Bogotá, September 13, 2016. After the signing of the Final Accord by representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerrilla movement on August 24, 2016, the Colombian Congress authorized President Juan Manuel Santos to hold a plebiscite on October 2 so that Colombia’s citizens may express their agreement or disagreement to the agreed upon terms of peace. The plebiscite asks: Do you support the Final Accord for the conclusion of the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting peace? The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights expresses its support for the ethnic organizations and communities that have been publically promoting educational activities to rally all Colombians in support the YES vote.

There are many reasons for both Colombia’s ethnic communities and Colombian society as a whole to support an affirmative vote on the Peace Accords. Some relate to institutional procedures during the implementation of the Accords; others transcend these operational aspects and involve Colombian society’s collective imagination and long-held perceptions that are also key to ensuring that peacebuilding includes the country’s ethnic groups.

The YES vote, by expressing popular support for what has been agreed upon, would by extension affirm the differential ethnic approach that has been included in the Final Accords. In a press release published on September 5, 2016, the Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defense of Territorial Rights argued that the inclusion of an “ethnic chapter” in the Final Accords establishes a commitment to guarantee the rights of ethnic communities in the implementation of the Accords. It is for the reasons expressed below that the groups comprising the Commission are mobilizing in support of the YES vote.

 

After both sides to the conflict reached a Final Peace Accord on August 24 of this year, Colombia’s ethnic peoples have continued our permanent assembly throughout the country, carrying out a Pedagogy for Peace to instruct ethnic communities in the content of the Accords and thereby ensure our survival. Throughout more than 35% of the country we are saying YES to PEACE, YES to LIFE! For this reason, we invite all Colombians to work for a peace for all and to tell those who want to perpetuate the war that we will not accept the NO of the apologists of war, of political parties and their allies in the media. After more than 50 years of war, it would be an embarrassment before the entire world for Colombians to support war instead of supporting the victims who want PEACE; to them we say that here, the truth will win…the truth will set us free, the truth will let us live in PEACE.

 

A YES will help consolidate conditions for the construction of peace in ethnic communities’ territories. Ethnic communities are aware that the signing of the Accords and a YES vote are only a starting point for peacebuilding. They are also aware that beyond these first steps, popular support for the Accords will help create a better understanding by citizens and institutions of the differential impact of the conflict on ethnic communities and increase support for policies and programs designed to help restore their rights.

A YES vote will also provide an opportunity for ethnic groups to overcome past structural exclusions through the implementation of the Accords. The organizations that comprise the Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defense of Territorial Rights and who led the advocacy efforts for the inclusion of the ethnic chapter in the Final Accords have highlighted from the very beginning that the Accords represent an opportunity for the State and Colombian society to finally adopt the public policies necessary to overcome the structural exclusion that has only worsened as a result of the armed conflict. In this way, a YES vote strengthens the legitimacy of ethnic groups’ claims and offers an opportunity adequately and sufficiently implement these just demands.

A YES vote also demonstrates Colombian society’s commitment to the elimination of racial discrimination and other forms of exclusion that affect ethnic groups. By recognizing the differential impact of the conflict on ethnic groups and incorporating principles to guarantee a differential approach, the Accord will help to correct the negative impact of racial discrimination that ethnic communities continue to experience. Specifically, public investment to improve quality of life in rural areas will offer an opportunity to eliminate one of the most powerful expressions of institutional racism: the State’s indifference towards the ethnic groups’ living conditions.

A YES vote will give the green light to Colombian society to uncover and acknowledge the truth regarding the impact of the armed conflict on ethnic communities. Over the last 20 years, ethnic organizations and communities have denounced as genocide the systematic pattern of violence and rights’ violations they have experienced at the hands of all armed actors. These facts, widely documented by national and international NGOs and human rights bodies, demonstrate that the armed conflict has destroyed the basic conditions necessary for the physical and cultural survival of Colombian indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Until recently, it appeared that both the Colombian State and society had not fully recognized the magnitude and severity of this impact. A YES vote, which would give a green light to creating the appropriate mechanisms to uncover and acknowledge truth about the conflict, will finally offer an opportunity to recognize the real impact of the conflict on the country’s ethnic communities.

The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights reaffirms its commitment to support Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and organizations in their efforts to include a differential ethnic approach in the implementation of the Final Accord as a means to guarantee the protection and restitution of their rights.