Supporting Reintegration in Colombia through Women and Faith Actors
A century of extreme violence in Colombia has generated profound scars, mistrust and a culture of retribution, in which former combatants are broadly stigmatized. Social rejection by local communities and prejudices in the private sector have been widely cited as primary reasons for ex-combatants returning to criminal activities. The Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR) was established in 2006 to manage the mass demobilization of paramilitaries; the process was wrought with shortcomings, and a significant proportion simply rearmed, joining “new emerging criminal groups.” ACR has significantly improved its programming over the years, but still focuses primarily on the needs and behaviors of individual fighters, continuing to struggle to effectively collaborate with the communities targeted to receive them.
Nearly 20,000 ex-combatants who had already been expected to return to communities remain dependent upon ACR services. The announcement of a preliminary disarmament agreement between the Colombian government (GOC) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) means that as many as 40,000 combatants and non-uniformed supporters will return to civil society. Adding even more difficulty, the skills of combatants make them ideal entrepreneurs in Colombia’s pervasive criminal narco-networks.
In 2014, ICRD launched a multi-year pilot project to promote social reconciliation to help break the cycles of violence and strengthen sustainable reintegration. ICRD is mobilizing women’s networks and religious leaders from all faith traditions (including native indigenous practices), to identify shared values and practices to advance reconciliation. This pioneering effort is being undertaking in collaboration with ACR, and their network of former combatants, thus filling a critical gap in their current programming.
ICRD’s counterparts are perfectly positioned to support and inform the delicate and sustained processes of social reintegration. Religious actors have played a role in many peacemaking efforts in Colombia, but they have never been systematically engaged in collaborative, pluralist initiatives across distinct faith traditions. Women’s networks are key to the functioning of many communities, especially where men have largely either been killed or joined the combatants. Additionally, the guerilla ranks have a significant proportion of women, who have different reintegration needs than men.
ICRD is partnered with the GOC, Colombian non-governmental organizations and academic institutions in three pilot regions to: assess needs and risks related to the historical conflict and reintegrating combatants; train facilitators in the skills needed to conduct sensitive reconciliation processes, and; initiate concrete reconciliation processes between former combatants and conflict-impacted communities. Simultaneously, this diverse group of Colombian community leaders will demonstrate the potential of working across old divides to heal historic wounds and articulate common values.
To date, ICRD’s advances include: training 50 religious women peacemakers in conflict analysis and reconciliation practices who, in turn, trained 300 more in eight regions; conducting a dozen workshops with faith leaders and government leaders in three pilot regions on pluralist peacemaking and reconciliation; launching locally-designed and led pilot engagements on reconciliation with communities and reintegrating combatants; promoting public outreach at a dozen Universities, including the Advanced Military Academy, and; serving as the sole international Steering Committee member of a major Public-Private collaboration, Reconciliación Colombia, which aims to frame national dialogue around issues of reconciliation.