Date: October 17, 2016
By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
HAVANA, CUBA (ANS, Oct.17, 2016) – A Christian human rights group is urging the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to continue working towards a peace agreement after the current deal was narrowly rejected in a public plebiscite.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) www.csw.org.uk reports that in an unexpected development, the Colombian public voted by a narrow margin of 50.24 per cent to reject the current peace deal, which was signed in Cartagena on September 26 following four years of public negotiations and was considered a major step towards ending the 52-year internal armed conflict in Colombia. A plebiscite on the deal ensured that the Colombian people had the final say and was required in order for it to come into force. Voter turnout was low at 40 per cent.
Among a range of measures, the agreement committed the Colombian Government to agrarian reform, a more open democracy and development programs focused on solving the drug problem. The FARC agreed to a ceasefire and to abandon all arms in the coming months. In his address to the nation, President Santos said that the ceasefire remains in place and that negotiations will continue.
CSW said that all actors in the 52-year internal conflict have been responsible for human rights violations, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). Hundreds of church leaders have been the victims of targeted assassination since 2000 and churches have faced extortion from armed groups. Young people who are pacifist because of their religious convictions have also been forcibly conscripted by the army.
Since 2005, CSW’s partner organizations have carried out a national project, supported by CSW, documenting human rights violations affecting communities of faith. It is hoped that this documentation will contribute to future investigations as part of a truth and reconciliation process to shed light on the tens of thousands of unresolved cases of murder and forced displacement in Colombia, including the kidnap and murder of US missionaries in the 1990s.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: ‘’In light of this unexpected plebiscite result CSW urges all parties to honor their promise to continue working towards a peace agreement in Colombia. Over 50 years of internal armed conflict has left millions of victims. We will continue to stand in solidarity with our partners in Colombia as they work in pursuit of peace, truth and reconciliation. We hope and pray for a peace agreement that meets public approval, and for a truth and reconciliation process that uncovers the human rights violations committed by all actors in this conflict and brings some measure of clarity and peace for the victims and their families.”
In a unique twist to the failed agreement, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday won the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to forge the agreement with FARC rebels and put an end to the country’s 52-year civil war.
Just last Sunday, Colombians rejected that landmark deal, sending it back to the drawing table.
According to the PBS Newshour, in awarding the prize, the Nobel committee praised Santos’ efforts toward peace and said the recognition was also a tribute to the Colombian people who “have not given up hope of a just peace.”
The “no” vote on the Colombian accord “does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead,” but it was merely a rejection of a specific peace agreement, said Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five.
The conflict between the government and Marxist rebels, also known as the FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has left 220,000 people dead and displaced millions. Many Colombians who voted against the agreement thought it was too lenient on those who committed war crimes.
In an interview with PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff in February, Santos spoke of the long-term process of reintegrating former paramilitaries and guerrillas into society, and the need to retrain and reeducate children who were born in the rebel camps. “It’s cumbersome. It’s difficult, but it’s necessary,” he said.
PBS Newshour said both he and the Nobel committee stated that only after the peace and reconciliation process gets underway will the country be able to address the challenges of poverty, social injustice and drug-related crimes.
“The committee hopes that the peace prize will give [Santos] strength to succeed in this demanding task,” Five said.
In its report on the peace agreement, the BBC said the Nobel committee praised him for forging a peace deal signed with FARC rebels, but which was rejected by Colombians in a vote.
Santos said he dedicated the award to "all the victims of the conflict," and the FARC leader congratulated him. About 260,000 people have been killed and more than six million internally displaced in Colombia. The award, however, did not include FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, who also signed the accord.
The head of the Nobel committee said the award recognized the president's "resolute efforts" to end the conflict. "The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process," Kaci Kullman Five added.
President Santos said on Twitter: "This honorable distinction is not for me, it's for all the victims of the conflict. Together we'll win the most important award of them all: peace."
The peace deal was rejected by 50.2% of voters who went to the polls on October 2.
The Nobel committee acknowledged the result, saying: "What the 'No' side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement." It also said that finding a balance between the need for reconciliation and ensuring justice for the victims would be a difficult challenge.
On Twitter, FARC leader Timochenko said: "I congratulate President Juan Manuel Santos, Cuba and Norway, who sponsored the process, and Venezuela and Chile, who assisted it, without them, peace would be impossible."
