Colombia SSR Background Note


Key Statistics

Population: 49.55 million (WorldPopulationReview, 2018)

Capital: Bogota

Languages: Spanish (official)

Major Ethnic Groups: mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 7600 (Trading Economics, 2017)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 13254.95 (Trading Economics, 2017)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 481,100 (World Bank, 2016)

Police Force: 180,000 (Insight Crime, 2016)

Small Arms: number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians is 3,200,000; the defence forces of Colombia are reported to have 430,000; and the number of law enforcement firearms is 285,000 (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: 3,4% of GDP (World Bank, 2016)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and General Background

2. Political History

    i. Conflict History: Plan Colombia and 'False Positive' Killings 

    ii. Peace Talks and 2016 Peace Accords

3. Overview of SSR in Colombia

4. Sector Specific Overview

    i. Security Sector Management and Oversight Bodies

    ii. Defence Reform

    iii. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR)

    iv. Police Reform

    v. Judicial Reform

5. Future Considerations

1. Introduction & General Background


The Republic of Colombia is located in northern South America. After Gran Colombia collapsed in the 1830s, Colombia separated from Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama, thus becoming the Republic of Colombia. Colombia is one of the oldest democracies in Latin America. By population, it is the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world and has the third largest economy in South America. In 2018, the World Population Review reported a population of 49,546,433. Like many Latin American countries, Colombia is seen as a highly segregated society. It is considered a multi-ethnic state; 84% of its population is mestizo and white, while the remaining population is either of Afro-Colombian, of indigenous, or of unspecified descent. The majority of the population lives in the north and west, where most natural resources and agriculture are located. The country is well known for being rich in resources such as oil, mineral fuels, gems, coal and more. It is the second-largest coffee producer in the world. About 20% of all cultivated land is dedicated to growing coffee for exportation.

Colombia was once considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. However, the Colombian government recorded the lowest homicide rate in the last forty plus years in 2016, at 24,4 per 100,000 inhabitants. One of the major challenges facing Colombia is corruption. In 2017, Colombia was ranked 96 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. [2]

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2. Political History

Colombia’s society has seen numerous civil wars since gaining its independence. Armed conflicts since the mid-20th  century have left over 220,000 dead, 80,000 missing, and more than 7 million displaced. The roots of Colombia’s most recent conflict date back to 1948, when a partisan battle between the Liberal and the Conservative political parties erupted into violence after the assassination of populist Liberal Party leader Jorge Gaitán in 1948. The first decade of this civil war, from 1948-1958, is often referred to as ‘la Violencia’. The war ended with an agreement called the ‘National Front’, establishing a shared monopoly of political power between both parties. Each group would take turns holding office and controlling Colombia’s economy for a four-year period.[3]

 During this time, many of the Liberal guerrillas transitioned into insurgencies with communist affiliations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (la Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia  or the FARC), which was founded after the 10-year civil war by peasant farmer Pedro Antonio Marin. It emerged as a Marxist guerrilla group inspired by the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and functioned as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party. Another guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional  , or ELN) was founded by students, Catholic radicals and left-wing intellectuals. [4]

To date, the FARC was the largest, oldest, and best-equipped insurgency that Colombia or any other Latin American country has seen. The FARC had created a centralised hierarchical structure including a military code, training, and political programs. Although at first, the FARC attempted to resist involvement with cocaine, it ultimately financed its long war by the taxation of coca grown for cocaine production in territories under its control. During the early 1980s, the group became involved with drug trafficking, kidnapping, illegal arms dealing, and the illegal extraction of natural resources such as gold and emeralds. Increasingly under pressure and unable to counter the Colombian security forces over the past years, the FARC and the Colombian government signed a peace agreement in 2016.

In 2018, conservative presidential candidate Ivan Duque won the national election by a 12 percent margin, defeating left-wing rival Gustavo Petro. (Time, 2018) Prior to the elections, Duque had opposed the peace deal, finding it too lenient on the FARC and had promised to reverse some of the provisions of the deal if he were to become president.

