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Istanbul Policy Center
Bankalar Caddesi No: 2 Minerva Han 34420
Karaköy, İstanbul TURKEY

+90 212 292 49 39
+90 212 292 49 57
@ [email protected]
w ipc.sabanciuniv.eduISBN: 978-605-9178-75-4

TRANSFORMATION
THROUGH JUSTICE

FOR SYRIA
LESSONS FROM SOUTH

AFRICA, INDONESIA AND
COLOMBIA

AUVEEN WOODS, TERI MURPHY
AND MARIA CHRISTINA VIBE

Page 2

TRANSFORMATION THROUGH JUSTICE FOR SYRIA
LESSONS FROM

SOUTH AFRICA, INDONESIA AND COLOMBIA

AUVEEN WOODS, TERI MURPHY,
AND MARIA CHRISTINA VIBE

March 2017

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44

T R A N S F O R M A T I O N T H R O U G H J U S T I C E F O R S Y R I A

In 2000, then President Clinton delivered 1.3 billion
USD in aid to fund combat helicopters and training
for the Colombian military. What had initially been
dubbed as a humanitarian effort generated a serious
imbalance between the intense use of force and the
weak provision of livelihood alternatives for the
communities—a dynamic that significantly fed the
persistence of Colombia’s war economy.

While FARC-EP and ELN were seen as the primary
threats to the Colombian state, paramilitary groups,
once used as apparatuses by the government and
military to fight the guerillas, were equally formidable.
For example, paramilitaries that did not join the demo-
bilization process of President Uribe in 2003 were
called Grupos Armados Organizados (organized armed
groups) by the Colombian government, or as they are
commonly known, Bandas Criminales Emergentes
(criminal gangs, BACRIM). These groups developed
a presence in several parts of the territory and became
well known for practices such as illegal mining, extor-
tion, kidnapping, and intimidation of civil society.

In the early 2000s, the focus of Colombia’s internal
conflict became largely characterized by disputes over
territory. Guerillas, particularly FARC-EP and ELN,
and the Colombian military, with support from para-
military groups, had strongholds in various land areas.
This tendency to claim geography could also be seen
on a small scale in urban areas wherein paramilitaries,
demobilized groups, and/or gangs wrested control of
neighborhoods. In rural areas, contestations between
main actors typically emerged when alliances shifted
between drug networks and large landowners. Another
trend was that the ideological foundation of Colombia’s
conflict had decreased, and new paramilitary groups or
guerilla factions were no longer emerging. This was,
no doubt, partly related to demobilization policies and
the “opening” of the political process. The remaining
disputes (which are not related to the peace process,
per se) are less political and more focused on money,
criminality, power, military confrontation, and political
recognition. Additional factionalism within respective
armed groups and variant government responses has
caused some groups to break off and pursue alternative
goals or priorities in their armed struggle. But it seems
the consolidation of forces has narrowed, and the
demarcation around major conflict stakeholders has
become more specific and clear.

The issues at the heart of Colombia’s conflict have
created a complex and interactive web. Certainly, a
main driver of the conflict has been rivalry between
a wide array of armed groups, paramilitary organiza-

tions, and the Colombian state—all vying for territory,
power, and control of different regions of the country.
The armed groups, in particular FARC-EP and para-
militaries, stand accused of employing child soldiers
in their struggle. These children have grown up and
entered adult life as comrades in arms. Identity has
been affixed to social membership, ideology, or both.
The influence of illegal networks, especially the drug
trade, has fed all sides and contributed significantly to
the escalation of violence. For example, in the 1990s,
when drug trafficking was at its peak, Colombia topped
international murder rate indices. This could have only
happened through a significant tie between the drug
trade and politics, as well as the alliance of regional
leaders with paramilitaries and drug gangs. This web
of networks also had support from the entrepreneurial
class. Generations of civil society have witnessed and
experienced violence; entire communities have been
held captive by one group or another, generating geog-
raphies of terror. The implications of involvement and
impact reach far and wide.

