Historic Colombian Peace Deal Must Include Women, Address Sexual Crimes on Both Sides, Say Advocates

September 02, 2016


Mario Murillo

longtime Colombian activist and a professor of communications at Hofstra University. He is the author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization.

Adriana Benjumea

director of Humanas Colombia, a Bogotá-based NGO that promotes human rights and, in particular, women’s rights. Benjumea is a feminist lawyer specializing in international humanitarian law.

Could the signing of a historic peace accord in Colombia between the government and FARC rebels bring an end to Latin America’s longest armed conflict? "There’s a long way to go before we see a real development of a strong and lasting peace," says our guest Mario Murillo, author of "Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization." First, the agreement must be approved in a referendum in Colombia. We also speak with Adriana Benjumea, director of Bogotá-based NGO Humanas Colombia, which promotes human rights and, in particular, women’s rights. "Armed actors who have participated in the armed conflicts in Colombia have committed sexual crimes" that must be addressed, says Benjumea.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with the historic peace accord in Colombia between government officials and the FARC rebels that is the latest step in efforts to end one of the world’s longest conflicts. Fighting first began in 1964 and has claimed some 220,000 lives. More than 5 million people are estimated to have been displaced. Early Monday morning, FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez ordered his followers to lay down their arms.

TIMOLEÓN JIMÉNEZ: [translated] In my position as commander of the FARC-EP, I order all of our leaders, all of our units, every and each one of our combatants, to cease fire and hostilities in a definitive manner against the Colombian state from midnight tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos applauded the deal, saying it heralds a new and brighter chapter in the country’s turbulent history.

PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: [translated] This morning at midnight, the bilateral and definitive ceasefire started in this war with the FARC. Today, hours later, we are inaugurating the inclusive, most important and complete center of rehabilitation in all of Latin America. It is a joyful coincidence, because it shows the closing of a chapter and the opening of another very different one than the one all Colombians have experienced and suffered for the last 50 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the ceasefire that would bring an end to Latin America’s longest armed conflict must now be approved in a referendum in Colombia, where it’s likely to face staunch opposition from right-wing sectors led by the former Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Mario Murillo is a longtime Colombian activist, professor of communications at Hofstra University, author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization. Also with us today, Adriana Benjumea, the director of Humanas Colombia, a Bogotá-based NGO that promotes human rights and, in particular, women’s rights. She’s a feminist lawyer specializing in international humanitarian law.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mario, let’s begin with you. Your response to this historic deal that was reached in Havana, Cuba?

MARIO MURILLO: No question, it’s a major event. And most Colombians are welcoming it, and it’s a major historical development that everybody should be applauding. But we have to be clear that to call it a peace process, a peace agreement, is one thing, with the FARC and the government, but there’s a long way to go before we see a real development of a strong and lasting peace. This is the end of a military conflict between one armed group, the FARC, one of the largest, obviously, perhaps the largest military guerrilla organization in Latin America, with a government. But there’s plenty of evidence that this ongoing armed violence is going to continue, you know, until a lot of issues are resolved in the countryside.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mario, this—we mentioned that this is the longest-running conflict possibly in the world, but it goes back even further, because, really, this particular guerrilla war started in '64, but that was preceded by 10 years of civil war, that's known as La Violencia, dating back to 1948, isn’t it?

MARIO MURILLO: Right, right. So we could talk about the roots of the internal conflict going back to the early part of the 20th century, but certainly the violence in the countryside and the FARC rebels emerging as a result of the lack of addressing the many issues in the countryside—rural development, security issues, infrastructure, human rights—all those issues that the FARC laid out in the 1960s, they go back, you know, decades earlier. And they’ll continue to be issues even as the FARC lay down their weapons in the—hopefully, in the next six months or so. So, absolutely, it’s a long historical conflict that’s hopefully beginning to make—some changes are going to begin to happen that will be very favorable to the long-term construction of peace in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how this works now, because it’s not done.


AMY GOODMAN: There has to be a plebiscite, right?

