COLOMBIA: Colombia's Peace Process: Implications for Displaced Populations Are Overlooked

Thursday, August 15, 2013
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Peace Processes
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Human Rights

Media coverage of the Colombian peace process has focused on the politics surrounding the talks in Havana. Some have accused representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) of using stall tactics, and President Santos has signaled a willingness to adjust his self-imposed timeline, indicating that a peace agreement is unlikely to materialize before the original deadline of November 2013.

However, some of the gravest repercussions of a delayed or flawed peace agreement have gone unmentioned. In particular, enduring conflict has severe implications for Colombia's remarkably large displaced population.

Security forces, guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, narcotraffickers, and the Colombian government all fuel the conflict that directly impacts both rural and urban populations.Between 200,000 and 600,000 people have died during the five-decade conflict, a range that demonstrates the difficulty of measuring the violence's exact impact.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Colombia has more internally displaced persons (IDPs) than any other country in the world (between 4.9 and 5.5 million). Considering that over 500,000 Colombians have sought refuge in neighboring countries, they comprise the seventh largest refugee population globally.

Colombia's peace process covers five main items
Representatives from the FARC and the Colombian government began peace talks last November, when they set out to construct an accord that covers five main agenda items. Thus far, the parties have only reached agreement on the first agenda item, agrarian reform.

Negotiators are now focused on the FARC's future political participation in Colombian governance, the second agenda item. The final agreement will also include reparations for victims of the conflict, the drug trade, and the end of the conflict.

While the fate of the growing displaced population largely depends on the results of these peace talks, media and policymakers have disregarded the needs and perspectives of refugees and IDPs. As violence endures, more and more Colombians are subjected to the challenges of displacement, ranging from homelessness to death.

Extortion, human trafficking, organized crime, and gender-based violence continue to endanger civilians and combatants alike. Displaced persons contribute to rapid urbanization and 98.6 percent of them live below the poverty line.

Colombian law entitles registered IDPs to unlimited health care and medicines, among other services; however, the majority of IDPs (over 60 percent) are unregistered, and service delivery remains meager.

Similarly, IDPs rarely receive the food, psychosocial care, rent, and basic household necessities that they are guaranteed during a three-month emergency phase after their displacement.

The challenges of the displaced women

Displaced women face unique challenges, such as restricted access to reproductive health services and sexual and gender-based violence. Likewise, displaced or refugee women, and occasionally men, turn to survival sex or transactional sex to elongate their existence or improve their families' living standards.

Even though women make up the majority of displaced Colombians and about half of the country's overall population, the peace process does not take their viewpoints, or civil society organizations advocating for displaced women, into consideration.

Out of 30 Colombian government delegates, there are only two women, and the FARC delegation only has one female representative.

Although an understanding of gender-based discrimination and women's perspectives should be incorporated into conflict-related policymaking across the board, these standpoints are especially critical to addressing the current conditions and long-term challenges of displaced Colombians.

As the problems associated with large displaced populations increase in scope and complexity, international donors have directed less attention and funding towards addressing the conflict due to the mistaken belief that the war is winding down.

This misunderstanding is particularly problematic because the current peace process does not include the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's second largest guerrilla organization, meaning that fighting will continue even if the current talks are successful.

There is much work to be done before a peace accord capable of bringing about real change for all Colombians comes to fruition. In the meantime, Colombia's displaced population will continue to grow, leading to greater devastation and lasting consequences for the country and its people.