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Fostering Justice and Peace in Colombia

High Commissioner for Peace and High Counselor for Social and Economic Reintegration Frank Pearl spoke at a CAP event about Colombia’s efforts to demobilize and reintegrate former combatants.

“[Colombia is] a nation that has it all but still faces violence and inequalities,” said Frank Peal, High Commissioner for Peace and High Counselor for Social and Economic Reintegration for the Republic of Colombia at a Center for American Progress event Tuesday. Pearl spoke about the country’s journey to peace, reconciliation, and development at the event, which was moderated by CAP Senior Fellow Louis Caldera.

The Colombian government has been fighting for decades against dangerous left-wing guerilla and right-wing paramilitary groups that were largely financed through illegal drug trafficking. Under current President Álvaro Uribe the government has strengthened efforts to limit these groups’ influence.

Pearl focused on a major part of this effort, which is the government’s work demobilizing combatant groups and reintegrating former combatants into society. The reintegration process is the last step in a strategy known as Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, or DDR. Reintegration involves three elements:

  • Balancing justice and peace. Pearl explained that the first step in demobilizing combatants is to bring offenders to justice. But Colombia needs peace to be stable, so offenders also need to be taught how to be productive members of society instead of militants. Balancing justice and peace means the program is neither all punitive nor peace at any price, but operates in a way that is fair to the demobilized former combatants, the victims of their violence, and society as a whole and allows them all to work together to build a common future.
  • Strengthening families. Pearl said that almost every person who joins a guerilla or paramilitary group comes from "families in which they were mistreated" and experienced psychological, physical or sexual abuse. He thought that if families were stronger people would be less tempted to join combatant groups. So counseling and educational assistance is offered to families as well.
  • Building skill sets. The Colombian government has been working to develop the former combatants’ education and skills so they can become contributing members of society. Pearl said combatants’ “talents have been misused.”

Former combatants undergo 24- to 36-month psychological evaluations, education and training as part of the reintegration process. These evaluations allow officials to determine the labor skills and social views of each former combatant as well as the best intervention method for each. Pearl said the government has built profiles of former combatants based on these evaluations to develop personalized services and increase the chances of successful reintegration.

The government has also formed alliances with the private sector in order to create jobs for ex-combatants and victims, including created a private sector led Private Equity Fund to invest in new business willing to hire demobilized persons and victims. Ex-combatants are also required to work on community based infrastructure projects such as building parks to promote development along with disarmament. “We need to make it possible for communities [to which] ex-combatants are going back … to be better off as a result of the process,” said Pearl.

Pearl warned, however, that the program is neither fast nor perfect. He said that results will be slow since reintegration is a “long-term policy … Everything that we do, we do it knowing that results are going to be shown many years down the road.” He also said some tweaks in the system might be necessary down the line since ex-combatants experience an approximately 7 percent recidivism rate.

He made clear that “these are not easy processes, these are not perfect solutions … we don’t have magic formulas,” but he added that “we have a serious [commitment to] doing things in the best manner that we can.” And even as the Colombian government continues to hone DDR, its success could serve as a model for other countries and regions of the world coming out of armed internal conflicts.

For more on this event please see its events page.

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