Bogotá, May 18, 2016. On 17 May 2016, the Afro-Colombian National Peace Council (CONPA) conducted a discussion on the role of Afro-Colombians in the dialogue and peacebuilding efforts in Colombia. About 100 individuals from Afro-Colombian organizations, officials from government agencies, and representatives of agencies involved national and international cooperation participated in the event. The list of speakers included Mr. Todd Howland (Representative in Colombia of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights).
Speakers and participants reiterated in their proposals and analysis about the importance, for the sustainability of peace, that the negotiating table includes a delegation of ethnic peoples before the signing of the agreements, with the aim that they incorporate clauses to safeguard the territorial rights of ethnic communities during implementation in the final text. Alternatives were also identified to address obstacles and conflicts that may arise during implementation as a result of the agreements having failed to incorporate an ethnic approach.
The representative for Colombia for the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Pedro L. Cortes-Ruiz), who attended the event, highlighted some of the approaches that are most relevant to the prospect of guaranteeing the rights of ethnic communities in the context the post-agreement.
A structural and institutionalized racism is behind the exclusion of ethnic communities in the dialogue and the absence of a suitable differential ethnic approach within the agreements. This explanatory argument can be derived from analysis as proposed by Carlos Rosero form the Process of Black Communities (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) and CONPA. In his presentation, Carlos expressed that the lack of adoption for mechanisms of “special, differential and proportional” participation does not correspond with the consensus held about the differential impacts of conflict on ethnic communities. In the same perspective, Francia Marquez of the Association of Community Councils of Northern Cauca (Asociación de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte del Cauca, ACONC) considers as an absurd claim that the government has made it clear that “the rights of ethnic communities are not going to be mentioned at the table” as justification for rejecting the adoption of special participation mechanisms for ethnic communities. Francia highlighted the contradiction in this argument, considering that the implementation of the Agreements will be largely made in ethnic territories.
The legitimacy of the agreements also depends on the differentiated and effective participation guaranteed to ethnic communities, not only by the mechanisms that the Table recently proposed for its protection. The first step towards this kind of participation should be to “be heard” as directed by Richard Moreno of the Interethnic Solidarity Forum for Choco (FISCH). In the same way, Mr. Todd Howland recalled that the participation should be protected by the Colombian State under the obligations the State has in having ratified international treaties such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the 1969 Convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The absence of participation from the ethnic communities, both in the process of negotiating agreements and their implementation, is a violation of these obligations.
The proposal by Afro-Colombian organizations is for the Final Agreement to incorporate a clause to safeguard the ethnic-territorial rights, raising principles that can correct the absence of an adequate differential approach so far. In his speech, Silvio Garces (An Afro-Colombian leader and government official who has contributed significantly to the process of collective titling for more than 20 years) offered an analysis and proposal containing core assumptions of the CONPA Agenda. Five arguments should be incorporated into the agreements: (1) safeguarding rights acquired as a general principle in terms that the implementation of agreements will not affect acquired rights, (2) guarantee to continue the titling processes, (3) ensuring coordination with communities where “concentration zones” of former FARC fighters coincide with collective territories, (4) commitment to stop the repopulation of territories, and (5) guarantee that autonomous forms of governance are respected.
Institutional adaptation for the implementation of Agreements, which already started, must now incorporate the participation of ethnic communities. In his speech, Deputy Minister of Culture and leader of the Afro-Colombian movement Zulia Mena described the process she has begun to energize within the Ministry of Culture to integrate members of ethnic organizations in discussions and develop according to the adequacy to be done to implement the agreements. This type of leadership that enhance the participation of communities in terms of peacebuilding is also significant to advance the dimensions of “Law 70” of 1993 that have not yet been adequately implemented so far.
Guaranteeing the right of ethnic communities to participate in the implementation of the agreements is threatened if the FARC continue to restrict the communities’ autonomy. Some regional leaders expressed concern about the continuity of practices by FARC that have violated the right of communities to make their own decisions. The murder of Genaro Garcia, president of the Community Council “Alto Mira” in Tumaco, committed by the FARC, was brought up. Since the Afro-Colombian territories will be a priority for the implementation of the agreements zones, and the perspective is that former combatants of the FARC to join political life in these territories, the surrender of weapons must also mean the abandonment of any practice that continues to restrict the right of communities to govern autonomously.
The priority of human rights organizations at the moment, and in the post-agreement context, should be to safeguard these communities. Direct follow-up should be the priority of human rights organizations in their strategies to protect the rights of ethnic communities in the post-agreement context, in order to stop violations and restriction of rights that communities continue to suffer. The complex institutional designs that have occupied the bulk of the negotiations, and are required for the implementation of the agreements, seem to have shifted this urgency. “There is a lot of despair in the territories” Francia Marquez expressed in a very heartfelt way. This expression reflects the emotional state that has continued to live within ethnic communities during the negotiation process, all the while maintaining a proactive attitude of resistance.