MARIO MURILLO: Now, this is where it gets complicated. Again, it’s a great—it’s great news for Colombia. I want to be clear on that. Right now, OK, so the agreement was publicly disclosed, or, finally, the full agreement was put out publicly last week by Santos and the rebels, so the peace agreement is now official. The ceasefire is in effect. We’ve seen basically a real decrease in violence in the countryside between the two bands, between the army and the FARC, over the last 18 months. So there is a level of tranquility there.

The FARC, in the week or so, next couple of weeks, will be meeting in their tent in what they’re calling their final congress. And so, the leadership of the FARC and the rank and file have to approve the peace deal. Most likely, they’re going to approve it. The FARC leadership has pretty much unilaterally—you know, collectively have said that they’re committed to peace. The issue of demobilized combatants is another issue, which we can get into later, which complicates some of the issues, because a lot of FARC rank and file on the ground, they’re not necessarily content with the agreement itself and what’s going to happen with them in terms of the future, the guarantees, etc.

Once the FARC—as the FARC are agreeing to the accord, the Congress has to take up a number of issues, particularly the issues of justice and transitional justice. And as those go through the—legislation has to be passed regarding who is going to be able to receive the so-called amnesty, right? So the—and that’s where a lot of the criticism is coming in about the peace accord: Is this an impunity for, you know, years of violence and so-called terrorism? But it looks like the combatants who were not involved in crimes against humanity, the combatants will get amnesty and become part of the political life. There’s still uncertainty as to what will happen to those who are implicated in massacres and in crimes against humanity on the ground—an issue that human rights groups are concerned about. And they raised similar issues vis-à-vis the paramilitary groups that demobilized back in 2006 and 2007. And then there’s the question of narcotrafficking. Is that issue considered a political crime, because narcotrafficking played such an essential role in funding the armed insurgency? Or is that going to be something else? Is that considered a crime that can’t be amnestied, right? So those issues have to be resolved in the Congress.

Meanwhile, on October 2nd—that’s what was announced last week—the country will go to vote in a so-called plebiscite referendum—yes or no. And it’s a very complicated, kind of simplistic question: Do you support peace? The Colombian commentators are saying, you know, "We’re the only country in the world that we have to ask whether or not we want to live in peace or not." And so that’s—so that’s supposed to happen on October 2nd now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to bring in Adriana Benjumea. You’ve been a longtime human rights attorney in Colombia. Your reaction to the accord and also to the issue of the punishment of those who did commit human rights crimes during the war?

ADRIANA BENJUMEA: [translated] In Colombia, us men and women are very happy about the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. This is very important. But a very important progress for justice for women would be to see to it that sexual violence committed by the actors in the armed conflict not be subject to amnesty or pardoned. All of the armed actors who have participated in the armed conflict in Colombia have committed sexual crimes, and this should not be part of the amnesty or the pardon. This would represent major progress for the human rights of women, and this is why us women and why women are pleased with the peace agreement in Colombia. And we have great hopes that on October 2nd we will vote yes, and we’ll say yes in the plebiscite for peace.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what is the process to judge those who did commit sexual crimes or other major human rights violations?

ADRIANA BENJUMEA: [translated] A special justice system has been established with various courts. There is an initial moment when those who have committed crimes—members of the military forces, government forces and the guerrillas—have to confess everything that they have done. If they confess, they have a community-based social punishment. They would not go to prison. There is a second moment, where if they confess late, not initially, because there’s evidence, then they will face a somewhat harsher, tougher penalty. They could be imprisoned for five to eight years. And those who do not confess will face trial, and the penalty can be up to 20 years in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the major challenges you see for survivors of sexual violence in Colombia today?

ADRIANA BENJUMEA: [translated] There are very major challenges for everything that is written down to be actually carried out. For a crime such as sexual violence, it’s very difficult for women to testify about this and girls to testify about it, so there’s complications for it to be judged and for the Colombian government to have the ears to hear the victims and to make a commitment to see to it that sexual violence not be something that is tolerated in time of war or in peacetime.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what has been the impact on the society in Colombia for a war that has lasted so long, the impact on the day-to-day life of ordinary Colombians?