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i. Conflict History: Plan Colombia and the 'False Positive' Killings

During the 1998 electoral campaign, Colombia was in a critical position, experiencing a political and economic crisis and facing a partial collapse of the state. Newly elected President Andres Pastrana developed a peace negotiation process with the guerrilla groups that enabled peace talks. In 1999, they led to the establishment of a demilitarised 'clear zone'. However, before the end of Pastrana’s presidency, the talks broke down. Nonetheless, his administration put together ‘Plan Colombia’, a strategy to strengthen and reinstate state capacity while negotiating peace. This multi-layer approach to peace was a six-year plan to end the armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote development. With the need to reconstruct legitimacy within the state and get the country out of its economic crisis, Pastrana sought international assistance. The plan received support by the US under Bill Clinton’s administration, who aimed at preventing the flow of illegal drugs into the country. Pastrana wanted to uproot guerrilla groups in Colombia, gain military presence in remote areas controlled by the guerrillas, and introduce social programmes. The final version of the plan was signed into law with ten major components, requiring about US$8 billion in funding. The plan became a difficult task to accomplish.[5]

In the early 2000s, Colombia faced terror threats from both right-wing and left-wing paramilitary groups in addition to up to six insurgent groups operational in the country. The failure of former President Pastrana’s peace plan with the guerrilla drove the Colombian citizens to seek a tougher approach in dealing with the FARC. This facilitated Alvaro Uribe’s election as President in 2002. Uribe had vowed to combat the guerrilla groups and refused to negotiate with those who he believed to be terrorists. While Uribe did embrace Plan Colombia, his approach did not engage in peace dialogues with the FARC. Uribe pursued a path that emphasised security concerns and the re-gaining of control over the large areas that were in the hands of illegal armed groups.[6] During this time, the U.S. had announced the Global War on Terror. Uribe took this opportunity to condemn the FARC as a narco-terrorist group responsible for murdering, kidnapping, and displacing thousands of Colombian citizens. The government announced that Colombia was in fact not in a ‘state of armed conflict’, but rather suffering from a ‘terrorist threat’ in their country.  This was contrary to Pastrana’s administration, which had recognised the state of internal armed conflict. US President George W. Bush, however, accepted Uribe’s new Plan Colombia and in addition to funding, provided the Colombian government with training of military forces as well as the equipment needed to implement Plan Colombia. While Plan Colombia had positive outcomes, such as the lowering of homicide rates and the reduction in kidnappings, the approach was also criticised by many for not succeeding at lowering drug trafficking, reducing the amount of illegal arms in the country, and failing to address the high level of human rights violations. However, while Uribe did not fully succeed in combating the FARC, he weakened the organisation and played a significant role in strengthening the Colombian forces. In contrast, he did not accentuate other aspects of the security sector such as the promotion of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy.[7]

Corruption continued to have a political and economic impact. Uribe swore to combat corruption but while attempting to keep his word, various allegations against his own government became public. One striking example is a scandal known as the 'False Positive' killings that became public in 2008. Several soldiers during this time had been convicted for killings of civilians and passing them off as guerrilla. The reports claim that these security forces had attempted to inflate success rates in order to secure U.S. aid. A report by the International Federation of Human Rights stated that over 3,500 False Positive killings had taken place from 2002-2008. Many claimed to have had direct order from military generals or President Uribe himself. During this time period, about 800 state agents had been detained and convicted. However, authorities have failed to prosecute senior army officers allegedly involved in the killings and have instead promoted many of them through the military ranks.[8]

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ii. Peace Talks and 2016 Peace Accord

A final peace accord was signed unanimously by both the Colombian government and the opposition in June 2016. Many had yearned for this accord to have the approval of the people. However, when it came down to a vote, the referendum to end the conflict failed by a margin of less than one percent (0.4%), returning both groups to the negotiating table. After renegotiation, a new agreement was reached and approved by congress in November 2016. The new deal between the government and the FARC sought to demobilise over 10,000 guerrilla fighters and reintegrate them into society. FARC demobilisation began in early 2017.  FARC largely fulfilled their obligations as stipulated in the peace agreement: They have gone from being a guerrilla group to a political party and have laid down their weapons. Although reintegration measures have been highly insufficient, and many former combatants have therefore left the demobilisation camps and travelled back to families or into the cities to look for work. Some have also returned to dissident groups that have arisen in some areas of Colombia, while others joined new armed and criminal groups. Part of the deal has allowed several FARC members to enter electoral politics, to establish their own political party, as previously seen in Guatemala and El Salvador.

