Campesinos and environmentalists held a national mobilization March 11 demanding that Colombia establish a Truth Commission for environmental crimes as part of the peace process. The Day in Defense of Territories, Water and Life was organized by the Movimiento Ríos Vivos (Living Rivers Movement), in cooperation with the National Center for Historical Memory, the primary group that pushed for creation of the new Truth Commission on crimes related to the armed conflict. Mobilizations were held in the departments of Santander, Antioquia, Cauca, Córdoba and Huila as well as in Bogotá. Isabel Cristina Zuleta of Movimiento Ríos Vivos said, "The majority of the rivers have served as a dumping ground for the bodies of the assassinated." She called for justice in the degradation of rivers by mining, hydro-electic projects and extractive activity. (Contagio Radio, March 11)
The Colombian Senate on March 13 approved a transitional justice structure that will attempt to bring reparations to the more than 8 million victims of the decades-long conflict between the Colombia government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The new system will include a Transitional Justice Tribunal, a Truth Commission and a Missing Persons section, all aimed at punishing war crimes and gaining reparations for victims. The vote was 60-2 in the Senate, with all 40 members of the Democratic Center party boycotting the vote. The bill must now be approved by Colombia's Constitutional Court before it can take effect.
Even as the FARC guerillas begin the disarmament process under Colombia's peace plan, the ongoing wave of deadly violence against social leaders remains unrelenting. On March 5, a brother and sister who were both local leaders in the Independent Agrarian Workers Syndicate of Meta (SINTRAGRIM), José Antonio and Luz Ángela Anzola Tejedor, were slain in attacks two hours apart by unknown gunmen in their village of Mesetas, Meta department. (Contagio Radio, March 6) Both were also followers of the Colombian Communist Party, which issued a statement calling the double murder part of a "counterinsurgency" plan being carried out against social movements in Meta by right-wing paramilitaries with the complicity of authorities. The statement said the terror campaign is aimed at destroying organizations seeking a just social order after implementation of the peace plan. (Prensa Rural, March 8)
As the US moves ahead with its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, local farmers have launched a protest campaign and lawsuit to halt the installation. Under a land swap deal, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group is to turn over its golf course in southeastern Seongju county to US Forces Korea (USFK) for installation of the weapon system. In return, the company will receive a parcel of military-owned ground near Seoul. Since the deal was announced in July, local farmers in Seongju and neighboring Gimcheon county have been holding daily protests against the deployment. Fearing that the installation will make the area a potential nuclear target, and that the site's radar system will affect their melon fields, they have been rallying each day outside the site, with signs reading "Bring peace to this land!" and "No THAAD deployment!" With deployment imminent, the farmers have brought a lawsuit, accusing the Defense Ministry of bypassing legally-required procedures, including prior agreement with local communities and an environmental impact assessment. They are also threatening to blockade roads to bar entry of military forces. The area has been flooded with soldiers and riot police, and the deployment site sealed off with barbed wire. (Zoom In Korea, Yonhap, AFP, NPR)
The FARC guerillas on March 1 began the process of turning over their weapons at the 26 "transitional camps" established for the purpose around the country. The UN Mission in Colombia reported that some 320 guerilla fighters surrendered their weapons, initiating the disarmament process that is slated to continue through May. (El Tiempo, March 2) There is a palbable sense of de-escalation in many areas of Colombia long plagued by war and political violence. The mayor of Ituango, Antioquia department, Hernán Álvarez, reported that there is "an atmosphere of peace and tranquility" for the first time in many years in the municipality that has seen horrific human rights violations at the hands of paramilitaries and other armed actors over the past generation. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 28) Afro-Colombian residents of Cacarica, Chocó, a self-declared "peace community" that has for the past 20 years refused cooperation with all armed actors, held a ceremony in the village Feb. 24, celebrating the return of some 6,000 displaced community members to their homes, and honoring those slain over the past years of bloodshed. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 28)
This week's recapture of the Wadi Barada enclave outside Damascus by the Bashar Assad regime's forces points to a deft strategy by the regime and its Russian backers. The valley had been excluded from the supposed "ceasefire" because of the presence there of a small number of fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—the former Nusra Front, which was officially excluded from the ceasefire. This means, effectively, the ceasefire not only doesn't apply to ex-Nusra, but also does not apply to any forces that have (often of necessity) allied with ex-Nusra—or even that just happen to be near ex-Nusra and not actively fighting them. This strategy seems to have had the desired effect. Nusra's former ally, Ahrar al-Sham, is now reported to have turned on Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, sparking an internal civil war within rebel-held areas of Idlib governorate. (Al Jazeera, Feb. 2; Al Jazeera, Jan. 29)
Colombian authorities are blaming ELN guerillas in a wave of armed attacks on security forces in Arauca department—including the Dec. 18 ambush of an army patrol that left two soliders dead at Saravena. The ELN is also suspected in a spate of other recent attacks around the country—including a Dec. 29 blast at a power station at Torca, north of Bogotá, that left one National Police officer dead. (El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Radio Caracol, Dec. 29; El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Dec. 27; AFP, Dec. 19) The attacks come days after Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas warned that the window for initiating peace talks with the ELN "will not be open forever." (El Espectador, Dec. 23) In a year-end communique, the ELN blamed the government for the "difficult and anti-peace climate," especially in its refusal to accept a bilateral ceasefire. But it said the ELN remains committed to opening peace talks, and will meet again with a government delegation Jan. 10 in Quito. (El Tiempo, Dec. 26)
Colombia's Congress on Dec. 28 approved the Amnesty Law as part of the peace process between the government and the FARC rebel army, protecting guerilla fighters from prosecution over most crimes related to the conflict. The bill passed the lower house with 117 votes in favor and three against, while the Senate approved it with a unanimous 69 votes. Lawmakers aligned with far-right former president, Sen. Alvaro Uribe refused to participate in the vote. Human rights absues and "grave" war crimes recognized by the Rome Statute are excluded from the amnesty. The measure creates a special "transitional justice" system for combatants accused of such offenses. (Jurist, Dec. 29; TeleSur, EFE, Dec. 28)