Aug 2016

Innovations lead to Colombia peace

@Flickr/Juan Cristobal Zulueta, CC BY 2.0

Colombia is today a reference for a troubled world – the proof that there can be a political solution to armed conflicts, no matter how complex.

Kristian Herbolzheimer, Director of Colombia programme, Conciliation Resources.

The Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have announced a final peace deal, ending a seemingly intractable conflict. Reaching this agreement was no small feat, the conflict having spanned five decades with over eight million victims.

London-based peacebuilding NGO, Conciliation Resources has been supporting the peace process since 2012, working with civil society, government and insurgencies to discuss the importance of multiple paths to peace and promote the participation of women in the peace process. 

Negotiation success

The success of these negotiations, where many others have failed, can be attributed to a number of factors. Having learnt from previous rounds of talks, as well as peace processes elsewhere, the two sides introduced a range of innovations. These included addressing the crucial issues of land reform and drugs trafficking, placing the victims at the centre of the talks and preparing for the post-agreement phase long before the final signing. Kristian Herbolzheimer, Director of Conciliation Resources' Colombia programme said:

The Colombian peace agreement is unique because it is the first time that victims have been placed centre stage. The rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations have guided the negotiations, with victims of both guerrilla and state violence being invited to provide testimonies at the talks. 

The talks also created space to consult Colombian civil society through public forums and informal civil society initiatives. Kristian, believes the discussions have had a strong impact: 

Each agenda item in the Havana negotiations has led to heated discussions in Colombia, which allowed a level of conversational maturity and sophistication rarely seen in a peace process. In turn, these public discussions in Colombia have had a strong influence on the talks in Havana, effectively influencing the direction they were taking.

Transformation of Colombian society

While the peace agreement is an important milestone in a longer road to peace, there are many hurdles to cross before peace is sustained. Both the government and FARC appreciate that the negotiations are only the first step in the process, and that there needs to be ongoing participation from everyone in Colombia to transform society.

Decades of violence and mistrust have left scars and a divided society. Despite all the positive developments in the peace process, Colombian public opinion remains largely skeptical. There is now a need for reconciliation, between society and the state and between different groups within society. 

Parallel peace initiatives, organised by Colombian civil society ¬– including women’s groups – have been taking place alongside the talks. Such projects attempt to heal the wounds of the conflict, ensuring that those affected have their say, and the past is dealt with.


A plebiscite, due to take place in the coming weeks, is a vital next step in legitimising the peace agreement in the eyes of the Colombian people. If the people of Colombia vote in favour of the peace agreement, a formal peace accord will be signed.


The post-agreement process, in effect a continuation of the talks but with greater public participation, will be at least as challenging as the peace negotiations themselves. However, with the same amount of foresight, determination and innovation, the implementation has every chance of succeeding too.


Kristian Herbolzheimer is available for comment. He has more than 15 years experience working for peace in Colombia. In 2015 he advised the Government of Colombia and FARC on the negotiations related to ceasefire and demobilisation, and the monitoring role of civil society. Kristian has wide expertise in mediation support and agreement implementation in other contexts, notably the Philippines. He has researched and published widely on topics such as conflict termination, public participation in peace processes, and women's empowerment. Since 2009 he has been the director of the Colombia and Philippines programmes at peacebuilding NGO, Conciliation Resources.