The inauguration of the government of Gustavo Petro is an opportunity to continue reflecting on the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants in Colombia. The peace agenda promoted by the President, as well as the approval and sanction of the Total Peace Law, gives some certainty about the validity of the DDR processes, necessary in the objective of seeking lasting peace.
For several decades, Colombia has been consolidating internationally recognized DDR learning. 76,442 people from different armed groups have been able to reintegrate or rejoin civilian lives. Likewise, the peace agreement signed with the FARC guerrilla and its implementation are great references to what it meant to negotiate the end of the armed conflict and to implement a scheme of disarmament, demobilization, transit to legality and reintegration. What lessons should we not forget in times of Total Peace?
The DDR during the Negotiation
It is key to make disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration a central theme of any negotiation agenda to end a conflict. Beyond semantics and details, putting an end to a conflict in a context like Colombia -in a democratic and legal state- implies that the monopoly of violence must be at the head of the state forces. This necessarily require a process of disarmament and reforms in the defense sector aimed at strengthening its legitimacy and capacity to guarantee the security of citizens.
Something to highlight from the negotiation experience with the FARC was the active participation of the Armed Forces and the National Police in the development of the negotiation related to the end of the conflict, through the Technical Subcommittee on the End of the Conflict. This participation provided technical depth to define, for example, the terms of the bilateral and definitive ceasefire and to introduce aspects of the dynamics of the battlefield related to disarmament and demobilization. It also gave legitimacy to the negotiation table to involve those who, for decades, waged war on behalf of the state. Likewise, it was essential to have the participation of the FARC leaders with a majority military leadership, who strengthened the negotiation and the terms of the Agreement on the end of the conflict.
However, what level of detail is desirable, in terms of DDR, during the negotiation? We at FIP (Ideas for Peace Foundation) have insisted that a higher level of detail helps compliance and provides better verification tools, however it can also affect the speed of negotiation. That is why it is fundamental to establish instances and mechanisms for the joint construction of protocols and for the solution of conflicts that can surely arise during disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.
Disarmament and Demobilization
With the FARC guerrillas, the bilateral and definitive ceasefire and hostilities, disarmament (or laying down weapons), demobilization and the transition to legality were the first to be implemented. It required intense political, technical, legal, and logistical preparation to bring about the end of the conflict. Perhaps the most relevant lesson learned at this stage was the implementation of the tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MMV), which involved the Government with representation from the Armed Forces, the FARC, and an international component, represented by the United Nations.
This mechanism generated confidence in the process and a logic of co-responsibility in compliance and verification of the end of the conflict. During disarmament, the United Nations was responsible for the registration, identification, monitoring and verification of the possession of weapons and ammunition, as well as their collection, storage, and destruction. With the UN leading the process, it gave confidence to the parties and the country on the veracity and technical rigor of the process.
Involving the military and the National Police was also key. Its role was to verify and monitor the ceasefire through its participation in the MMV, as guarantor of the security of this Mechanism with the Police Unit for the Construction of Peace (UNIPEP) and take responsibility for security in the Transitional Normalization Zones (ZVTN) and Transitional Normalization Points (PTN) (the places where ex-combatants were initially concentrated), through the Strategic Transition Command (COET). Their participation at this stage strengthened the legitimacy of the Colombian State and contributed to the generation of trust and reconciliation among those who previously fought among themselves.
Perhaps the most important aspect during this stage was the preparation, and the agility and flexibility of the logistical device to get the combatants to concentrate, lay down their weapons and make the transition to legality. In a topography like Colombia's, with 26 zones throughout the country to transport ex-combatants, and with little time to respond to D-Day, logistics became the biggest challenge. Despite the success of the movement of combatants to the areas, the construction of the infrastructure represented the main operational difficulty, which generated tensions that affected confidence at a crucial moment in the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
In this sense, logistics is decisive for the political process, because it helps build trust and shows the political will to implement the Agreement. It is therefore essential to have adequate planning and rapid action mechanisms that can respond to current needs.
There are many reflections here. We must take advantage of the experience built by Colombia for more than 18 years and recognize that the country has an institutional architecture headed by the Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (ARN) with the capacity and territorial deployment to lead this type of process, as well how to generate technical guidelines that strengthen discussions and negotiations on this matter.
From FIP we have insisted on the importance of reincorporation for peace building. The Government’s accompaniment and guidelines are key to the realization of the life projects of those ex-combatants who bet on effective inclusion in the economic, social, and political spheres. In this sense, the management of ARN is of the greatest relevance. For this reason, it is confusing that the government of the banners of Total Peace has barely appointed a director, almost five months after its inception, to lead the reincorporation policy.
Regarding the lessons learned, we cannot forget that reintegration is a process that involves people. Behind the statistics there are men and women with a history behind them, with a past where violence is the common denominator and who today seek to carry out a new life project with great effort and difficulty. This process requires great commitment from the State and the co-responsibility of the different social sectors.
In this sense, reintegration must be understood as a diverse, dynamic, comprehensive, and sustainable process. This idea perhaps summarizes the main lesson from the past and an opportunity for improvement for current and future processes. From the point of view of diversity and dynamism, policy planning and implementation must be flexible to support people with different abilities, interests and needs. To achieve this, the gender perspective must be incorporated into the policy, since the needs of women and men are particularly different and require concrete actions to balance gender roles and strengthen the conditions for adequate reintegration. It is also necessary to strengthen the roles and leadership capacities of women in the economic, political, and social scenarios, which in the reconfiguration of gender roles often fall on men, replicating military logic.
It cannot be forgotten that, in the case of the FARC, 1,222 ex-combatants have physical sequelae obtained during the vicious war, and in that sense, a reintegration policy must provide for specific actions in health care and in the economic dimensions, social and political reintegration.
In the aspect of diversity, particular strategies are also required that recognize the hierarchy that existed within the armed group. In other words, to offer alternatives to middle commanders that make it possible to take advantage of their leadership capabilities and that adequately respond to their expectations. This approach is fundamental in the Colombian context, where conflict prevails and where there is a high presence of illegal practices, so there is a risk of recidivism.
To the extent that reintegration is a people-centered process and people have agency, it will be dynamic in nature. An example of this dynamism is the change in the geography of the reincorporation of the FARC ex combatants, who began their concentration in 26 municipalities and today, according to the United Nations Verification Mission, are present in 611 municipalities. These changes have mainly to do with security problems, and with the search for better economic and social conditions for their reintegration.
Regarding comprehensiveness, it is essential to recognize that the inclusion of ex-combatants has several dimensions. I highlight three, the economic one being the most visible. To the extent that ex-combatants have the capacity to legally generate income, they will guarantee material and subsistence conditions. However, the economic aspect will not be sustainable if the social sphere is not addressed, which should include the closest social environments of the ex-combatants, favoring the construction of networks and trust. Added to this is a broader reconciliation process, which requires strong work with communities and citizens in general, to defuse narratives of stigmatization and violence.
To conclude these reflections, let’s talk about sustainability. Here the call for total peace is to generate real conditions for the autonomy of ex-combatants in the economic sphere. Regardless of the reintegration route selected (employability, individual or collective productive project), the action of the State must contribute to generate the capacities for anyone, in exercise of their autonomy and freedom, have tools and networks to have a sufficient income in a sustainable way to guarantee their subsistence and quality of life.