Derry proposals for Colombian peace

20130426 INCORE Colombia
Gerard Finnegan, Mauricio Rodriguez, Deirdre Heenan, Jonathan Bell MLA, Martin McGuinness MLA, Brandon Hamber, and Ariel Sanchez. INCORE hosted event of Columbia peace process seminar, University of Ulster, Magee Campus. Sponsored by Marie Curie and Rotary International.

In September 2012, peace talks were announced between the Colombian Government and the guerrilla group FARC. There have been several rounds of negotiation, now taking place in Havana, Cuba.

INCORE at the University of Ulster saw a potential in investigating the lessons, good and bad, from the Northern Ireland peace process, in this 15th anniversary year of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

A three-day roundtable event was held 26-28 April in Derry-Londonderry, which included experts (politicians, scholars and journalists) from Colombia and Northern Ireland.

The event was hosted by INCORE and sponsored by the Rotary Club of Londonderry.

The event was opened by several dignitaries, including the Colombian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mauricio Rodriguez; the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness; and the Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell.

Gerard Finnegan explained Rotary’s involvement, as part of a larger event taking place a few weeks later in Derry-Londonderry, “From peace making to peace building”, which will reflect stories from Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Basque country, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr Finnegan said that the main goal is to lay the foundation for legacy work.

Conference organiser, Ariel Sanchez, said that in order to transform the current Colombia peace talks into a sustainable agreement, political will is of the essence, which should go beyond the negotiating teams, to all sectors of society.

Ambassador Rodriguez welcomed all contributions that might help them resolve “our almost half century old conflict”.

He listed five issues that the current Colombia negotiations — due to be concluded by the end of 2013 — address:

  1. Rural development and land reform
  2. Political participation
  3. The end of hostilities
  4. Drug trafficking
  5. Victims’ rights

In regards to political participation, he cited how the current mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Aureliano, “who holds the second most important political job in Colombia next to the President”, is a former member of M-19, a guerrilla affiliated party that the Colombian Government was able to reach a peace agreement with three years ago.

Of the “so-called war on drugs”, starting nearly 40 years ago, the Ambassador described it as a “tragic failure”. He mentioned Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos’ role in international discussions on alternative approaches to the issue.

As for victims’ rights, he said that the Victims and Land Restitution Act is being implemented, “which will give millions of hectares back to people who were violently and illegally dispossessed of their land”.

Ambassador Rodriguez assured the conference participants that their proposals resulting from this event will be studied by President Santos and the negotiating team.

Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness MLA, described Northern Ireland’s peace process as a long journey, saying that “we have not been on that journey alone”. For example, he said that the experience of learning from those involved in South Africa’s negotiations “were absolutely invaluable”.

Mr McGuinness added that he’s “been to a forest in Finland, twice, and to Baghdad”. Pointing, he said, “I blame him, Quintin [Oliver], who’s also made his own unique contributions to peace making in the world.”

The deputy First Minister remarked that as the Iraqi delegates only wanted to deal with those who had experience in South Africa and Northern Ireland negotiations (in contrast, say, to American and British offers of assistance), “it was a great honour to be asked to participate and a privilege to go”.

“It is hugely important that those of us who have been through a successful journey give back to others who are trying to accomplish the same sort of success that we had, whilst recognising that no two conflicts are the same. And that we don’t have the prescription at our hands for peace — that is very much in the hands of the people of Colombia,” said Martin McGuinness.

He said that of vital importance is that there is trust that those in negotiations are committed to seeking a peace agreement. “If you want the worst example of how a peace process can go wrong, look at Sri Lanka. What happened in Sri Lanka was a disgrace, with hundreds of thousands losing their lives, because the Government and the Tamils hadn’t been honest with each other about having peace.”

Back to Colombia, Mr McGuinness found encouragement by the fact that the talks are continuing, with each side assessing the other in regards to their seriousness about peace.

There are many important issues to be dealt with in the Colombia peace process, including victims, dealing with the past (“something we can say we have not been spectacularly successful with here”), and former prisoners (where he remarked positively on the transformation of the Maze/Long Kesh prison site into a Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution Centre).

Arguing for an inclusive process in the Colombia negotiations, Mr McGuinness mentioned his meetings with Colombians for Peace as well as the Colombian Patriotic March group. He appealed to President Santos “not to ignore ordinary people, who have suffered the most”.

Finally, he explained why the word ‘leadership’ is so vital:

“Unless leadership is in place on both sides of the conflict, who are absolutely dedicated to bringing that conflict to an end by peaceful means, then peace processes will not even get off the ground. So, people have to show leadership. They have to do different things … make gestures … stretch out the hand of friendship — even if on occasion it’s at a cost to themselves. Because we have to continue to put our heads above the parapet … to show the world that we’re serious about bringing peace.”

Junior Minister (to First Minister Peter Robinson MLA), Jonathan Bell MLA said that he saw the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as an imperfect solution, with the initial appeal of its ‘constructive ambiguity’ giving way to a realisation of trouble ahead.

For him, the flaw was that the agreement was allowed to be all things to all people, leading onto an unsteady power-sharing arrangement. The issue at the heart of the problem was the impression that one side had gained more concessions than another. After the Northern Ireland Government collapsed in 2002, new talks led to the St Andrews Agreement in 2007 and a return to devolved administration.

Looking back at 15 years since the Belfast Agreement, he cited a number of lessons that could be learned from the Northern Ireland peace process.

One, be clear about what it is that you want to achieve for the community that your represent: “This means keeping your support base on board, every step of the way. Communication is everything, because the outcomes of the process should not produce any nasty surprises.”

