New Colombia-FARC peace deal keeps focus on gender

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos. (Credit: REUTERS/John Vizcaino)

After weeks of reopened negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana, rights groups are celebrating the decision to keep the original gender focus in a new, revised peace agreement.

The first peace accord to end the country’s 52-year guerrilla war was narrowly rejected by Colombian voters in a referendum on Oct. 2. After reviewing some 400 proposals from the opposition, religious leaders and other civil society groups, the two sides announced on Saturday that they have agreed on a host of modifications to the original deal.

“We have reached a new final accord to end the armed conflict that integrates changes, precisions and proposals suggested by the most diverse sectors of society,” the two sides said in a statement.

Former president Alvaro Uribe led opposition to the original accord, which many Colombians criticized for not holding the FARC rebels accountable for their crimes. Evangelicals and other conservative groups were also concerned with the gender provision of the agreement. It called for special reparations for women and people of “diverse sexual orientations and identities,” which some viewed as a threat to the traditional family structure.

Feminists and progressive groups, meanwhile, called for an even more progressive perspective on gender issues in the revised accord. The original one, they said, boxed women into restrictive, narrowly conceived gender roles when considering how women soldiers would reintegrate into mainstream society.

Some of these advocates worried that  gender would be dropped from the negotiating table altogether in the rush to get another deal together.

The text of the new agreement was not immediately published, but President Juan Manuel Santos laid out the main revisions in a televised speech. The updated deal maintains the original’s focus on gender – albeit a diluted one – which addresses gender inequalities in the conflict and acknowledges that women were among the most victimized.

The gender provision emphasizes a commitment to nondiscrimination regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age or religious belief, and that the agreement will not infringe on the freedom of religions.

Perhaps the most drastic revision of the peace deal is that it will not be fully incorporated into Colombia’s constitution as initially planned, which would have made its terms difficult to alter. Now, only issues related to human rights and international humanitarian law will be added to the constitution.

The new agreement also better defines the types of punishment former rebels would face under a special tribunal that will prosecute war crimes, and the FARC has committed to declare and hand over all its assets – a provision not included in the first accord – which will be used for reparations to victims of the conflict.

Negotiators kept a controversial part of the accord, however, that gives the FARC 10 congressional seats and allows rebel leaders to run for political posts. This would allow FARC commanders, including those already convicted in absentia of crimes against humanity, to run for political offices before they have served their full sentences.

“It is very important Colombians understand that the reason for all peace processes in the world is precisely that rebels lay down arms and can participate in legal politics,” Santos said in the televised statement. “Our process with the FARC is not and cannot be an exception.“

The fate of the revised deal and fragile cease-fire now seems to rest with the ‘No’ voters and Uribe, the most ardent critic of the original accord. The former president has yet to make a public statement about the new deal, but the Guardian reported he is not pleased with it.

The accord is expected to be sent to Congress rather than put to another referendum.


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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at