The challenge facing the Colombian government in enforcing the peace agreement remains. In addition, peace talks between the government and the ELN, Colombia’s last active rebel force, are underway since February 2017. After 101 days of cease-fire, ELN attacked and killed several members of the Colombian security forces in mid-January 2018. Few days later, the group claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a police station in northern Colombia. While attacks continue the peace talks are expected to resume shortly.

At the time of writing, Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP - Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz ) Tribunal and The Colombian Commission of Truth, Coexistence and Non Repetition are the active peace mechanisms in the country. The aim of the JEP set up in March 2018 is to try FARC leaders and military officials for war crimes. Designed to investigate and prosecute serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed during the Colombian armed conflict. The JEP consists of 38 judges of whom 20 are women. Additionally, 14 foreign judges will serve as observers. The Colombian Commission of Truth, Coexistence and Non Repetition was officially inaugurated in May 2018 and will serve as a temporal and impartial organ of extra-judicial character that seeks to find out the truth of what happened during the conflict and to contribute to the clarification of violations and infractions. The Commission will operate for 3 years, at the end of which it will present a report on the facts that it uncovered. Given its extra-judicial nature, this Commission will not be in charge of judging or sanctioning any of the actors involved in the armed conflict, a role that the Agreement assigns to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a transitional justice system.

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3. Overview of SSR in Colombia

The Colombian National Security Forces are comprised of the National Army, Navy and Air Force, responsible for Colombia’s external security, and the National Police, responsible for internal security and for ensuring the respect of human rights. The military and police have approximately 450,000 personnel.

Historically, Colombia’s relationship with its security sector has been strongly shaped by the nature of its internal armed conflict. As opposed to a holistic SSR process, security sector reforms were long dominated by the need to redefine the role of the armed forces to deal with internal security challenges, equipping them to better react to the presence of guerrilla groups. Since their inception in 1989, reforms therefore primarily concentrated on achieving a modernised security sector that would help expand the state’s control over the territories held by non-state actors. Especially since the 1990s and the inception of Plan Colombia, but also after the paradigm shift to the War on Terror, United States financial aid and policy has strongly shaped SSR in Colombia through the funding of military and social programs. Despite scandals like the “False Positive” killings, US involvement also meant a push for better respect for human rights, catering to pressure from US and the international public.[10]

The peace agreement with the FARC and the de facto end of internal armed conflict entails significant changes for the security sector. With the military no longer exclusively occupied by combating guerrilla, focus is now shifting towards the remaining armed splinter groups as well as armed criminal gangs involved in narcotics trade. This calls for a redefinition of roles and tasks.

Despite longstanding decentralization processes, in many regions citizens face obstacles when benefiting from inclusive governance, rule of law and access to high-quality state services. This is partly due to a limited institutional capacity, lacking coordination, transparency, and accountability mechanisms, and a lack of citizen capacity to claim legal and human rights. The smallest municipalities (up to 20, 000 inhabitants, mainly in rural areas) have the biggest gaps in the provision of public goods due to administrative inefficiency and a lack of effective mechanisms to tackle corruption. (Transparency International, 2018)

Citizen insecurity, impunity and obstacles to accessing justice are sources of grievance among the general public. Although violence associated with the armed conflict has been declining since the start of peace negotiations in 2012, and 2017 had the lowest homicide rate in the last 40 years (24 per 100,000), Colombia remains the third most violent country in South America. Several armed illegal actors (beyond the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) operate illicit economies in various regions, exerting social control on communities. Since 2004, reports of extortion increased by 105 per cent, and reports of intra-family violence and sexual crimes against women increased by 143 per cent and 152 per cent, respectively.

Although in decline in recent years, targeted killings of human rights defenders and social leaders persist, with a marked increase in the first trimester of 2015. In the context of transition to peace, it will be essential for government officials to guarantee law and order and citizen access to ‘peace dividends’ in the form of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Grievances over land tenure remain unresolved. In addition, two-thirds of those dispossessed of their land are afraid of re-victimization by armed actors should they seek restitution (UNDP, 2015). In 2014 alone, 55 defenders of land restitution processes were killed.