Two, be prepared for disagreements, and not just those that take place around the negotiating table; be sure to take the majority of supporters with you: “Negotiations cannot afford to be too many steps ahead of those whose interests they represent.”

Three, do not be tempted to give up: “The search for peace is the greatest quest which any of us can ever be engaged. Quite literally, lives depend on it, as does the future of coming generations.”

Four, never let discussions around the negotiating table be overtaken or be outflanked by what is being said in the media. Mr Bell described the tension between keeping some important matters private versus the right of a free media.

Junior Minsiter Bell concluded, “Peacebuilding does take time. It is achieveable, it is achievable.”

In summing up the speeches, INCORE Director, Brandon Hamber, recalled a colleague once referring to the South Africa conflict as “the struggle” — “It’s not called a struggle for nothing.”

Transferring this to Northern Ireland, Dr Hamber said, “It’s not called a peace process for nothing — it’s a process.”

He described the Colombia situation as a long-term process, with many twists and turns, but where a reward is possible.

“It’s within reach,” said Dr Hamber.

UPDATE: The proposals resulting from this roundtable event were presented at the closing session of the Rotary-INCORE International Peace Conference on 26 May 2013.

Originally posted at:

Allan LEONARD is a peacebuilder. I do this through my personal and professional vocations, with learning, exploring, and reporting. My specialism is the politics of Northern Ireland, whose people and land I love and where I have made my home. I believe in the power of the arts for conflict transformation, through vision, sound, and performance. I work for a shared society and a #sharedfuture Views expressed here may not represent those of current or previous employers or associations.

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    Wee Marty has gone from shinner poacher to shinner game keeper.

    I only hope no one asks where the shinner Colombian 3 are??? Eco warriors they were not!!!

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    I attended this today. I have to be honest apart from a couple of media articles I didn’t appreciate the significance until I arrived. I happen to good with fellow academic A. Cardenas from Colombia who invited me to his particular seminar on conflict resolution and introduced me to some interested delegates from regions of conflict as well as delegates from rotary international itself.

    I thought it was slightly surreal to have Bruno Mars kindly provide backing music for the eventual outdoor group photo!
    I have to say I was impressed with the organisation and of the views presented.

    It also makes the post event group photo interesting to have bruno Mars

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Hmmm tablet mix up at the end there. ;-p

  • In the summer of 1998 shortly after the GFA was concluded I came to Belfast to look at the conflict. I spent three months in Belfast, mostly at the Linen Hall Library but also doing some interviews. I ended up producing a book exploring the parallels among the conflicts in NI, Israel/Palestine and South Africa. Three years later I returned to Belfast for six weeks to start work on the book on the peace process. Unfortunately, because the peace process was so slow–and basically collapsed completely between late 2002 and late 2006, I didn’t publish the result, a comparison of the Oslo peace process and the NI peace process, until 2010.

    Despite the numerous parallels between the conflicts in the Middle East and NI, I didn’t see a lot of positive lessons for mediators for the Mideast conflict, because I thought the mediation in NI was so poorly handled. The main lessons were that the dual mediation model of Anglo-Irish joint sponsorship of the peace process has much potential as a model for many other regional and civil conflicts. The other main lesson was the extraordinary amount of attention that politicians such as Reynolds, Ahern, Major and Blair devoted to the peace process over the years–about 40 percent of their work weeks. The other main lesson is that the Anglo-Irish mediation was successful because there was bipartisan support for it in both Dublin and London. If one combines these last two lessons there is little hope for American mediation in the Middle East because both of a lack of focus and a lack of a bipartisan policy in the U.S.

    The other lessons that McGuinness highlighted are rather abstract but important. These have been highlighted by many academics. The most important thing is seeing how much the conflict in NI is to the conflict that people what to seek lessons for. If the conflicts are not at all similar, than lessons will probably not be of much use. Adams, McGuinness and some of the loyalists claimed that they learned a lot from South Africa’s experience. It is good that they are now “paying forward” to help others in various other countries. But caveat emptor, those should beware of claims of universal relevance of the NI peace process and they should beware that the peace process itself was rather poorly managed.

  • Sorry, that should read “the conflict that people want to seek lessons for.”

  • cynic2

    Did they warn to the Colombians to guard their banks well?

  • son of sam

    The Sinn Fein press office certainly earn their money as there seems to be no escape from photos of Martin in whatever publication you open.Those who live around Derry are well used to this as the main Nationalist paper the Journal seems to see itself as primarily an outlet for Sinn Fein politicians and have an assigned journalist whose role is to cover the comings and goings of same.

  • aquifer

    Getting joint sponsorship by Chile Argentina and Brazil might be an idea, as they are forming a trading bloc. The Americans tend to want to downsize democracy.

  • iluvni

    Could Bell be any more smug?

  • Land, Land Land

    As far as the insurgency in Colombia is concerned without large tracts of land being handed to the landless any peace process will be a sham, will the Colombian government truly go down that road, we will see, but it was the government who gave the nod to the present owners of such land, to steal much of it, and their military who backed these thieves up, or turned a blind eye to the right wing death squads when the peasants tried to argue back. Thus one cannot be over optimistic about the outcome.

    The one lesson I would learn from all of these peace processes and which most academics seem to ignore, Oslo, NI, SA, Sri Lanka, look beyond the media and political powder puffs and try not to be taken for a mug.

    Not easy for sure, but they all have one thing in common, the societal status quo remains in place, there is a lesson there surely?