Earlier, he had written: "The only prize we aspire to is peace with social justice for Colombia, without (right-wing) paramilitary groups, without retaliation or lies. Peace in the streets."
Former FARC captive Ingrid Betancourt said: "We have been in a roller coaster of emotions." Betancourt is a Colombian-French politician, former senator and anti-corruption activist who was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on February 23, 2002 and was rescued by Colombian security forces six and a half years later on July 2, 2008.
In analysis by Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent, the news organization says:”This was a Peace Prize for a peace deal that wasn't. President Santos joins a long line of Nobel Peace Prize winners who have been rewarded for effort as much as achievement.”
“But it is too easy to be cynical,” Marcus wrote. “The Nobel Peace Prize has often been controversial. In recent years a variety of international bureaucracies have won -- the EU, the IAEA and the OPCW.”
Marcus went on to write: “Why, some have argued, should people get a prize for simply doing their job? What, others ask, had US President Barack Obama actually done to merit the prize in 2009, other than be elected?
“But the Nobel has often gone to extraordinary individuals who really have gone above and beyond to bring peace -- in Northern Ireland and East Timor to name just two examples. Maybe the award to President Santos may yet galvanize public opinion in Colombia to think again about the deal.”
The BBC says that critics, led by former president Alvaro Uribe, said the deal was too lenient to the rebels. Under the agreement, special courts would have been created to try crimes committed during the conflict. Those who confessed would have received lighter sentences and avoided serving any time in conventional prisons.
The BBC said FARC would also have been guaranteed 10 seats in the Colombian Congress in the 2018 and 2022 elections.Despite the rejection by voters, Santos vowed to continue with talks with the rebels. The BBC added government negotiators have already returned to the Cuban capital Havana for further discussions with FARC leaders.
Kaci Kullman Five, from the Nobel committee, said the award was also meant as "encouragement" to the rebels. "Giving the prize to Santos is not a belittlement to any of the other parties. The FARC is obviously a very important part of this process.''
Long-time missionaries to Colombia, Russell and Marina Stendal, said in commentary on the peace deal: “The population voted down the Colombian Peace Treaty by a fraction of a percent at 50.2. The bilateral ceasefire remains in place and the guerrillas went on record saying they desire to continue negotiations and will not resort to weapons or violence ever again. Even so, uncertainty reigns.”
They add: “There were many reasons behind the ‘no’ vote and the nation is polarized. Obviously, there are many on both sides unable or unwilling to forgive and forget. The polling was way off, and the tipping point seems to be government negotiators insisting on embedding several paragraphs of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) agenda in the midst of the 276-page Peace Treaty that was destined to become part of the Constitution if approved by the people. They failed to realize over half of the nation took this as a sneaky assault on traditional family and the sanctity of marriage.”
The Stendals concluded: “A few weeks ago there were massive protests by over a million people against an aggressive and intolerant LGBT agenda that was being imposed on the schools by the lesbian Minister of Education. The President and the Minister were forced to back off and apologize. However, the President turned around and put the same Minister of Education in charge of marshaling a ‘yes’ vote on the Peace Treaty, effectively sealing its fate. To top everything else off, Hurricane Matthew swept the north coast of Colombia with its tail on Election Day causing many people to stay home and not vote in an area that would have predominantly voted ‘yes.’ Please keep us in prayer.”
David Witt, CEO, Spirit of Marytrdom, www.spiritofmartyrdom.com, which works with the Stendals in Colombia, writes: “The Scriptures tell us that in the latter days the metaphysical city Babylon will rule the nations. Babylon means confusion.
“Colombia is in political confusion along with the rest of the geopolitical global landscape. Politics can never offer lasting solutions that stem from spiritual sickness of corrupt hearts,” he said.
Witt added: “The Word of God is the hope of peace in Colombia and the rest of the world. For this reason, Spirit of Martyrdom is more committed today than ever to continue our distribution of God’s Word via print, audio and radio broadcasts throughout Latin America and the world. During changing times, the opportunity to distribute Bibles in unreached areas is great.”
Photo captions: 1) Colombian President Santos and FARC leader Timochenko shake hands on peace agreement (AFP photo). 2) Colombia's lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle (R) and Colombia's FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez shake hands after signing the protocol and timetable for the disarmament of the FARC in Havana, Cuba, August 5, 2016 (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa).3) Russ Stendal (Spirit of Martyrdom photo). 4) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.