 On 26 August 2018, Colombia held a referendum on seven proposed measures which seek to curb corruption in the country’s Congress. The proposed measures included a salary reduction for members of congress, citizen participation in budget debates and increased transparency in campaign financing and the rewarding of government contracts. However, the referendum was not valid due to a shortfall in turnout. In recent years, there have been numerous scandals involving senators as well as businesses and criminal gangs/armed groups buying votes, embezzling money and paying bribes. Anti-corruption measures were a top priority in the 2018 election campaigns for both candidates.

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4. Sector Specific Overview

i. Security Sector Management and Oversight Bodies

Given the state’s long struggle to establish control over its entire territory, reforms to ensure civil and democratic control over the armed forces have largely been set aside during the long period of internal conflict. Orders to the military were given directly from the executive, by-passing parliament and other oversight bodies. While this was justified with the need for the government to demonstrate its ability to react rapidly, it also resulted in limited accountability for human rights violations, massacres and extra-judicial killings attributed to the armed forces. This limited democratic and civilian oversight over the security sector stands in contrast to the general respect for other democratic principles such as the independence of the judiciary.[11]

High US influence on Colombian SSR and a general evolution of the SSR concept have led to a series of reforms that enhanced civilian and democratic oversight in recent years. Today, the Colombian security sector is governed by various bodies, institutions, and a written Constitution. Control and oversight of the security sector is under the management of civilian authorities and is governed by a legal framework that seeks to prevent violations of and by the security sector actors. The defence budget is subject to congressional oversight, and the 2015 Open Budget Survey found that oversight by the Colombian legislature over the executive’s budget was adequate. Shortcomings remain, however, in oversight of security expenditure.[12]

Furthermore, the 1991 Constitution establishes an ombuds office (Defensoría del Pueblo ) operating under the direction of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which oversees the exercise and protection of human rights. The Inspector General’s Office has oversight of the Armed Forces at the national level, including specialised staff for the military, police, human rights issues and general disciplinary issues. In response to an alleged lack of oversight in the intelligence sector, a congressional committee, the Commission to Monitor the Activities of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, was formed in 2013.[13]

Corruption continues to be one of the biggest problems in achieving adherence to the rule of law in Colombia; it is particularly acute amongst public officials and allegations have extended to the highest officials within government including the President.

There have been significant steps taken in recent years to tackle corruption, particularly in relation to legal and policy frameworks. In 2011, Law 1474 was adopted which established a series of administrative measures aimed at preventing and combating corruption at the private and public level. However, the main challenge remains in the implementation of these measures in practice.

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ii. Defence Reform

Since the inception of armed conflict, Colombia’s military apparatus has evolved in response to the presence of non-state armed actors in the country. In the early 2000s, the Uribe administration focused on transforming the Colombian Armed Forces to better confront FARC’s military power with support of the executive branch. This policy was known as Democratic Security and Defence Policy (Politica de Seguridad Democratica) . It emphasised three key characteristics: improving intelligence capacities of the Armed Forces, strengthening cooperation between different branches of Military, Police and Intelligence Agency (DAS), and effectively allocating resources within the military budget.[14]

After the 2008 “False Positive” killings scandal, the government and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) decided to reform the military and police forces. In 2011, measures against impunity for violations of human rights were created to ensure the effective implementation of justice. One step was the establishment of the School of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law of the Colombian National Army. The program provides training sessions and educational materials for the military personnel enrolled in the army’s new school in Bogotá. From 2009 to 2014, ‘United for Human Rights’-instructors and the Army’s School of Human Rights and Instruction Battalions trained 200.000 military personnel across all of the country’s 32 departments (states) and the Capital District of Bogotá on the respect for human rights in their daily work.[15]

Most recently, the Colombia National Army has begun its first organisational reform since 1990. This reform will eliminate the current Special Task Forces and restructure regional divisions. Out of Colombia’s eight military divisions, six will face reorganisation. The end of Colombia’s armed conflict could also signify a reduction of the armed forces, which currently consist of 272,000 personnel. This is also due to a shift in priorities from fighting FARC to dealing with remaining guerrilla splinter factions and armed groups involved in narcotics trade. Because they fear a possible reduction in size, parts of the army remain sceptical of the 2016 peace agreement, reinforced by strong ideological objections to negotiating with leftist guerrilla, and a rejection of the amnesty granted to FARC members for minor crimes.[16]