ADRIANA BENJUMEA: [translated] In Colombia, there is great hope. In the poorest places, the poorest communities, that have seen the bullets fly and who have experienced the violence in the midst of the war, they hold out great hope. But there is also a lot of fear, because the right wing is moving forward very forcefully, and there’s also a risk of the Colombian people saying no to peace. That would be a very sad day for Colombia. But right now, with great joy, there are announcements in the press about the importance of voting yes for peace, and we certainly hope that our children can wake up one day with a country that has signed an end to the armed conflict and that is headed down the road to build peace.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mario, I wanted to ask you about the right-wing militias that were so infamous throughout much of the civil war, many of them demobilized a few years back. What’s been the result of that in terms of the death squads and the counterviolence against guerrillas and the supporters of the guerrilla movement?

MARIO MURILLO: Yeah, it’s an interesting, convenient reality that the opposition to the yes vote, the people who are against this peace process, personified by Álvaro Uribe, the former president, current senator, conveniently kind of push to the side, because when they’re talking about negotiating and signing an accord with the FARC guerrillas, and describing them as terrorists who have carried out this long history of violence against a civilian population in the countryside and that you can’t negotiate with terrorists, these communist, terrorist narcotraffickers, that’s exactly what he did in 2006, 2007, as president, against a lot—notwithstanding a lot of opposition to that, precisely because of the links between the government forces and paramilitaries. It was sort of like negotiating with themselves to demobilize. In the process of demobilization, you know, so, the AUC, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, as an organization, no longer exists, but many of the fighters—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This was the main right-wing network.

MARIO MURILLO: That was the paramilitary kind of infrastructure that, in many ways, modeled the FARC infrastructures that they had in the countryside, creating fronts all around the country. And what happened was, a lot of those groups still maintain their arms and are continuing to carry out acts of violence, aggression, pressure in local communities. What we’re seeing today, for example—and this is something that’s not being discussed at all—is the attacks against human rights organizations, social organizations, the social movement, the peasant, Afro-Colombian, indigenous organizations, that are supporting the peace process—they want the guns to silence between the FARC and the government—but they have very serious reservations about how that’s going to happen, how it’s going to impact them. And a lot of these leaders, who are carrying out actions, who are denouncing the aggressions of the right in their territories, they’re being knocked off. There was a report that said in the first semester, the first half of 2016, 36 human rights social justice organizers around the country have already been killed, arbitrarily detained, some of them disappeared. And the report that—something that was recently published in Pueblos en Camino, which is a wonderful website that really focuses on the social movements in Colombia, up to 78 percent of those are either carried out by the remnants of the paramilitary groups or the security forces themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the three environmental activists who were organizing against illegal mining, who were assassinated in Cauca, the southwestern province, just this week, one of them the founder of the campesino organization CIMA?

MARIO MURILLO: Well, therein lies the primary contradiction, right? Because, on the one hand, the peace accords have a very progressive, very optimistic and lofty, ambitious goals for the countryside to address the many, many decades, as we pointed out earlier, in terms of economic development, in terms of autonomy of communities, territorial rights, etc., infrastructure, but on the other hand, this government is completely cozy with multinational agribusiness, with mining, you know, extractive mining industry. And, in fact, these protests and the opposition to that, they’ve been focusing on how this government has been aggressively ceding mining contracts, mining licenses around territories that are supposedly protected constitutionally because they’re on indigenous or Afro-Colombian territories that are protected in the Constitution. So these activists and many others, who have been protesting that and trying to draw attention to that contradiction in this process, are getting bumped off by security forces and by dark forces that are remnants of the paramilitary groups.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, in essence, the left, the guerrillas here, are disarming, but the right paramilitary groups, the remnants of them are still armed and still terrorizing the population.

MARIO MURILLO: Yeah, but the—you know, I was in Cauca. You know, I was just recently there. I spent three or four weeks in Colombia just about a month ago; I got back about three weeks ago. And I wasn’t there doing work. I was doing—you know, it was a more personal trip, but I was visiting friends that I’ve worked with for a long time in the indigenous movement in southern Colombia. And they’re telling me how, yes, they—as was pointed out by Adriana, you know, they totally support the demobilization of the FARC, but they’re also pointing out that not all the FARC rebels—you know, we’re talking about young, peasant, very poor, many indigenous, who have no options. They have no, you know, possibilities. And for them to surrender their weapons is not necessarily in their interest. And so, they were talking to me about how some of those fighters are either putting on a different armband, the ELN, the other armed insurgency that’s still—and they’re not right now in a peace deal with the government. Some of them are going to continue and participate in what they call bandas criminales, these criminal bands and kind of a common criminality that still wield a lot of influence in some of these territories. So, there’s that concern: What happens to these FARC when they—to the FARC when they demobilize?

That does not mean that we shouldn’t strive for that. And, in fact, the indigenous movement is really pushing for that, as all the social justice movements. As Adriana pointed out, I think the primary opposition, very powerful, major influence in the Colombian media, is led by Álvaro Uribe, who is, in many ways, kind of a demigod for the right in Colombia. And they’re primarily the upper middle classes. You see a lot of videos on social movements of women in their Prada shirts and their pearls, speaking out of their high-rise apartments in Bogotá, talking about how we can’t surrender this country to communism, how we cannot—you know, we’re going to turn into the next Venezuela, the next Cuba, and that we should vote no for this referendum. But the people in the countryside, for the majority of the people in the countryside, and a large cross-section of the Colombian urban population supports the agreement with the FARC.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Adriana, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this—of the—as part of the accords, the rebels who disarm will each be paid by the government about $200 a month, I think, in terms of maintenance of themselves, and be allowed to form a political party. Do you expect that the FARC political party will become a major force in Colombian society, or will it just be sort of a marginal organization?

ADRIANA BENJUMEA: [translated] I expect that the political party formed by those who leave the guerrilla struggle will be a major party that we can all build democracy in Colombia together, that the debate is no longer going to be waged with weapons, but, rather, within the bounds of politics. And I think that many women and men who leave the war are going to have options in different political parties and in the elections, in local elections and elections in the larger cities. I think if it were just a marginal party, it would be very tough for democracy in Colombia. I think it’s important that all society understand that we build democracy without weapons, politically, with political parties.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role of women—the role of women in the peace talks?

ADRIANA BENJUMEA: [translated] That’s a very important question for women in Colombia. Initially—well, it’s been a four-year peace process. In the first two years, there were no women at the negotiating table. It was only in the third year that a subcommittee on gender issues was established. And last year, women’s organizations and expert women, many of us were invited to Havana to speak with the FARC and the national government to talk, for example, about issues of sexual violence and women and girls who have been victims of sexual violence. And we can say that the negotiating table in Havana, the two parties, did pay attention and incorporated our concerns into the peace agreement that’s been presented to the country. So, initially, women were not involved in the peace process. It didn’t take stock of the issues of women. It didn’t take stock of equality of women we have in the country. But we in the women’s movement and human rights movement have worked to see to it that our proposals, as women, be incorporated, particularly relating to land issues and justice issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both very much for being with us. And, Mario, before we go, our condolences, because it’s the first time we’re seeing you on the show, on the death of your wife, María Victoria Maldonado, a wonderful Colombian rights activist and artist, a loss to everyone.

MARIO MURILLO: I appreciate that. Thank you very much, Amy and Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: Mario Murillo, Colombian activist and Hofstra University professor, and Adriana Benjumea, a feminist lawyer and director of Humanas Colombia, a Bogotá-based NGO that promotes human rights, in particular, women’s rights.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a woman tells the story of bouncing a $1.07 check for a loaf of bread and how that ballooned into hundreds of dollars and her in jail. And she is not alone. Are we running debtors’ prisons in this country? Stay with us.

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