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Kroc Institute helps Colombia implement milestone peace accord

| Monday, September 17, 2018

Notre Dame prides itself on being a research institution and one of its research projects is having a direct, real-time impact on international peace affairs.

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies has been using its academic research on peace accords to work with the nation of Colombia to monitor and track the implementation of its peace accord throughout the country.

The Colombia Final Agreement Peace Accord was approved and passed in November 2016 by the Colombian government under President Juan Manuel Santos. This followed a ceasefire signed earlier that year by the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the largest guerrilla rebel group in Colombia. The accord ended Latin America’s longest-running insurgency and was deemed worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

The Kroc Institute’s part in this historical event is outlined in section 6.3.2 of the Colombia Final Agreement Peace Accord itself, which states the institute is to “design the methodology for identifying the progress of the agreements” and “provide the technical support for the follow-up, verification and monitoring of the implementation of the agreements.”

Playing such a direct role in the peace agreement puts the Kroc Institute’s researchers in a unique position — though they are neutral academics, they have a great responsibility toward an entire nation that uses their research to directly implement peace in a country torn apart by internal conflicts since the mid-1960s.

“This is really historic, this project,” David Cortright, director of the Peace Accords Matrix (PAM) Project, said. “First time it’s ever been done, and it could be a model. If it works well, it could be a model for peace accords in the future with an objective academic monitoring system.”

The current Kroc Institute PAM team is divided between seven members based at Notre Dame’s main campus and about 30 people based in Colombia who work with over 300 Colombian partners, including think tanks, government institutions and civil society groups. Both parts of the team work collaboratively to monitor the progress of peace implementation throughout the nation. Every month, findings are summarized in reports presented to the International Accompaniment, an NGO the PAM project is a part of and the Colombian government, including the offices of the presidency and vice presidency.

Implementation progress is measured from a zero to three scale, with zero being no implementation and three being successful implementation. After a thorough reading of the 310 pages of the accord, the PAM team identified 578 measurable stipulations, or concrete, actionable items. Each of those items is ranked on a monthly basis using the scale and is included in the reports.

The Kroc Institute’s research on peace accords predates its involvement with Colombia’s peace process. The earliest form of this research was the Peace Accords Matrix database, the brainchild of John Darby, a former professor at the Kroc Institute. Darby, who taught comparative ethnic conflict, wanted a systematic way to compare what provisions worked well in certain peace processes. He enlisted the help of his students to gather and organize data to be used in a possible database of comparative peace accords, and the effort eventually grew into a serious project he presented at a Kroc Institute research conference in 2003 under the formal name “Peace Accords Matrix database.”

Following this formal launching of the PAM database, a researcher named Madhav Joshi joined the Kroc Institute in 2010 and restarted the PAM project by writing a codebook to identify provisions being negotiated in the peace accords being studied. Joshi hypothesized that the implementation of provisions, rather than the provisions themselves, were the driving force for peace-building success in the host country, and fundamentally changed the PAM project to focus on implementation.

“The animal that we created is very different from the animal John Darby envisioned back then,” Joshi, who is now the current associate director of the PAM Project, said.

Joined by Jason Quinn, PAM’s current principal researcher, in 2012, Joshi continued to produce research to empirically examine his hypothesis.

“We are the only database that examines different provisions being negotiated in comparative peace accords, and to what extent those provisions were implemented within 10 years’ time,” Joshi said. “We are still the only database. And we have all this information available in qualitative and quantitative form on our website, so it is publicly accessible.”

With a growing research presence, the two also began facilitating peace processes in Nepal, the Philippines, Myanmar, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria. Mediators and negotiators from around the world came across Joshi and Quinn’s work and began asking them about best practices for implementing peace accords as well as advice based on the comparative data they gathered.

The PAM project’s partnership with Colombia, called the Colombia Barometer project, came about through two men whose work directly connected Colombia and Notre Dame. Years before the signing of the ceasefire in 2016, John Paul Lederach, Professor Emeritus of International Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute, and Francisco Diez, PAM’s Latin American Representative whose former jobs included Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina and adviser to Argentinian President Raúl Alfonsín, had done extensive research and peace-related work in Colombia. The two were well-connected in Colombia and were able to bring the PAM team’s work to the attention of the mediators working on the development of the Colombian peace treaty, as well as many other people involved in the peace process.

