This paper aims to assess Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) in the Colombian sociopolitical context in the last eight years. It seeks to address what may constitute its success and why getting DDR right is important for Colombia’s future. This approach is a reassertion of the insight that DDR is far more than a set of technical activities. Rather, it is about political and social management of the post-conflict state, specifically, the design of security policy, the political regime and economic arrangements. This paper will make use of insights gained during a six week field research in August and September 2010 in Bogota, Medellin, Montes de Maria and Cauca.
Despite the increase in general security over the past decade, and a DDR programme that is recognized as among the most developed worldwide, Colombia is still in conflict. Furthermore, some of the circumstances that gave rise to the conflict still remain in Colombia. The trade in narcotics (among which micro-trafficking becoming more prevalent) has increased and spread through the country; large inequalities persist in socioeconomic terms and in terms of access to justice; an inclusive peace process with all relevant actors has not been initiated; paramilitary structures and politics remain insufficiently exposed and ; and truth finding, necessary for reconciliation, is too limited in the Justice and Peace Law (JPL). It thus remains a challenge to bring the DDR programmes to a sustainable end that provides a means for the necessary peace process after decades of violence. With the inauguration of Santos as the new president in 2010 and his plans to redress victims through land reform (Ley de Restitución de Tierras ), hopes are that more progress will be made in the near future. This would be of great importance to move ahead from the current conflict with diverse local dynamics to an actual post-conflict phase. Continued, and at points intensified, attention for DDR embedded in the wider reconstruction necessary in Colombia would serve Santos’s move towards more socioeconomic development. As it is difficult to assess how new policy development will work out in practice, this paper contains discussions and recommendations about DDR policies that are currently discussed.
The discussion on DDR in Colombia is wide (including issues ranging from land reform to the relation between paramilitary DDR and successor groups) and highly politicized. Although improvements have been made, such as community reintegration and decentralization of DDR implementation, there is a need for an open dialogue with all actors in Colombia. There are many questions in this dialogue regarding the role and function of DDR in Colombia, many of which are difficult to answer but necessary to ask. This policy paper will address three of these questions. First, how is DDR conceived and perceived in Colombia. Second, what are the pitfalls and trade-offs made in the Colombian context? Third, what constitutes successful DDR and how is this relevant to Colombia? Recommendations based on these discussions will be made in the last section.
Throughout the world DDR programmes are used after violent conflict as a way to dampen the risk of (former) combatants returning to violence. Oftentimes its policies are constructed as part of a peace agreement in order to create buy-in among its participants and legitimacy among society. In essence, disarmament and demobilization are the short to medium term goals, whereas reintegration ideally deals with the long term aim of supporting the inclusion of former combatants into society through assistance with social, economic, educational and sometimes psychological needs.
The increasing amount of experiences with DDR since its first formal implementation by the UN Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA) in 1989 indicate that DDR is clearly not a silver bullet solution to the daunting challenges that arise after violent conflict (Colombia has known disarmament rounds since the 1950s). Programmes take place in fragile security contexts with governments struggling to (re)gain the legitimate monopoly of violence throughout their country. This often takes place within the context of a largely informal economy after a period in which trust and social ties have deteriorated. These dynamics pose daunting challenges and the expectations of what DDR can achieve are commonly overestimated. DDR should, on the other hand, not be treated as merely a technical tool, as it involves social engineering and political dynamics. The question then becomes what a DDR programme can aim to achieve and what might be some realistic expectations of its results.