Part of the recent reform effort is a transformation and modernisation of the military branches. This includes an increased opening up of the armed forces and police for women and the creation of an ‘Army Officer of Gender’. As of late 2016, 3.838 women served in the Colombian Armed Forces: 1,515 female officers in the Army, 780 in the Navy, and 1,038 in the Air Force. Furthermore, there have been efforts by the government to improve transparency and accountability in the defence sector in 2015 and 2016. This included the establishment of an anonymous whistle-blower mechanism to denounce corruption within the armed forces.[17]

In December 2011, the Senate approved a constitutional amendment which significantly expanded the scope of military court jurisdiction to include international human rights and humanitarian law crimes; however, the bill was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Colombia. Despite this, another amendment and bill was proposed in 2013 with a similar expansion of military jurisdiction. This proposal was strongly opposed by human rights organisations as well as the UN particularly as “extrajudicial killings” do not constitute a human rights violation under Colombian law and therefore all cases of “false positive-killings” committed by Colombian soldiers would have been heard before military courts. However, the proposed bill was dropped in April 2015. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace began hearing cases in 2018, including allegations of “false positives” against Colombian soldiers and a General. Furthermore, the other two bodies under the Justice and Peace Law 2005 – the Special Search Unit and the Commission of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition – both became operational in 2018.

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iii. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR)

Colombia has seen different disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes throughout its conflict. From 2003 to 2006, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC), an umbrella organisation of different paramilitary actors, underwent a DDR process. However, the process had only limited success, and a large number of paramilitaries quit or never joined the process. At the same time, different programs tried to address individual ex-combatants. The challenge to any DDR process in Colombia is the amount of different armed actors, each requiring an adapted programme design, due to their often different socio-economic backgrounds.[18]

Most recently, the FARC has started to demobilise as a result of the 2016 peace agreement, moving to various so-called normalisation zones spread throughout the country. Currently, the process is supported by the UN Special Mission in Colombia, which is responsible for monitoring and verifying disarmament. As of 2017, almost 7.000 members of the FARC have laid down their arms and relocated to UN monitored demobilisation zones. The children and minors who were associated with the armed group are to be integrated through a UNICEF programme.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) ‘Misión de Apoyo al Proceso de Paz ’ (MAPP) was created by the OAS to aid the Colombian government in the peace process. It is currently involved in DDR, transitional justice, and democratic reform projects. The Office of the High Commissioner for Peace is an advisory office appointed directly by the President of Colombia. The High Commissioner guides the President and government on the development of peace policy. The High Commissioner’s office is the point of contact between the government and the rebels, and is the only body authorised to make direct contact with rebel groups.

USAID is Colombia’s largest bilateral donor and has recently paired up with the Colombian government, private sector and other community organisations in order to address the development and social challenges of ex-armed actors transitioning back into society. It supports the IOM in Colombia through the Recruitment Prevention and Reintegration (RPR) Programme, which provides institutional strengthening for the Colombian government, specifically in legal support, social and economic reintegration services to demobilised adults and disengaged children, as well as in the prevention of new recruitment.[19]

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iv. Police Reform

Similar to military reform, police reform in the 1990s and early 2000s focused primarily on enhancing police capabilities to respond to the internal armed conflict. This included tactical coordination with the military to combat guerrilla groups and the establishment of special units to deal with drug-related crime. Since the 1970s, there had not been any reform in the Police Code, until a new Police Reform Code finally reached Senate and was approved in early 2017. The new policy seeks to increase enforcement for low-level offences, aiming to support a peaceful co-existence for all Colombian citizens. It expands the police’s competences to intervene in daily matters such as noise complaints and the regulation of informal businesses. Unlike other Latin American and Caribbean countries, Colombia’s police forces are still part of the Ministry of Defence, as opposed to the Ministry of Interior.[20]

Allegations of corruption and involvement in illegal activities have plagued the police for decades. 59% of Colombians stated that they did not trust the police in 2016, a massive plunge in opinion due to the uncovering of police officers’ direct involvement in an illegal sex-worker ring, drug trafficking and contraband smuggling. In early 2016, the National Police announced the removal of 1,427 officials from their positions based on corruption allegations and performance assessments. The reform was part of a “zero tolerance” approach that attempted to fight and end corruption. Since the dismissal of 11,000 officers in 1995, the Colombia’s National Police has not seen any similar restructuring.[21]

