Colombia’s political background
After decades of violence and nearly four years of talks, the National Government of Colombia and the militant FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) signed a Peace Agreement in 2016. A referendum on the Agreement saw voters reject it by a margin of less than one per cent, showing a highly divided public. The Agreement was then amended and eventually signed into law by Parliament and the President that same year. In the aftermath, thousands of weapons were surrendered by FARC combatants as they re-entered civilian life and the FARC transitioned into a legitimate political party.
The peace process in Colombia contained several highly inclusive and innovative measures on political participation. One great achievement of the peace process was The Opposition Statute, which guarantees opposition parties’ rights to respond to and criticize government policy choices. There is also the momentous realization of the former guerrilla transitioning to a political party, with seats in both chambers of the Congress. Despite these breakthroughs there are still issues to solve, such as the reform of the political system to strengthen the national electoral authority and political parties. There is also a need for action to combat the exclusion of women, young people, indigenous groups, afro Colombians, and rural communities from political life.
The 2018 elections were greatly significant, as they were the first held since the Peace Agreement was signed. The election saw the lowest public abstention rate of any in Colombia’s history at under 50%, showing a clear momentum behind democratization and peace in Colombia. However, there is still a lack of public faith in government institutions, poverty persists for many, and inequality is still rife.
The 2018 election in general was characterized by opposing views on the Peace Agreement. Ivan Duque, who won the election with 11 million votes, ran a campaign opposing the Peace Agreement. Duque’s victory thus reflected the reality that the reconciliation process is incomplete, and not all political groups in Colombia are satisfied by the terms of the Peace Agreement. Recurring episodes of political violence show that democratic space is still restricted in 2019, with community leaders and civil activists facing aggression and sometimes assassination. With these relatively high rates of violence and corruption, individuals and businesses still have reason to be cautious about Colombia’s political future.
NIMD’s approach in Colombia
NIMD has worked in Colombia since 2010, with our local office NIMD Colombia being set up in 2014, and our programme is focused on the country’s democratization. We do this through two mechanisms: by strengthening the capacities of Colombian parties and by supporting the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
NIMD Colombia is currently implementing two programmes: Dialogue for Stability (funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, running between 2016 and 2020) and Democratic Action for Peace (funded by the European Union, running between 2018 and 2019).
Working in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings
In early 2017, NIMD was requested by the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP to help select experts to form the Special Electoral Mission (SEM), the body tasked with recommending reforms of the electoral system. As the officially designated Technical Secretariat of the SEM, NIMD has guaranteed the participation of parties and movements from across the country, as well as women, youth, ethnic, and LGBTI organizations, in dialogue platforms. By strengthening trust in Colombia’s democratic institutions and facilitating the participation of excluded groups such as women and minority groups, NIMD and its partners hope to support a long-lasting peace in the country, as well as pursuing a more open, inclusive and transparent political system.
With EU support, NIMD also provides institutional support for the implementation of the Agreement on Political Participation. This agreement contains provisions for the legitimate participation of individuals, civil society organizations, and parties within Colombian democracy. Furthermore, NIMD was named as international verification organization for overseeing the application of the dispositions on this matter (Read a summary of the agreement in English here). As part of this, we regularly hold multiparty dialogue sessions on the challenges that parties face in implementing the Agreement, particularly in relation to rules on party financing, political opposition, affiliates registration, and mitigating political violence. Since 2018, NIMD has led the implementation of political pacts promoting non-violence as a foundation of campaigns during the electoral cycle.
As part of the EU-funded Democratic Action for Peace programme, NIMD currently runs Democracy Schools in eight locations across Colombia. The Schools are for civil society organizations and (aspiring) politicians from all parties in those regions most affected by the conflict. The schools cover topics such as democratic theory, political reconciliation, debating skills, and enhancing women and marginalized groups’ participation in politics. By providing a safe and open space for politicians to train and debate, NIMD is bolstering reconciliation between the once-warring groups within the country.
Diversity and gender equality
Central to NIMD’s programme in Colombia is supporting women in politics. For several years, NIMD has provided technical assistance to the Congress Caucus of Women, facilitating the Multiparty Board of Women’s joint initiatives that improve women’s political rights. This is set to continue in 2019 as part of our work to build trust in democratic institutions and, in turn, contribute to a more stable peace and egalitarian opportunities for women in politics.
Also, in 2019 NIMD will provide Training Schools for the Political Empowerment of Women, which serve to strengthen the knowledge and skills of female activists and MPs. Through this we can support women in overcoming some of the systemic barriers to their participation in elections. For example, we help participants devise their campaigns and use the latest technology to deliver their message to the voting public.
Capacity strengthening of political parties
NIMD supports Colombian political parties in their work to strengthen their organizational capabilities in areas such as strategic planning, member affiliation systems, accountability, party democratization, and the prevention and mitigation of political violence. The nature of the agreement means parties are confronted with a new political landscape, which our programmes are designed to help them acclimatize to. The needs of new parties that emerge from the Peace Agreement must also be taken into account. We do this by providing training, hosting special dialogue sessions, and through our Democracy Schools.
Political innovation has been an emerging area of work for NIMD in Colombia. Through DemocraTIC, we have developed tools and methodologies for helping emerging politicians to overcome structural barriers for successfully participating in politics. In 2019, we developed www.datosxvotos.org, an web-based app that allows candidates from marginalized groups to access crucial information for running an innovative low-cost campaign with higher chances of getting elected.
The Democratic Action for Peace programme is financed by the European Union.