By the time the ceasefire was signed in 2016, the Kroc Institute had already been providing consistent, implementation-focused mediation support in Colombia for years. That involvement led to the Kroc Institute’s key role in the peace agreement.

“We were the only project in the world that measured implementation,” Quinn said. “So when they got ready to sign their agreement, we were in the perfect spot. We were the only ones that did implementation, they already knew us and they already liked us. So we proposed the idea of monitoring the whole agreement, which [was] something that [had] never been done before.”

For Colombia, the partnership promised an innovative peace agreement that could use regularly updated academic research to actively assess efficiency and even make improvements to the implementation process based on the updated analysis provided. For the Kroc Institute, it offered the first-ever chance to monitor a peace agreement’s implementation in real time, on a monthly basis from start to finish, Elise Ditta, a research associate for the PAM project, said. It also afforded the unprecedented opportunity for the PAM project to have a team in the country of study with direct access to everyone in charge of implementing the accord, including chief policy-makers in Colombia.

One important contribution made by the PAM team happened just a few months after the ceasefire was signed. In October 2016, an initial version of the accord was voted down by less than a one percent margin in a public referendum. Without an alternative plan, Santos turned to the PAM team for advice on how to proceed with the accord, Joshi said. The team, in response, crafted a research brief outlining how other peace accords that had been voted down went through an effective re-negotiation process.

“We examined different peace processes around the world and how parties found a way to reconcile their differences when there was significant opposition to the negotiated peace accord,” Joshi said. “So they went back to that negotiation table in Havana, [Cuba], the FARC and the government and some of the key opposing actors. … They identified key issues … and instead of going to the referendum again, [in keeping with] our advice, they went to Congress.”

The final version of the accord was passed by the Colombian government a few months later in November.

Another contribution the PAM team made was a list of stipulations that would be easier to implement. To do this, they chose a number of items from the list of stipulations ranked “0,” and gave this list to the government. As a result, the government has started working on those items at a higher rate.

“I think having somebody who knocks on your door every month and asks, ‘How are you doing on these 10 commitments?’ probably motivates people to act,” Ditta said.

The most recent major development in the PAM project occurred two weeks ago, when the PAM team based in South Bend made a group trip to Bogotá, Colombia from Sept. 4 to Sept. 9. A major objective for the trip was meeting with members of the government under Iván Duque Márquez, the new Colombian president who was elected in the summer and took office in August.

“Since our role is so related to interacting with the government and other actors in Colombia, a large part of the trip was to talk and strategize about, ‘What’s our project going to look like with the new presidential administration?’” Ditta said. “[It was] strategic planning at both the political level and the operational level.”

Having this conversation was important because Márquez had been part of the opposition that voted against the initial version of the peace accord in October 2016, Carolina Serrano Idrovo, a research associate on the PAM team, said.

The strategic planning involves figuring out what types of reports the new administration wants, what other products they might need and who is willing to support their mission.

“We need to know, ‘Who are our current allies in government?’” Joshi said. “We need to nurture our relations to suggest the relevance of this project.”

In addition to those conversations, Joshi, Quinn and Diez met with Rodrigo Rivera Salazar, the new High Commissioner for Peace to discuss ongoing negotiations with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), another rebel group still at war with the government.

“That fact [that the new administration] is still interested in having people from the Kroc Institute come, give advice and understanding to the situation is, I think, very positive,” Serrano said.

The successful implementation of the peace treaty would be a huge milestone for Colombia, Quinn said, but it is also an exciting academic prospect for the Kroc Institute.

“The singer of the Colombia Barometer project is the dataset,” Quinn said. “Once the Colombia process is over in a few years … the data set will live on. Right now, there is no detailed data set on the implementation of everything in a peace agreement. … In the future, students and academics can use the data to help negotiate and implement successful peace agreements.”

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