The implementation of the 2016 peace agreement is currently accompanied by a Police Unit for Peacebuilding, a specialised transitory unit of 3,000 officers to monitor compliance with the ceasefire agreement and the laying down of arms. This force is part of a wider peacebuilding model for the Colombian police, which was elaborated based on a participatory process on all levels of the police. It defines the institutional responsibilities of the police towards the implementation of the peace agreement and is foreseen to cumulate into a model to transform and modernize the police by 2030.[22]

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v. Judicial Reform

Since the early 2000s, Colombia has gone through a massive judicial overhaul as it moved from the inquisitorial to an accusatory justice system, meaning that courts were no longer implied directly in the investigation of a case. This has been aided by the Justice Sector Reform Program (JSRP) directed by the U.S. Department of Justice and financed through the U.S. aid program Plan Colombia. Under Plan Colombia, the Uribe administration had also invested in a reform of the criminal justice system to enhance capacity for criminal investigation in response to the high crime rates.

Colombia has a centralised judicial system concentrated in the Office of the Attorney General (Fiscalía ). There is also a military justice system, which takes on cases regarding military personnel who committed crimes while in the line of duty, and an Inspector General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la Nación ), which is responsible for the investigation and discipline of government personnel. A controversial bill of 2014 gave military courts greater jurisdiction over military atrocities, heightening fears of even greater impunity for crimes committed by members of the military. As of 2016, many have voiced their concerns about a legislature that seeks to expand the role of the country’s military judicial system. Reports suggest that the “vague language” could allegedly allow the military court to give its own interpretation of a diverse set of cases, including violations of international human rights and war crimes, reinforcing impunity.[23]

A Justice and Peace Law (JPL) passed in 2005 aims to facilitate the demobilisation of paramilitary groups. Under the law’s guidelines, members of paramilitary groups can be offered incentives for demobilisation. These incentives may include reduced sentences in exchange for truth-telling, reparations to victims, and a promise not to return to armed violence. The JPL has been criticised since its inception for providing undeserved benefits, such as amnesty, to former combatants. However, in 2012, the Colombian Senate approved a package of reforms to the JPL. Under the new formulation of the JPL, former combatants who have not cooperated fully with the justice system could have their cases referred to the regular courts, significantly increasing their sentences. Furthermore, the National Commission of Reparation and Reconciliation (CNRR) was established by the Justice and Peace Law. Its purpose is to provide recommendations to the government for the reparations program and to ensure that victims of the conflict participate in the justice process. In 2011, the CNRR presented the first collective reparations programme to the government. The programme was designed with assistance from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Colombian government has announced that it will spend an estimated US$26 billion on reparations between 2010 and 2020.[24]

Exacerbating problems within the judicial system is a corrupt and overcrowded prison system. According to Colombia’s National Prison Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario - INPEC), the country’s penitentiary system operates at 148 percent capacity as of July 2017 and the number of inmates is only growing. On top of this, there have been a number of reports of high-profile criminals continuing to run their operations from inside their cells, even in maximum security institutions, revealing that corruption among prison authorities is a major concern.

Currently, the European Commission (EC) is managing three programmes in Colombia that seek to improve the institutional capacity of the justice system. The first is the FORJUS programme, which seeks to strengthen the rule of law and to reduce impunity by improving the capacity of the Ministry of Justice. Second, the FORVIC programme seeks to strengthen the justice system’s capacity to deliver assistance to the victims of conflict. And third, the FORSISPEN, which is still in the planning stages, will provide further institutional support to the justice system by focusing again on the Ministry of Justice, and also by working to improve the investigative capacity of the country’s police forces.[25] UNPD has provided $26-million for the Fund on Transitional Justice in Colombia (FTJ). This funding is channelled into two key programs: The Programme for the Promotion of Coexistence, which promotes truth-telling, reparations, and reconciliation, and the Strengthening of the Justice System Programme, which seeks to address criminal accountability mechanisms. UNHCR approved $17,970,131 for various programmes in support of internally displaced persons, including the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System and the Transitional Solutions Initiative, which provides assistance to displaced populations.

