Berghof Foundation

Civil Peace Service (CPS)

Parallel Session 10

The Violent Peace

Lessons from Central America for Colombia’s post-Agreement Phase


The session aimed at discussing the challenge of dealing with violence and its factors that remain and evolve after a peace agreement, with a regional focus on Latin America. While Colombia has formally ended its main armed conflict after five decades with the 2016 peace agreement, a closer look at the Central American situation shows that violence has not ceased at all but that the "post-war" or "post-agreement" context is violent. Inputs were given on three aspects:

  1. Violence – forms and actors,

  2. Dealing with the Past and Transitional Justice,

  3. From the signed agreement to integral transformations.

The discussion explored which factors for violence remain and have to be dealt with. According to one of this year´s Peacebuilding Forum motto "create", the exchange between individuals and organizations working in and on Colombia and/or Central America, as well as in other conflict regions, aimed at co-creating lessons learned and recommendations about how to confront violence and its factors in a post agreement phase. The session began with video questions from Colombians, working on conflict transformation and peacebuilding in Colombia, drawing on what Guatemalan/Salvadorian actors share about their experience in dealing with the challenges of implementing peace agreements and dealing with violence in the region. Some aspects and questions touched were:

  • What are the main lessons from the peace implementation phase in El Salvador and Guatemala and what do they hold for the Colombian peace process?

  • How can the Colombian government achieve peace negotiations with armed groups other than guerrilla groups?

  • How to deal with the widespread violence and threats against victims who reclaim their land, and rising killings of human rights and land activists?

  • How to guarantee and strengthen civil society participation, especially of marginalized groups (indigenous, Afro-Colombians, peasants, women, children and LGBTIQ), in order to reach sustainable peace?

  • What are the lessons learned from Guatemala and El Salvador in order to build institutions, create legislations to implement peace and strengthen democratic structures in Colombia?

  • What insights can be drawn from the dynamics of violence in Central America, to not remain/ relapse into a cycle of conflict, violence and peace?

Key takeaways

There was wide consensus among the speakers that the peace processes in El Salvador and Guatemala formally brought peace, but failed to address several central aspects that are a breeding ground for today’s widespread violence in the region. In both Central American countries, in spite of signed peace accords (1992 resp. 1996), the effort to achieve long lasting peace have not been sufficient. As a case in point, Guatemalan peace accords are one of the most sophisticated, as they address the root causes of the conflict, such as the discrimination and exclusion of the indigenous communities, the unequal distribution of land, Dealing with the Past and Transitional Justice mechanisms. Nevertheless, these provisions were only very partially implemented. "Violence persists, but has changed in form and responsibility." Peace agreements end war, but do not end violence. Patterns and factors for direct and structural violence remain. Among them are the quest for natural resources, the exclusion of a big part of the society, a lack of opportunities, social and economic incentives for young people and marginalized groups (indigenous and afro communities, peasants, women, children and LGBTIQ people), as well as inefficient state institutions, undermined by corruption and clientelism. These contribute to prolonging and diversifying of violence and polarization. The experts from El Salvador and Guatemala stressed that creating a joint vision for the future on a national level, including all levels of society, is necessary in order to reach a long lasting peaceful transformation. "The work of Dealing with the Past and Transitional Justice is just one of the pre-conditions for peacebuilding." While processes in Guatemala and San Salvador have had a strong emphasis on truth and remembrance with some efforts on legal justice, there is a lack of integration of social justice issues in Dealing with the Past. Victims should not only be addressed as victims but should be empowered as actors of change. Stefan Köhler highlights the important role of the Guatemalan civil society and certain state actors who put Transitional Justice topics on their political agenda and reached the opening of the historical archives. Nevertheless, there is still a strong need of psychosocial support and trauma work for both, victims and perpetrators. Ex-combatants have to be included to avoid them to fall back into violence. "To achieve comprehensive transformation, both the state and civil society, as well as other actors, are needed in an inclusive process and with inclusive mechanisms". In order to move from a signed document to positive peace, the structural root causes of conflict need to be addressed because they condition the inclusivity and effectiveness of the implementation. Conflict factors that were not dealt with sufficiently neither in the agenda nor in the agreement, nor during the implementation persist and turn to be part of the current widespread violence. For example, a development model based on the extraction of natural resources can intensify problems of access, use and distribution of land. Neither in El Salvador nor in Colombia, economic and environmental issues were addressed fully in the agreement, but continue to be conflict factors that hinder the peace process: in Colombia, threats and violent attacks on human rights and land activists or victims who reclaim their rights have seen sharp increases especially in the last three years. The lack of opportunities, of access to public services, such to health and education, not only in the rural but also in the urban areas, contribute to the gap between rich and poor and delegitimize the state and its institutions. The influence of economic and political elites on peace processes in both regions are key to their respective development: Powerful political and economic elites may wish to maintain the status quo and have influence on legislation, executive and in some cases the judiciary. Thus, they can either support or hinder a positive and fruitful transformation. Concerning the lessons learned from the Guatemalan and Salvadorian examples and today’s challenges to the Colombian peace process, the discussion findings shed a light on what is needed to end all forms of violence and to attain inclusive and sustainable peace in Colombia, and could also serve for other post conflict contexts: Parting from the understanding that an agreement is opening a door for further transformation processes, the Colombian peace agreement should provide mechanisms that allow other processes for a new social contract, a joint national vision and a buy in from elites for positive peace. For this to happen, attitudes and comfort zones will have to shift: Who can nudge elites to understand the benefits of a more equal society? Who can engage with gang members and ex-combatants for a more inclusive and secure society? How can traumata and psychosocial work be strengthened to support rehabilitation and social integration processes in order to avoid the continuance of violence?

Recommendations for the International Community

The International Community is called to support peace processes beyond the agreement moment with a long-term perspective,

a) It should strengthen mechanisms, such as dialogue, and actors, especially civil society to monitor and implement the agreements and transformations,

b) Inspire and kick-off necessary processes, e.g. for historic memory, combating impunity and corruption, while carefully avoiding to completely replace the state and

c) Facilitating connection and exchange between countries with similar challenges and exchange between International Organizations working in the field.

The International Community needs to hold the states responsible for the physical and human security of all its citizens, and at the same time support actors promoting social change towards positive and holistic peace. Within the International Community, especially Germans with their historic baggage could give impulses to promoting intergenerational dialogue on the joint future and on the common past.

*The report was written by Dana Haug, Berghof Foundation.


Andrés Home
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
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Carlos Sarti Castañeda
PROPAZ Foundation, Guatemala
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Santiago Flores Amaya
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
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Stefan Köhler
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
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Viviana García Pinzón
GIGA, (German Institute for Global and Area Studies)
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Barbara Unger
Berghof Foundation, Germany
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Romy Stanzel
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
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The FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum is a series of events on current and overarching challenges and trends in peacebuilding. With the Peacebuilding Forum, we want to provide future-oriented impulses for the development of peacebuilding and strengthen the visibility and importance of the policy field in its entirety.


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