Once a bitter opponent of the FARC rebels, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has recently become a negotiating partner for the guerrillas, in order to lead the country back to a state of peace. Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the beginning of October for his efforts to settle a peace treaty with the FARC and end the civil war in Colombia after more than 50 years. A decision which seemed hardly possible, after a very close but negative outcome in the peace treaty referendum, is now praised by many sides - Santos' peace efforts, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, are also regarded as "inspiring" for other conflict parties. We have asked Solveig Richter, Junior Professor for International Conflict Management at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt: "To what extent are the peace negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government an example for other protracted conflicts, Prof. Richter?"
"First of all, the Colombian president's Nobel Peace Prize gives an important backing to continue the peace process, despite the failed referendum. At the Brandt School, we have a number of Colombian students, whom I want nothing more than to be able to put all their knowledge and energy into a prosperous and peaceful home country. In fact, Colombia as a case for solving long-term, protracted internal conflicts looks promising, however there are also limits on negotiated peace in civil war countries. I would like to mention three main points.
Firstly, achieving peace is possible. This sounds trivial, but it is not so in civil war economies, because the benefits of war are often higher than those of peace. Many conflicts seem hard to resolve due to some conflict parties profiting from the fragile situation - as is the case in Colombia, FARC has largely been financed from illegal drug trafficking. The agreement intended to provide financial support for the cultivation of alternative products and a comprehensive development partnership for the long neglected areas, thus creating economic incentives for peace. It will remain to be seen what can actually be done.
Secondly, it has become clear that transitional justice played a central role at an early stage of peace negotiations. On the one hand, serious war crimes need to be legally prosecuted, thus allowing justice for the victims to be achieved. On the other hand, the FARC is also a very large organization with countless members and fighters who need to be re-integrated into normal society. The regulations of the peace treaty included very far-reaching instruments, and have received a great deal of positive recognition in politics and science. Ultimately, however, the referendum failed because many Colombians found the amnesty regulations unacceptable. Colombia is a deeply divided and insecure country. How to initiate a reconciliation process when the wounds of the conflict have not yet been healed is indeed a key question in all post-war societies.
Thirdly, the individual leadership competences and visions are decisive in making important steps forward in such a complicated civil war situation. Santos’ prize is in line with a tradition by the Noble Peace Prize Committee to honor courageous peace negotiators in the past, be it the initiators of the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland 1998 or Israeli politicians and Yasser Arafat 1994. It remains to be hoped for, now that Santos is internationally supported and recognized, that the peace process does not fall victim to the political rivalry with the opposition. One thing Colombia should learn from the other former civil war countries is: bloody conflicts are one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity and development."
*The German version of the interview was initially published at aktuell.uni-erfurt.de/2016/10/11/nachgefragt-friedensnobelpreis-kolumbien/ .