The complexity and severity of these conflict dynamics
suggest that one of the core roots of the Colombian
conflict lies within the traditional unequal tenure of
productive land and, “the lack of a strong state pres-
ence, especially in peripheral rural areas; lack of an
elite class with the leadership or the desire to build an
inclusive nation; exclusion of civil society in decision
making processes and a fragmented geography that
impedes the presence of the state in all regions.”178
Accordingly, this has brought about the manifestation
of multiple forms of violence (political, human rights,
organized crime, domestic, youth gangs); multiple
causes of violence (poverty, lack of political participa-
tion, human rights abuses, social exclusion); and a
myriad of actors (guerilla, paramilitaries, military,
organized crime, victims, and NGOs).179 Human activ-
ists, farmers, Afro-Colombian communities, unionists,
and women face constant threats to their security.
Those who live in rural communities have been terror-
ized by guerillas and paramilitaries alike. They face
untenable choices such as supporting one of the armed
groups for protection or fleeing to the relative safety
of urban areas where the high majority of desplazados
(displaced persons) remain unemployed or underem-
ployed. Violence, an everyday reality of people’s lives,
has left 6.9 million Colombians internally displaced

178 Maria Lucia Zapata Cancelado, “Hybridity and Grassroots Peacebuild-
ing in Colombia” (Paper presented at the Conference: New Frontiers for
Peacebuilding, Manchester, UK, September 13-14, 2012), 6.

179 Ibid.

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45

since 1985.180 The concentration of rural IDPs in urban
centers like the capital, Bogotá, has generated new
tensions within cities. Not only are infrastructures
unable to adequately sustain mass migrations of
people, violent patterns of conflict have entered these
spaces that had otherwise been far from armed group
influence. Kidnappings, extortions, disappearances,
murders, and sexual violence that have long been part
of guerilla and paramilitary group tactics are now
impacting security and stability in heavily populated
urban areas, too. This spread of violence is creating
an even larger pool of victims and perpetrators from
all sides and adding to the perpetual cycle of social
conflict.

Finally, although previous peace attempts have
generated some small successes along the way, failed
attempts have also increased mistrust between the
parties. For example, in the 1990s, guerilla groups
demobilized in order to enter the political arena. This is
a similar “carrot” strategy that was being championed
in the peace process with the FARC-EP since 2012.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, 4,000
leftist party members were subsequently targeted and
killed after entering into “legitimate” politics as part of
the Patriotic Union political party. This included eight
members of congress, two presidential candidates,
and 13 mayors, with 5,000 political sympathizers
eventually forced into exile.181 With the exception of
the peace process with the FARC-EP, cease-fires have
not been traditionally maintained by this group or the
ELN. Political officials have been kidnapped or killed
during negotiations, and violence has persisted. The
counter to this narrative has been that the Colombian
government is hypocritical. Not only has it endorsed
state-sponsored violence and encouraged impunity
and a lack of truth telling, it has also participated in
an internationally assisted destabilization of guer-
rilla held regions. Hence, the issue of rebuilding trust
between the guerillas vis-à-vis the State is a thorny one.
This is especially true in the process of demobilization,
where an asymmetry in power emerges, leaving one
side more vulnerable and, even more so, without arms.

180 Global trends. Forced displacement in 2015, UNHCR, 2016, https://
s3.amazonaws.com/unhcrsharedmedia/2016/2016-06-20-global-
trends/2016-06-14-Global-Trends-2015.pdf.

181 Virginia Marie Bouvier, “New Hopes for Negotiated Solutions in Colom-
bia,” United States Institute of Peace Working Paper, September 25, 2015,
http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/Sept2007.pdf.