The current peace process has an impact on the judicial landscape through its complex set of documents. The Final Agreement to End the Conflict and Establish a Stable and Long-lasting Peace consists of six interconnected agreements on rural reform, political participation, ceasefire and disarmament, illicit drugs, victims and implementation mechanisms, all of which constitute an attempt to provide a comprehensive response to victims of the armed conflict in Colombia.

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5. Future Considerations

Colombia continues to progress on rule of law and other areas of the security sector. The signing of the peace agreement and its approval by Congress open a path towards new political stability. However, Colombia is currently undergoing a vital phase, moving from a civil war to peace and reconciliation. Because its security sector was geared towards responding to internal armed conflict over decades, a redefinition of priorities and roles will require long-term efforts.

Scepticism over the peace agreement with the FARC prevails within both the military and the population, and its implementation poses a number of structural challenges such as the delivery of justice, victim compensation, and necessary land reform. The fight for natural resources and drug routes and a potential new peace agreement with the ELN, necessitating their demobilisation, are additional burdens on the challenging path to peace in addition to murdering of local leaders. Although armed conflict is ongoing in some regions and the number of internally displaced people increase, the peace agreement still presents an important window of opportunity for structural change, which appears to be the most promising avenue to sustainable peace.

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[1] The World Bank, Colombia Country Data, 2017

[2] Transparency International, Colombia, 2016

[3] IPI, Made in Havanna: How Colombia and the FARC Decided to End the War, 2017

[4] BBC, Who are the FARC ?, 2016

[5] IPI, Made in Havanna: How Colombia and the FARC Decided to End the War, 2017; LA Times, The Battle Began in 1964, 2017; CRS, Colombia: Background , U.S. Relations, and Congressional Interest, 2012;

[6] CRS, Plan Colombia: A Progress Report, 2005

[7] CSIS, Colombia: Peace and Stability in the Post-Conflict Era, 2014

[8] BBC, Colombian soldiers jailed for 'false positive' killings, 2011; Human Rights Watch, Colombia, 2016

[9] Human Rights Watch, Colombia – Events of 2015, 2015; Journal of Diplomacy, Why did so many Colombians not see peace in the “peace deal?”, 2016

[10] Riascos, J.A.C., and R.A.G Molina, A deep influence: United StatesColombia bilateral relations and security sector reform (ssr), 1994-2002, 2017; Grabbendorf, W., Limited Security Sector Reform in Colombia, 2009

[11] Grabbendorf, W., Limited Security Sector Reform in Colombia, 2009; Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads 2011: Colombia, 2011

[12] Transparency International, Colombia, 2016

[13] Ibid.

[14] GCST, Impact of International Cooperation in Security Sector Reform in Post-Conflict and Conflict Settings: The Cases of East Timor, Liberia and Colombia, 2011

[15] United for Human Rights, Bringing Reform to Colombian Army and Restoring “Faith in the Cause”, 2015

[16] Colombia Reports, Colombias National Army Embarks on Reform Not Seen Since 1990, 2017; CSG, The Security Sector Dimension of Colombia’s Peace Talks, 2015

[17] Diàlogo, More Women in Colombia’s Public Security Forces, 2017; Transparency International, Colombia, 2016

[18] E. Nussion and K. Howe, What If the FARC Demobilizes?, 2012

[19] New York Times, ‘Goodbye, Weapons!’ FARC Disarmament in Colombia Signals New Era, 2017; USAID, DDR and Child Soldier Issues, 2017

[20] Brookings-LSE, Building Peace in the Midst of Conflict: Improving Security and Finding Durable Solutions to Displacement in Colombia, 2014; The Bogota Post, Police Code Reform Colombia, 2017

[21] El Tiempo, Policía quedó con imagen desfavorable del 59% tras salida de Palomino, 2016 ; Insight Crime, Colombia Police Purges Force in Anti-Corruption Push, 2016

[22] Interpeace, Peacebuilding Model of the National Police of Colombia, 2017

[23] Colombia Reports, Colombian Senate Approves Controversial Military Justice Reform, 2014; Colombia Reports, Who Will Select the Judges For Colombia’s Transitional Justice System, 2017

[24] IOM, Colombia, 20117

[25] European Commission, Evaluation of the Commission of the European Union’s Co-Operation with Colombia, 2012

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.