The limits of Colombia's demobilization programs
Nov 09, 2010
The security situation in Colombia has improved greatly over the last decade as the state has gained more control over the use of violence within its territory; both through combating illegal armed groups and by gaining wider legitimacy with the population.
However, there has been a resurgence of violence in recent months, for example in the city of Medellin. Some Colombians blame, at least in part, the failure of the country’s disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs (DDR) for this new deterioration in security....
Are there, then, factors that make Colombia’s DDR programs unique, or would it suffice to state that accompanying a peace process with DDR is just difficult and bound to end in disappointment?
Colombia’s attempt to connect DDR with a restorative justice process through the Justice and Peace law is unique indeed. However, the current situation indicates that putting this policy into practice is difficult, as Justice and Peace is understaffed and underfunded.
The presence of psychological assistance for demobilized combatants in Colombia’s DDR is also a factor that sets it apart from the “average” DDR program. Then there is the community reintegration component. This is rather unique, although in practice these programs are very short-term, which undermines the effect of including recipient communities.
The reach of these programs also seems underdeveloped due to financial and capacity constraints. Of course the growth of and trade in narcotics fuels the conflict dynamics in Colombia and thereby creates a rather unique context, though it is less so when viewed in relation to other Latin American countries.
The extradition of paramilitary commanders to the U.S. is one of its related peculiarities. To have both a collective and an individual demobilization process is also unusual. What furthermore might be unique is that Colombia’s individual DDR program, which applies to rebel fighters, is considered by some to be a strategy of war rather than a peace process.
There are several arguments that seem to support this claim. The CODA certificate, which indicates that there are no outstanding cases against the to-be-demobilized individual, is issued out by the Defense Ministry, in consultation with the Justice Ministry. This leaves ample room for the Defense Ministry to intimidate demobilized individuals in order to obtain intelligence.
The existence of a publicly-circulated list of financial rewards for information on guerrilla groups also supports this claim. Moreover, soldiers that extract useful information from guerrillas will climb the military ladder. Anecdotal evidence furthermore indicates that some guerrillas turning themselves in are threatened with not receiving any benefits from the DDR program if they fail to provide information about their former groups.
For these reasons it can be argued that the individual program is a strategy of war that prioritizes defeating the insurgents over creating an inclusive peace process.