colombian government (Gutierrez-Sanin & Vargas, 2017). In the process of seeking vengeance against the FARC for its brutality, the paramilitary groups perpetrated equal brutality and violence against Colombian civilians (Yuhas, 2016).

Colombia's fifty-two-year conflict left an estimated 250,000 people dead and another 7 to 8 million victims of violence, including approximately 6.7 million forcibly displaced people (UN Development Programme [UNDP], 2016). Journalists, human rights activists, university professors suspected of being FARC sympathizers, and leaders of women's organizations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations routinely disappeared or turned up dead (Bouvier, 2016; Priest, 2013). The violence was perpetrated by left-wing guerrillas, state-sponsored right-wing paramilitaries, government security forces, and drug cartels (Gutierrez-Sanin & Vargas, 2017; Priest, 2013), and it is unclear whether any one group committed the worst of it. Rural landowners and wealthy elites funded parties on all sides of the conflict and benefited from the dispossession of land (Cramer & Wood, 2017; Gutierrez-Sanin & Vargas, 2017; Yuhas, 2016).

The Peace Process

Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC began in earnest in 2012, and in June 2016 the two parties announced a bilateral cease-fire and end to all hostilities (Yuhas, 2016). In October 2016, the Colombian people narrowly rejected a peace deal in a national referendum. After some continued negotiations, the Colombian national congress approved a final peace agreement with the FARC on December 1, 2016, marking an official end to the civil war ("Why Colombia's Peace Deal Is Taking So Long," 2017). In 2016, the ELN entered into peace negotiations with the Colombian government; those talks are ongoing (Campbell, Findley, & Kikuta, 2017).

At the outset of negotiations, the Colombian government and the FARC agreed to a rights-based approach with a focus on victims' rights. Negotiators established several mechanisms to encourage citizen participation: national and local forums; special forums with victims; written feedback and contributions; and direct participation by citizens in the negotiations, including extensive testimonials from victims (Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz, 2016b).

When peace negotiations began in 2012, women and indigenous communities were excluded from the formal negotiating table and the peace talks lacked an ethnic and gender focus (Bouvier, 2016; Meertens, 2016). Pressure from activists, civil society organizations, and the international community succeeded in coercing both sides to include women as official negotiators; to hear testimony and recommendations from women, indigenous communities, and LGBTI leaders; and to utilize an ethnic and gender perspective in the final peace accord (Meertens, 2016; Salvesen & Nylander, 2017).

The final peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC established frameworks for FARC disarmament and demobilization, the rights of victims of the conflict and reparations, rural land reform, citizen political participation, protections for opposition groups and human rights advocates, and reducing the production and use of illicit drugs (Government of Colombia, 2016).

Social Development Strategies in the Colombian Peace Accord

Human Rights

Explicit references and commitments to human rights can be found in many places throughout the Colombian peace accord. Both the Colombian government and the FARC affirm their commitment to upholding and protecting the individual freedoms and human rights of all citizens (Government of Colombia, 2016). Several parts of the agreement guarantee the protection of human rights advocates. The government commits to upholding the rights and freedom of FARC members. The strategy for addressing illicit drug use takes a public health and human rights, equity-based, and gender-based approach.

The rights of victims of the conflict, women, the LGBTI community, indigenous people, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized populations are specifically addressed and affirmed throughout the peace accord. One whole chapter of the peace accord is dedicated to establishing a framework for upholding victims' rights, including processes for truth finding, justice, reparations, psychosocial care, and victim participation in post-conflict reconstruction. Plans for reforms and social services throughout the accord are required to have an ethnic- and gender-based perspective; uphold women's rights; and address the unique experiences and needs of women, rural communities, the LGBTI community, and other vulnerable groups (Government of Colombia, 2016; Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz, 2016a). Women are to be given prioritization in land reform and redistribution, and women's right to own land is explicitly affirmed (Salvesen & Nylander, 2017). The commission established to monitor implementation of the peace agreement is instructed to "address the specific needs of women, as well as have an ethnic-sensitive approach" (Government of Colombia, 2016, p. 32).

Participatory Development

In the final peace accord, facilitating greater citizen participation in public life is mentioned in every chapter. One entire chapter focuses on political participation and a plan to reform the political system, strengthen protections for opposition groups, and create a culture of reconciliation and transparency--all with the goal of establishing a more democratic and participatory political system. The government commits to promote the political participation and leadership of women, ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBTI community (Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz, 2016a). Other parts of the peace accord call for the participatory involvement of communities directly affected by new policies and programs. For example, the plan for rural reform calls for rural communities' participation in creating new regulations. The peace accord also specifically encourages the participation of victims of the conflict (Government of Colombia, 2016).

Enhancing Human Well-Being

The Colombian peace accord addresses population needs and individual wellbeing beyond just ending the armed conflict. The plan for rural land reform explicitly aims "to ensure the health and wellbeing of the rural population" (Government of Colombia, 2016, p. 5). The plan combines redistribution of land in rural areas with measures to support effective land use (e.g., access to capital), construction of roadways, and improved social services such as health care, housing, and education. These measures are framed as methods to achieve ambitious goals in poverty reduction and increased equality.

Other chapters of the peace accord reflect a similarly holistic approach to enhancing individual well-being. For instance, the plan for FARC disarmament and demobilization is paired with a framework for the social, political, and economic reintegration of ex-combatants, including social services to meet broad psychosocial needs (Government of Colombia, 2016). Provisions in the peace accord stipulate that programs and social services established under the peace accord must address the...

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