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Kroc Institute monitors implementation of Colombia peace deal

| Friday, November 1, 2019

In 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist rebel group. The accord ended a five-decade long civil war in the South American country in which 220,000 Colombians died. While many groups have a hand in overseeing the accord’s implementation, one such group working on enacting the deal’s provisions is Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

David Cortright, the Kroc Institute’s director of peace studies and its Peace Accords Matrix (PAM), said a senior Colombian official contacted the Kroc Institute throughout the negotiation process to access the institute’s expertise on international peace agreements, particularly the PAM, which is a database tracking the implementation of 34 different peace agreements that is the only one of its kind in the world. Once the deal was finalized, the Kroc Institute was invited to help monitor the implementation of the accord.

“We were in touch with the negotiators in Colombia when they started their peace talks. They were asking us for research help as they did the negotiations,” he said. “Then, at the last minute, when they were finishing the agreement they said, ‘We’d like to include the Kroc Institute as doing an official monitoring. Take your methodology,’ they said, ‘and apply it to Colombia and give us information on how we’re doing on implementation.’ That was three and a half years ago.”

The Colombian case represents the first instance in which an “independent, university-based research group” was asked to take on a formal monitoring role in the implementation of a peace deal, Cortright said. He said the Kroc Institute’s role is written directly into the text of the agreement, though many different international groups — including the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), among others — have a part to play in helping to implement the agreement.

“There are six chapters in the accord. Very complex: rural reform, political participation, end of the conflict, the illegal drugs problem, the victims issues and then implementation and verification,” he said. “ … There are 100 or so stipulations on verification, one of which is the Kroc Institute. It’s actually in the agreement. That’s the thing that’s unique. It’s never happened before that a university-based research group is actually in the accord and has a responsibility to monitor.”

The accord consists of 578 action-items that need implementation. To monitor the implementation tasks outlined in the text of the agreement, the Kroc Institute has a 30-person team in Colombia to carry out the work, Cortright said.

“We developed what we call ‘the Barometer.’ The Barometer is the actual monitoring instrument in Colombia. The concept is fairly simple. We took the Colombia agreement—it’s like a book. It’s 300 pages. It’s got 578 specific commitments by the parties. We went through, read every line and defined the specific commitments,” Cortright said. “That’s the universe of commitments — ‘stipulations,’ we’re calling them — that we started to monitor. We created a team, on the ground to do the work in Colombia. We have a very big bilingual team — there’s 30 people working for us in Colombia. Their job is to go out every day and follow up on whether the commitments signed in the accord are being implemented.”

The monitoring process involves gathering about 25,000 event reports from across Colombia, Cortright said, which are used to gage how much of the agreement has been put into place.

“All of the specialists who are on the team have to produce — every month — event reports, which are related to implementation of specific stipulations,” he said. “Each specialist has a certain number of stipulations they have to monitor. To get paid each month they have to produce these event reports.”

These reports are then evaluated and analyzed for insights on how much progress being made for implementation of various provisions of the accord.

“In our matrix we have about 25,000 event reports,” he said. “These come into our team [at Notre Dame] … our research technicians every month get all of these reports, and then they have to decide which ones are relevant to the stipulations that are still in action. Then they have to decide if the activity that’s reported is sufficient to bring about a coding change. … We have this [system]: zero is nothing, one is just minimal, two is intermediate, almost there and three is full [implementation].”

The group of Notre Dame experts apply that process to specific pieces of the agreement and make changes in classification every month based on progress that has been made, Cortright said.

“If it says ‘The rebels will turn in all of their weapons and it will be certified by the OAS,’ we monitor that,” he said. “First we found out that they were starting to turn in their weapons, so that was a one. It looked really good after a couple of months; we marked it as a two. There was an official certification from the OAS that it was completed, so it went to three. So that one’s done.

“Our team upstairs is taking that information. They have a command of the entire agreement, they are expert in doing coding and then they’ll make a decision: ‘Okay, this was a zero but now we can move it to one. It was a two, but now it’s finished, so we go to three.’ They make those decisions— that’s the key. Every month we make decisions on changes.”

Once changes are made, they are reviewed. The PAM team reports its findings to various different groups and agencies within the Colombian government.

“Officially—under the terms of the accord — we are to report to the Central Verification Commission that was set up. That’s the commission that includes the government and former rebels. Officially, we report to them,” he said. “But we also report very directly to the government because they have the main responsibility. There is in the Colombian government what used to be called the high commissioner for peace, now it’s called the high counselor for stabilization and legality — same thing, different names.

“This is the official … whose job it is to make sure all of this stuff gets done. We report to him on a regular basis. Then we have something called the Procuraduría, which is like the U.S. General Accounting Office, something like that, that monitors everything the government is doing. In the Colombian Congress there’s a commission that’s focused on the peace agreement; we send them material.”

Furthermore, the reports are occasionally disseminated to other international organizations, including the UN and the European Union, which are also monitoring events in Colombia, Cortright said.

In the years the agreement has been in force, both sides have made gradual progress in the successful implementation of the accord. Just under 40% of the provisions have been fully or almost completely implemented.

“As of the latest, 421 are active. They’re at some point in the process. And if you take the 25% complete and 13% almost [complete], that would give you 38% either completed or almost there — 35% are just started,” he said.

Cortright said there was some degree of question within Colombia as to why a foreign group was carrying out the monitoring, but the Kroc Institute’s previous work in Colombia aided its efforts in winning local trust.

“It was partly, ‘What’s a North American group doing this? We have good research groups in Colombia.’ Which they do,” he said. “For us, it was a little easier because we had been there before. We have a reputation. The Social Pastorate of the Catholic Bishops is our implementing partner, and they have a good reputation so we can work closely with them. Once we started producing good reports, that didn’t become a big issue.”

He also said the FARC has raised some issues with the Kroc’s methodology. The former rebels do not always agree with the institute’s findings.

“The former rebels — the FARC people — they, I think still to this day, don’t agree with our methodology. It’s very quantitative. It’s social science. The FARC people are very political, they’re still hung up on Marxist ideology from 50 years ago. Some of them, anyway. So they always say, ‘We want you to do a different methodology.’ Well, this is what we do. We can’t change the methodology. That’s why we got selected,” he said. “And the FARC did agree — it wouldn’t have been in the agreement if they had not accepted it.”

However, in spite of some disagreements with the methodology from certain groups, Cortright said the Kroc’s work has become the “commonly accepted framework” for evaluating the peace agreement.

“By and large what’s most important is really — I think it’s fair to say — our reports and this methodology are the commonly accepted framework for assessing the agreement,” he said. “Everyone is using our framework, even when they don’t agree with all of it. And that’s what we had hoped to do.”

In addition to the Colombia data, the Kroc Institute has gathered similar information on 34 other peace agreements, all of which was collected years after the fact. The Colombia data is unique in the fact that the institute is monitoring the implementation of the deal and, accordingly, that the data is being collected simultaneously with implementation. Cortright said the 34 other cases help demonstrate that progress is being made in Colombia, even if some believe the process is moving slowly.

“It’s about the three-year point … we have the comparative data so we can help them understand. If you’re in Colombia and you say, ‘We’ve only got 38% completed. That’s pretty poor.’ We would say, ‘Well, it’s okay compared to other peace agreements,’” he said. “Peace takes a long time. You don’t just sign an agreement and war ends.”

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a senior at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland. Formerly The Observer's Notre Dame News Editor, he's now a proud columnist for the paper.

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