Current international debates on DDR revolve around the question whether it should take a ‘narrow’ or a ‘wide’ approach. The narrow approach emphasizes ‘DD’ while the wide approach looks more intensely at the sustainability of ‘R’. The wide approach to DDR centres on the notion that without long-term and broad strategies there is little hope for sustainable security improvements. One complicating factor is that DDR programmes always negotiate a trade-off between security and justice. Justice for crimes committed by former combatants is ‘traded’ for security for the population by ‘removing’ the immediate threat of illegally armed troops. This trade-off then is shaped by the socio-political power balance between the involved parties at the moment of agreement and might be scrutinized again if the power balance within the context starts to change. From a different perspective, this trade-off could also be perceived as prioritizing the cessation of armed conflict over redressing the victims of that armed conflict. Given the space for multiple and even opposing interpretations, it becomes vital for the state to communicate and explain to civil society the priorities taken in a post-conflict setting to enhance legitimacy of these priorities and to prevent false expectations.
The role of communication in managing expectations and perceptions of DDR is commonly underestimated and Colombia illustrates this well. The lack of communication about the talks with Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) in Santa Fe de Ralito, for example, has left ample room for Colombian citizens to fill the information gap with their own interpretation of the situation. Assessing the perceptions of people involved in DDR is directly relevant to the role they play in reconciliation and acceptance of former combatants by recipient communities. The perceived DDR situation among civil society and participants of the programme should therefore serve as an indicator for DDR development. The following perceptions of DDR relevant to policy development were found throughout Colombia.
It is not uncommon among the Colombian population to view the demobilization process of the AUC as a move to draw attention away from cases of para-politics which appeared manifold in the recent past. Indeed, the amount of convictions for paramilitary cases is implausibly low and the economic structures connected with paramilitarism are insufficiently addressed. It is clear that this diminishes the credibility and legitimacy of this collective DDR programme. Moreover, it decreases the willingness of the population to reconcile not only with former paramilitaries but also with its government. The lack of public information on Santa Fe de Ralito, the doubts about dealing with paramilitary demobilization amidst conflict, and the lack of an inclusive peace process also contributed to the reluctance of the international community to get involved in the DDR programmes. Furthermore, as the “debates and disagreement over the paramilitary peace process…clouded public understanding of individual DDR, many began confusing the paramilitary collective demobilization with individual demobilized combatants, believing ‘demobilization’ in general was flawed”.
It is striking to find that during the ongoing reintegration of AUC and FARC into Colombian society, the general population is hardly informed about the proceedings. Examples of local governance actors not being made aware of the arrival of former combatants in their areas can be found throughout Colombia. The citizens’ overestimation of what the benefits to former combatants entail is caused by a lack of communication. The resentment this ultimately hampers the acceptation of former combatants in society. Alongside the lack of specific and vital information, the administration of the previous president promoted an oversimplified discourse on conflict. Posing Colombia’s many locally based conflicts as one between the state and the terrorists, as had been the narrative in the past, does not do justice to the complexity of the situation. Furthermore, it pits the recipient communities and former combatants against each other. Acknowledging the existence of many local conflicts is a first step in addressing these conflicts at a micro-level, rather than papering over them with a macro-level policy.
The individual programme is furthermore oftentimes judged to be a weapon of war rather than a peace process. Its overt aim at acquiring intelligence on the guerillas, decreasing the insurgents’ morale and diminishing their strength poses a clear threat to the rebel groups. “Such a focus has a negative impact on human security: individual demobilized are targeted because they are seen as informants, and at the same time there is a perverse incentive for the demobilized to deliver false information to acquire privileges”. This negative impact on human security will furthermore decrease the chances that former guerillas can sustain their integration into society, which makes this individual programme less sustainable. The community programme for indigenous people in Cauca, for instance, can provide important lessons on working with former combatants in a difficult local context.
