Introduction to Symposium on the Columbian Peace Talks and International Law

5 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2017

See all articles by Alexandra Valeria Huneeus

Alexandra Valeria Huneeus

University of Wisconsin Law School

Rene Uruena

Universidad de Los Andes, Faculty of Law

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

Huneeus, Alexandra Valeria and Uruena, Rene, Introduction to Symposium on the Columbian Peace Talks and International Law (November 3, 2016). 110 AJIL Unbound 161 (2016) ; Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1430. Available at SSRN:

Alexandra Valeria Huneeus (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Rene Uruena

Universidad de Los Andes, Faculty of Law ( email )

Carrera Primera # 18A-12
Bogota, DC D.C. 110311

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