PRE-TRANSITIONAL PROCESS

Although peace negotiations have been underway
in Colombia for years, the road has been paved with
aborted processes, reprisal killings, and cycles of
violence. Up until recently, peace attempts in Colombia
had generally been exclusionary—conducted with one
armed group at a time. Groups not part of the negotia-
tions tended to face increased military persecution. This
model has not worked effectively. With the exception
of sporadic demobilization attempts, reaching agree-
ments with disparate groups failed, which ultimately
hindered a sustainable, comprehensive, and inclusive
peace agreement.182 Bouvier argues that in instances
where there is more than one armed group, the clas-
sical government vs. non-state actor peace negotiation
process is insufficient. Instead, peacemaking must be
conceptualized through a more comprehensive frame-
work. Bouvier’s analysis is especially relevant in cases
such as Colombia, where negotiations with multiple
groups need to be conducted simultaneously. Multi-
party conflict frameworks highlight the importance of
coordinating different negotiations while concurrently
anticipating how outcomes with one group may affect
the others. Not only does Colombia’s case study offer
insight into multi-party negotiations, it also elucidates
considerations for a minimalist vs. maximalist agenda.
Within Colombia, a dominant and persistent question
has been whether to focus the negotiation agendas on
broad political, economic, and social issues, or whether
it should be constricted to agreements on cease-fire,
disarmament, and reincorporation.183

In 1984, the Uribe Accord was signed with FARC-EP.
This Accord included a bilateral cease-fire and an
outline for discussions on various social and political
reforms of particular concern to the FARC-EP. Parallel
but separate talks were also ongoing with the M19, EPL,
and ELN. However, after these talks started to break
down in 1985, the M19 guerillas retaliated by kidnap-
ping and murdering several Supreme Court justices
and employees. In the aftermath, a 40-member peace
commission was set up by President Betancur in which
a variety of social and political sectors came together
in order to re-establish dialogue. But by 1987, talks
with FARC-EP had also broken down, and in response,
large numbers of its political wing, the Patriotic Union
(UP), were targeted and killed by paramilitaries, drug
lords, and marginal sectors of the Colombian military.
The 1990s was a particularly salient time in Colombia’s
pursuit of peace as sticking points between parties

182 Ibid.
183 Virginia Marie Bouvier, Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War (Wash-

ington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2009).

Page 90

89

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Wandita, Galuh. “Lessons from Aceh for Mindanao:
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“We Just Keep Silent”: A report on gender-based violence
among Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
New York: UN Women, April 27, 2014. Accessed May
1, 2016. http://uniraq.org/images/documents/We%20
Just%20Keep%20Silent%20final%20English.pdf.

What the “Truth Commission” Can, and Can’t, Do.
Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas, June 8,
2015. http://colombiapeace.org/2015/06/08/what-the
-truth-commission-can-and-cant-do/.

Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connec-
tions between Presence and Influence. New York:
UN Women, October 2012. Accessed May 3, 2016.
http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/
attachments/sections/library/publications/2012/10/
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Zalaquett, Jose. “Balancing ethical imperatives and
political constraints: The dilemma of new democracies
confronting past human rights violations.” Hastings
Law Journal 43 (August 1992): 6-16.

Zalaquett, Jose. “Confronting Human Rights Viola-
tions Committed by Former Governments: Principles
Applicable and Political Constraints.” In Transitional
Justice, edited by Neil J. Kritz, 3-31. Washington, DC:
United States Institute of Peace Press, 1995.

Zambrano, Liliana, and Felipe Gómez Isa. Participa-
tion of civil society in the Colombian peace process. Oslo:
Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center (NOREF),
July 2013. http://www.peacebuilding.no/Regions/Latin-
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Zapata Cancelado, Maria Lucia. “Hybridity and Grass-
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Zeccola, Paula. “A heroine for humanity.” Inside
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Page 91

Istanbul Policy Center
Bankalar Caddesi No: 2 Minerva Han 34420
Karaköy, İstanbul TURKEY

+90 212 292 49 39
+90 212 292 49 57
@ [email protected]
w ipc.sabanciuniv.eduISBN: 978-605-9178-75-4

TRANSFORMATION
THROUGH JUSTICE

FOR SYRIA
LESSONS FROM SOUTH

AFRICA, INDONESIA AND
COLOMBIA

AUVEEN WOODS, TERI MURPHY
AND MARIA CHRISTINA VIBE

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