Victim representatives are urging the Colombian government and rebel group FARC to speed up ongoing peace talks and agree to a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible.
The peace process hit a crisis phase last week after a FARC attack left 11 soldiers dead in Cauca last week, though the government and rebel group on Monday confirmed the continuation of the negotiations.
While the two warring parties have ample opportunity to amplify their perspective, one that lacks representation is that of the conflict’s victims. After more than 50 years of bloodshed and destruction, they persistently fight for their voice to be heard through the polemic events that Colombia is currently facing.
The necessity of a bilateral truce
Principally, the conflict victims long for the attainment of a bilateral ceasefire between the FARC and Colombia’s government in order for peace to become a reality.
“Yes, a bilateral ceasefire must be made between the government and the FARC. No peace agreement should be made in the midst of war,” leader of victims’ group Madres de la Candelaria Teresita Gavira told Colombia Reports on Tuesday.
“This has been demonstrated through various peace agreements that have been signed worldwide. It must be done in Colombia, so we can stop crying for those who are not here as a result of the war,” said Gavira.
Organization Madres de la Candelaria — formed by Gavira in 1999 following the forced disappearance of her son – fights for the rights of the victims of Colombia’s conflict, whether they are alive, dead, or missing. They seek universal justice for all wartime sufferers, at whatever stage of war and in whatever scenario.
Liberal Senator Sofia Gaviria is an active representative of FARC victims, and sits on multiple committees of the Senate defending human rights.
She similarly told Colombia Reports that a bilateral ceasefire is necessary.
“Yes, just like General Naranjo said in the past, you have to verify all the things that we as the victims of the FARC ask; no more recruitment and to immediately hand back our children, kidnapped,” said Gaviria on Tuesday.
The leader of the Madres de la Candelaria herself has travelled to Havana to partake in the negotiations that have been ongoing with the FARC since November 2012.
“I saw a lot of transparency in the FARC. They received us with complete confidence and generated it themselves,” Gavira told Colombia Reports.
It is unsurprising that following the guerrilla’s attack on Colombian soldiers last week that left 11 dead, the victims now feel deeply concerned as to the peace deal they long for.
“Now with the death of these soldiers, we are terrified. These massacres must not exist. No more attacks on civilians, no more attacks on the army,” said Gavira, adding that “we have to generate a new trust between the victims, the FARC and the government.”
Almost 25% of Colombians in a survey commissioned by El Tiempo and W Radio thought that the Havana peace talks should in fact be suspended in response to the FARC attack, it was reported last week.
Colombia’s victims disagree.
“The process must not be interrupted, because the peace talks are the only thing we have to achieve what we have sought after for so long – peace,” explained Gavira.
Liberal politician Gaviria shared Gavira’s view that it is essential the talks continue.
“I do not believe the talks should be suspended,” she said, but emphasized to Colombia Reports that “corrections must be made to involve all sides, such as the opposition” led by conservative party Democratic Center that has opposed the talks.
“We are talking about a group that has done harm for over 50 years, so how is it possible that the opposition is not involved?” the liberal senator asked. “We must not exclude or stigmatize anyone.”
Senator Gaviria — whose brother was killed by the FARC — also highlighted the underrepresentation of the victims themselves.
“Victims of the FARC make up 60% of the victims of this armed conflict, yet we are not represented at the table of negotiation,” she explained.
More power to Santos?
There has been recent consideration of a proposed law that would grant Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos the ability to sign all agreements made with the FARC guerrillas independently of other contributing actors, which would significantly speed up the process.
However, victims of the conflict reject the proposition wholeheartedly.
“To give special powers to the president for these negotiations is bad for democracy,” Gaviria insisted.
“I am convinced that as long as judicial power, the comptroller and prosecution, and Congress represent society, they must have something to say in the negotiations. So to give these powers to the president is absolutely inappropriate,” said the Senator on Tuesday.
Teresita Gavira similarly expressed discontent with the proposal.
“This could be good for the peace process, but not for us; Santos has to do this with the consent of the victims,” she said.
“If there are not victims there, then there is nothing,” stated Gavira.
The activist also stressed the importance of unity between victims.
“If the victims are not united to speak in the same language about the peace crisis, we will not see anything good. What will happen is another bloodshed,” she affirmed.
El reto de los acuerdos bilaterales (El Espectador)
Interview with Teresita Gavira
Interview with Sofia Gaviria