The lack of coordinated information, from planning DDR to well into its execution, left negative perceptions in Colombia unaddressed. These perceptions also suffered from the fact that Colombian society was never included in DDR under Uribe, who considered DDR as a technical security matter only fit for him and a few security specialists. The abovementioned perceptions, combined with insufficient action against paramilitary structures and the polarized debate, had a perverse effect on the willingness of civil society to get involved in reintegration projects. It would seem the Colombian state only considered involving local communities necessary at a later stage, as the community reintegration component was initiated in 2008. Both civil society and local government were thus confronted with ready-made programmes that did not leave much room for the local variation and the valuable input they could have offered. Also, the overt attention for perpetrators, that is, former combatants going through DDR, rather than the victims and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is perceived by many as treating the perpetrators as victims and the victims as perpetrators. Lack of coordinated information to former combatants also increased inconsistencies and contributed to the perpetrators’ sentiment that they were cheated by the government. Indeed the Colombian government adapted its DDR policies in light of new insights and increasing public scrutiny during implementation. The situation in which civil society feels treated like perpetrators by the government and former combatants feel cheated by the government is conducive to neither DDR nor reconciliation at large. The tradeoffs and pitfalls while designing and implementing these perceptions will be discussed in the next section.
First, the question of what extent of impunity can be traded for what kind of security in DDR programmes is topical in the Colombian context. With the creation of the Justice and Peace Law (JPL) of 2005 Colombia took promising steps in weighing impunity and security in practise and broke with the tradition of blanket amnesties. However, due to several factors, JPL has not lived up to its promised potential. In comparison to the amount of victims and former combatants in the process JPL is critically underfunded and understaffed. Since its creation JPL explicitly excluded state actors, which leaves impunity on the state’s behalf intact. In the Colombian context the responsibility of state actors for human rights violations and the links between politicians and government officials with paramilitaries, is increasingly recognized. This has the potential to undermine the state’s legitimacy in directing the process. The question of responsibility for violence committed plays a vital role for Colombia’s future. Not addressing impunity for whatever actor will be perceived as legitimizing violence, which will contribute to a culture of violence. JPL could be a starting point to uncover the extent of paramilitary and criminal structures in order to redress the past wrongs, including those of the state. However, JPL in practise seems focused on convicting individuals rather than uncovering the structures in which they operated. This is corroborated by the notion that “prosecutions in Colombia generally do not serve to expose chains of command and criminal structures; rather, they concentrate on direct perpetrators, and generally fail to target those most responsible for crimes committed as part of a particular criminal apparatus or state practice”.
Secondly, paramilitary structures are not taken head on and truth finding is not sufficiently stimulated in the JPL proceedings. Thus, it is unlikely the JPL will enhance the justice component of Colombian DDR, as expected. Truth seeking, furthermore, “has been limited as a consequence of the extradition of 13 commanders of the paramilitary, an act that suggested that drug trafficking prosecution was being privileged” over the prosecution of human right violations perpetrated under these commanders. These extraditions will make remaining armed groups hesitant about negotiations with the government because the extraditions will be perceived as a broken promise on the government’s side. The question here should also be to what extent impunity can be addressed without undermining future deals with armed groups (e.g. FARC and ELN). The unrest among Colombian’s army regarding responsibility for human rights violations is worrisome for the peace process. The question to them is why the army cannot enter JPL just like the guerillas are able to. This raises the wish of being exempted from persecution as the military have served the Colombian state. However, an end of conflict could also mean convictions for military violations of human rights, such as cases of falsos positivos. The convictions for Colombia’s army and the uncertainty about this issue must be addressed by the Colombian state to maintain stability towards the future.
Thirdly, designing DDR programmes necessitates creating a general profile of the participants it caters to, as individualized tracks for reintegration are often not considered feasible due to time and financial constraints. In Colombia the profile for both the individual and collective programme fell on the rank-and-file of these groups. Although most demobilized indeed belong to the rank-and-file, this choice meant that the mid and high-level commanders are not adequately catered to, which runs the risk of alienating them from the process. These commanders possess strategic information, which makes them vulnerable to both retaliation from their former ‘colleagues’ and recruitment from Bandas Criminales Emergentes (BACRIMs). Specifically in the case of mid-level paramilitary commanders this seemed to be a great risk. According to police reports, “a majority of the leaders of the successor groups are mid-level AUC commanders who never demobilized or continued engaging in criminal activity despite ostensibly having demobilized”.
The phenomenon of BACRIMs combined with the lack of equitable socio-economic development within Colombian society make for a potent mix for (re)mobilization. This lack of socio-economic development can in part be traced back to Uribe’s Democratic Security Policy (DSP) which diverted many resources and governmental attention towards militaristic approaches to defeat the insurgents. Former combatants are interesting recruits for BACRIMs, as they possess the required skills and oftentimes are frustrated with what demobilization brought them. Thus, many former combatants are contacted by BACRIM’s with more promising offers than the DDR programme can provide. The problem Colombia faces then is double; on the one hand, throughout Colombia the non-repetition conditions are not met, which puts former combatants at risk. On the other hand, the BACRIMs that make use of this situation utilize criminal networks that are not sufficiently addressed or broken down. This then enhances the cyclical process of (re)mobilization which downgrades the potential results of DDR. Furthermore, it is difficult to assess an accurate amount of DDR participants currently in the BACRIMs as these figures are commonly based on the number of demobilized being caught by the police for criminal behavior. Thus, it can be reasoned that favoring military approaches over socioeconomic approaches in the past enhanced the breeding grounds for BACRIMs, which in turn diminished the chances of durable reintegration.
Another trade-off in DDR in general is taking either a narrow or a broad approach, as explained in the second section. The fact that in the past Colombia seemingly chose a narrow approach has a number of consequences. First, the timeframes for reintegration programmes are judged to be too short by former combatants and the Alta Consejeria para la Reintegracion (ACR) personnel alike. Without a long term commitment, it becomes very difficult to constructively engage the local population in reconciliation with former combatants. The community reintegration programmes are a good example, as their duration is limited from three to twelve months. This duration is perceived by both community members and former combatants as inadequate after decades of conflict. A period not longer than twelve months does not provide time for trust building or meaningful programme substance and leaves no margin to overcome initial problems during implementation. The short timeframes for reintegration and their limited substance are related to a lack of finances overall, a lack of commitment between the Colombian state and civil society, the ‘donor logic’ that dictates that results must be attained within a short timeframe, and overall, a general lack of political will on the side of governance structures and civil society.
Both the collective and the individual DDR programmes were highly centralized in their initiation, which left few possibilities for flexibility during integration. This centralized policy might have fared well for the disarmament and demobilization phase, but it will restrain durable reintegration because security and socioeconomic circumstances vary greatly in Colombia. Contextual input should be leading the design and local implementation of DDR programmes.
Encouragingly, research capacity to enable this seems widely available in Colombia. In 2007, the ACR devised a strategy to promote local participation of civil society, based on the realization that “reintegration had to follow national policy but be implemented in a decentralized fashion with strong local commitment”. To attempt to include civil society through the community reintegration programmes is necessary but seems to have been an afterthought in Colombia. The centralized approach that directed the DDR programmes for years might have disenfranchised the Colombian population. This is a critical downfall given that the local population is ultimately the one living with the results of the DDR programmes and their often negatively perceived outcomes. Bogota and Medellin now are taken as positive examples of decentralization as these cities were able to adapt the national programmes to local circumstances. These tradeoffs and perceptions presented above beg the question whether DDR can be judged successful in Colombia.
Although DDR programmes are implemented worldwide with enormous budgets, there is insufficient discussion on what constitutes success for DDR. The omission of clear goals results in a plethora of claims about Colombia’s DDR being successful or not without a coherent set of indicators to underpin this discussion. Without these indicators, the population at large cannot be adequately informed about progression of goals, which in the long run will diminish their already weak enthusiasm for the programmes. Several indicators could be used to measure success. These relate to the discussion on narrow or wide DDR and include: the amount of weapons handed in; the incidence of repetition of violence after demobilization; the breakdown of structures that initiated and sustained violence; an increase in human security conditions; the way DDR programmes contribute to a peace process and reconciliation, or in other words, enhancing the construction of the social contract between citizens and their government.
Using the amount of weapons collected as indicator for successful DDR seems the international norm although this neither addresses the amount of weapons not handed in during the disarmament phase, nor the availability of weapons during and after the DDR programme. However, “this ratio is actually high for paramilitary DDR compared to previous DDRs, both within Colombia and internationally and the high quality of weapons collected in this process is unprecedented on an international scale”. The validity of treating the amount and quality of weapons collected as a measure of success in DDR is thus not warranted in isolation. It exclusively relates to a ratio of success in the first phase of DDR and is not indicative for the longer term success of DDR.
During violent conflict there are always socioeconomic structures instigating and benefiting from violence as is the case in Colombian para-political structures. The collective DDR programme aimed to remove the people sustaining these structures. As these structures had and still have a salient role in violence and drug trafficking that fuels violence, their dismantling could be considered a potential measure of success for DDR. The problem here lies in the fact that the ranks of demobilized were easily filled with new recruits. Thus, DDR had a temporary but unsustainable effect on the functioning of these structures. Another interesting issue here is the notion that in cities likes Medellin, new (or arguably continued) gangs have filled the security gap that the demobilized left, rather than the Colombian state being able to install a legitimate monopoly of violence. This indicates the inability of the Colombian state to effectively minimize the influence of illegally armed elements within its territory. A phenomenon like the colloquialism ‘donbernabilidad’ indicates that the average citizen in Medellin, in the past, had more confidence in Don Berna than the Colombian state for ‘protection’. The situation today might be different, but this should be a stark reminder that these illegal structures must be broken down. DDR, when specific attention is dedicated to it, can play an important role in this endeavor.
Another way to assess the success of DDR is taking human security or the absence of violence as a criterion. Restrepo and Muggah researched collective DDR in Colombia in relation to the amount of homicides and found that it “appears to lower the homicide rate by (a statistically significant) 13 per cent in the area of operation of a demobilized group.” However, the sustainability of this particular success is dependent on the ability of the Colombian state to fill the security gap left by demobilized paramilitary groups as “only the provision of strong protection centered security by the state plus DDR bring about sustained reductions in violence”. In addition, protection centered security cannot be exclusively militaristic in nature as was arguably done under Uribe’s DSP. When DDR can contribute to enhancing human security, including addressing socioeconomic issues and access to justice, it will also have a dampening effect on the pull from BACRIMs.
A discussion about what constitutes successful DDR in Colombia should include the choice between the short-term and long-term approaches to DDR. Although here it is more interesting to discuss the difference between the narrow or broad perspective on DDR in Colombia. As Colombia is currently in conflict it should not view DDR as a stand-alone exercise. The perspective should actually be broadened to what role DDR can play in the political, economical and social reconstruction necessary to end violent conflict. This reconstruction includes finding ways of reconciliation with victims, as “providing benefits to ex-combatants without attending to the claims of victims not only leaves victims at a comparative disadvantage but gives rise to new grievances, which may exacerbate their resistance against returning ex-combatants”. It includes using information available among former combatants in JPL to take paramilitary structures head on. It includes using DDR to enhance human security of civilians and former combatants rather than using DDR as a strategy of war. It includes explaining clearly and continuously what the programmes entail, its rationale and how it links to reconciliation and reconstruction. The benefit of this perspective on DDR for Colombia lies in the coherency of the aforementioned reconstruction. This will increase the chance that reconstruction, including DDR, will be more equitable and sustainable for Colombia’s future.
