Introduction to Symposium on the Columbian Peace Talks and International Law
110 AJIL Unbound 161 (2016)
5 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2017
Date Written: November 3, 2016
In September and October of 2016, Colombians witnessed a series of political events that defied their belief. First, the Colombian Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército del Pueblo (FARC — EP), signed to great fanfare a historic peace agreement finalizing Colombia’s armed conflict. The UN Secretary-General, the U.S. Secretary of State, and dozens other top diplomats and heads of states gathered in Cartagena for an emotional signing ceremony, symbolically ending a fifty-year armed confrontation that, according to the Colombian Center for Historic Memory, killed more than two hundred thousand people, 80 percent of which were noncombatants.
But then, just one week later, Colombians narrowly voted against the deal in a plebiscite. Many thought it too lenient with the rebels, most of whom would not serve prison time for their crimes. Others feared its legal architecture, which featured the direct effect of international humanitarian law (IHL) in the Colombian legal system, implied a backdoor substitution of the Constitution. And still others, particularly some Evangelical churches, saw in the deal’s recognition of gender-specific policies an affront to their traditional values. But most Colombians simply did not turn out to vote: of thirty-five million registered, only thirteen million voted, a 63 percent abstention rate.
President Santos, who had gambled his legacy on the outcome of the plebiscite, was politically crippled. His margin of maneuver became minimal. But thousands of people took to the streets to press both the government and the opposition, led by ex-president Alvaro Uribe, to quickly renegotiate and sign a new agreement, thus giving the President some leeway to continue pushing for a deal. And then, just four days after the stunning vote, President Santos unexpectedly won the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize renewed his domestic political capital and opened the possibility of a three-way negotiation (government-FARC-opposition) that is still ongoing. “It was,” García Marquez wrote in One Hundred Years of Solitude, “as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt, and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.”
Keywords: International Law, Columbia, South America, Peace Talks, Plebiscite, Seven Essays, Colombian Peace Accord
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation