Ethnic minorities in the war-torn Pacific region of Colombia will provide additional monitoring for a ceasefire announced Sunday between the country’s last-standing rebel group and the state.
The special agreement made between the ELN, the government and ethnic minorities in western Colombia covers an area where clashes between the ELN and the paramilitary Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) have had a devastating impact on Afrodescendant and indigenous communities.
Colombia’s government and the Marxist-inspired ELN rebels received widespread support from the international community after beginning their bilateral ceasefire on Sunday.
Switzerland, one of five states that form the ‘Group of Countries for the Support, Accompaniment and Cooperation of the Negotiating Table’ (GPAAC) with the ELN, issued a statement to “congratulate the negotiating teams for this important achievement. We expect the ceasefire to especially improve the humanitarian situation of the civilian population.”
According to the terms of the ceasefire, the rebels have agreed to stop kidnapping, attacking infrastructure, recruiting minors under the age of 15, and planting anti-personnel mines.
For its part, the national government will strengthen a national system protecting human rights defenders, improve prison conditions for detained ELN members, release citizens imprisoned for crimes related to social protest, and begin convening social organizations to discuss how public participation in the negotiations with the ELN will work moving forward.
All troops across the entire national territory [are ordered] to cease all offensive activities in order to fully comply with the agreed bilateral ceasefire.
ELN Commander Nicolas Rodriguez
Over the course of the three-month ceasefire, representatives from the government, the ELN and the Catholic Church will monitor each party’s compliance with the agreement through an official Oversight and Verification Mechanism.
The government and ELN have also requested the United Nations help verify the ceasefire, although the UN Security Council has yet to respond to the request, according to conflict monitoring website Verdad Abierta.
A special chapter for ethnic minorities
The ceasefire also includes a historic agreement made between the ELN and ethnic minorities in the Choco province, where a tripartite conflict between the government, the ELN, and illegal paramilitary groups has torn communities apart.
The additional agreement, called the “Humanitarian Agreement for Choco Now,” was drafted by ethnic organizations in the Choco province between March and August.
After significant pressure from Afrodescendant and indigenous communities in the region, the ELN and government agreed to abide by the following terms of the supplemental ethnic agreement:
- Dismantle criminal groups derived from former paramilitary organizations
- Respect the regional autonomy of ethnic authorities
- Cease violence against women, children and LGBTQ people
- End forced displacement, confinements and restrictions of mobility
- Stop planting coca, marijuana and poppies
- Stop conducting illegal mining
- Require the ELN’s Western War Front, which operates in Choco, to participate directly in the peace negotiations in Quito.
A committee to monitor the special agreement based in Quibdo, Choco’s capital, will have 13 Afrodescendant representatives, a women’s delegate, a youth representative, and five indigenous representatives.
Both Afrodescendant and indigenous leaders in Choco have made it clear that the removal of the FARC rebel group as a dominant force in the region has spurred a violent turf war between the ELN’s Western Front and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC), a paramilitary group vying for drug routes in the region.
We’re victims of homicide attempts, roadblocks, robberies, kidnappings, threats, forced confinement, [anti-personnel] mines, illicit crops, and illegal [resource] mining.
Alexis Heredia, High Community Council, Atrato Campesino Association
Although its implementation may be strained by ongoing violence between the ELN and the AGC, the Choco “Humanitarian Agreement” is an unprecedented advancement for ethnic minorities at such an early stage in peace negotiations.
Many of the organizations that drafted and promoted the accord also contributed to the “Ethnic Chapter” included in the Final Peace Agreement with the FARC last year.
The new bilateral armistice, negotiated between representatives of the ELN and Colombian government in Quito, Ecuador, will last three months, ending on January 9, 2018.
It is the first agreement the ELN and government have ever reached since radical Catholic priests launched the Marxist-inspired rebel organization in 1964.