Although Colombia has one of the most developed DDR programmes worldwide it is clear that significant improvement can be made. It should be realized that DDR is not only a short-term technical exercise. Rather, when seen as part of reconstruction after conflict, it can help to address more general causes for violent conflict in Colombia. This should address the prevalent nature of impunity; it should effectively take on the BACRIMs through more focus on paramilitary structures and its successors by dedicating more capacity to JPL; it should focus on constructing social contracts with civil society through inclusion of recipient communities in the reintegration of former combatants. Enhancing human security conditions that in turn also decreases chances of re-mobilization will be facilitated through decentralization. Decentralization here means addressing localized security issues with national policy implemented in context-specific ways. The wider construction of new political and socio-economic ties should be linked with inclusive peace processes that substantiate moving towards a post-conflict situation.
Based on the previous discussions the following recommendations can be made;
To the Colombian state:
To civil society in Colombia:
To the international community:
 Pouligny, B (2004) The politics and Anti-politics of Contemporary “Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration” Programs. CERI: Paris. Available at: http://www.ceri-sciences-po.org/cherlist/pouligny/rapportpouligny.pdf. (Accessed 21 December 2010).
 Inclusive here refers to FARC and ELN.
 Guáqueta, A., Arias, G. (2008) Transitional DDR in Colombia: useful or counterproductive? Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP): Colombia.
 Restrepo, A., Meertens, C.S., Tobón, A. (2010) Background document of DDR processes in Colombia. P. 12-13. (not published)
 An important example is provided by the 19.000 former combatants who currently face “judicial limbo” in JPL, see also http://www.semana.com/noticias-conflicto-armado/tanto-ha-funcionado-justicia-paz/134765.aspx
 Lyons, A., Reed-Hurtado, M (2010) Colombia: Impact of Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court. ICTJ Briefing: ICTJ.
 Guáqueta, A., Arias, G. (2008) Transitional DDR in Colombia: useful or counterproductive? Fundación Ideas para la Paz.(http://www.ideaspaz.org/secciones/publicaciones/download_publicaciones/transitional_DDR_Colombia_useful_counterproductive.pdf). Visited January 14, 2011).
 What constitutes a BACRIM is highly contested and politicized. President Santos maintains a strict distinction between criminal groups and illegally armed groups (as for example AUC was considered) whereas Nuevo Arco Iris claims the BACRIMS are headed by midlevel paramilitary commanders who never demobilized. (http://wsp.presidencia.gov.co/Prensa/2011/Febrero/Paginas/20110207_04.aspx; and http://www.nuevoarcoiris.org.co/sac/?q=node/1046 respectively)
 Non-repetition here refers to alternative livelihoods with economic, social, political and psychological components.
 Guáqueta, A., Arias, G. (2008) Transitional DDR in Colombia: useful or counterproductive? Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP): Colombia
 Spagat, M., and CERAC (2007) Colombia’s Paramilitary DDR: Quiet and Tentative Success. P. 5.
 Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, also known as Don Berna, was one of the former paramilitary commanders of the AUC.
 Restrepo, JA., Muggah. R. (2009) Colombia’s quiet demobilization. A Security dividend? P. 43.In Muggah, R. (2009) Security and Post-conflict Reconstruction. Dealing with fighters in the aftermath of war. Routledge. Abingdon
 Greiff de, P., (2009) Establishing Links Between DDR and Reparations. In Disarming the past. Transitional Justice and Ex-combatants. Social Science Research Council. New York.
 Tejido social is difficult to define as the context and the people within that context shape what is considered to be tejido social. Civil society in Colombia see mechanisms of tejido social in both formal and informal structures whereas the UNDP considers ’(…) [S]ocial fabric is a blend of clear-cut, structural, formal and functional personal networks of initiatives or associations, which can be heterogenic or universal. Social fabric is an asset for individuals and societies as it enables them to expand their operations and opportunities in order to improve their quality of life. Society functions as a social fabric for its citizens; the larger a social fabric, the more developed a society is. (http://www.undp.un.hn/PDF/informes/2006/glosario.pdf, accessed December 29, 2010)
This paper was written by Hans Rouw, researcher for the Dutch NGO IKV Pax Christi.