Eduardo Carreño is a human rights lawyer for The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective (CCAJAR), Colombian non-governmental human rights organisation, which aims to contribute to the fight against impunity and the construction of a just and equitable society. The organisation is recognised nationally and internationally for representing emblematic cases of human rights violations in Colombia, both within the Colombian justice system and before the Inter-American System of Human Rights. The high profile nature of the cases it takes on has exposed the organisation to sustained attacks, threats and intimidation since its foundation.
PBI Colombia talked to Eduardo Carreño from the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective about the peace agreement, how he thinks it will change the situation in Colombia, what his expectations and hopes are once peace is signed with the FARC, and what the risks are that exist in the regions.
PBI: What expectations and hopes do you have for when peace is signed with the FARC?
Eduardo Carreño: By recognising that victims, from 1964 until the signature of the peace agreement, would all have the rights inherent to all victims is per se an extremely important achievement. The problem we find is this:
how is this right going to be put into effect? If the victims don’t know how to make their case, read, or write, if they aren’t organised with each other, if they don’t have advice and accompaniment to make it happen, this truth, these rights will be lost. Eduardo Carreño
In the same way, if we are searching for justice so that the people who committed the crimes are investigated, tried and sentenced as they should be, it implies that there are lawyers to represent the victims as the civil/third party in criminal prosecutions, in this case at the courts operating under Special Jurisdiction for Peace which was created.
And there is a running issue that must be made clear: in Colombia there are fewer than fifty of us lawyers who represent the victims. For there to be effective guarantees for justice in all cases, there have to be organisations of specialist lawyers who receive prior training on victims’ rights, on human rights and international law.
It is perfectly feasible within two years to build sufficient teams of trained lawyers to defend and advise the victims in these processes. To the contrary, we will be left with rights being declared, but justice only for those cases which have already been brought to light and where members of the military have potentially been identified and put in detention.
We would be reduced to the exemplary symbolic cases advocated by human rights organisations, and with 98% impunity guaranteed by the State. In large part it depends on the will and resources of the State, and on international support and accompaniment.
PBI: What are your concerns regarding the signing of the peace agreement?
Eduardo Carreño: One of the big problems appearing on the horizon, as regards the military, is that paramilitarism is still active on a national level, given than many of the paramilitary structures did not participate in negotiations nor demobilise. So, who will guarantee that they don’t attack the demobilised guerrillas? That is why the fundamental proposal is that for non-repetition to be guaranteed, the State must complete negotiations with the guerrillas of the ELN and EPL, and with the paramilitaries. Unless that happens, we will see the same difficulties as we did with paramilitarism, when many demobilised combatants returned to military action because the Government did not fulfil its role.
Another concern which is becoming clearer, is that:
"there is no real modification to the structural causes of the conflict. I am very concerned to see how the whole market is being opened up for the extraction of natural renewable and non-renewable resources." Eduardo Carreño
What we haven’t really seen in the proposals is a clear objective to develop national industry, when the means exist to do so. We anticipate that there will be a tendency towards extracting and exploiting resources, but not generating employment. So if there is no real employment policy in the cities or in the countryside, it is very possible that there will be a surplus of skilled and unskilled manpower which then leads to incentives for different kinds of criminality.
PBI: What risks will there be for the regions after the peace is signed?
Eduardo Carreño: The paramilitary groups and other guerrilla groups are still present in the regions, and we are going to have real difficulties to change the conditions. That is why it is absolutely essential for the State to negotiate globally with all the armed groups, guerrillas and paramilitaries. Afterwards, we will need to think about other aspects, like purging the ranks of the Security Forces which have been infiltrated and have developed a fundamental policy of exterminating social movements and confrontation in all shapes and forms against the guerrilla movement as its natural enemy.
"The regions will change to the extent there is a real presence of the State in terms of development; development in all senses. If there is no transportation infrastructure, technical advice, health, education for people to become genuinely productive in the regions, we are going to keep being traditional, and traditionally the State’s presence has been repressive." Eduardo Carreño
So in the regions there will still be organised crime, illicit crops and simply the need for people to engage in processes which enable them to subsist, which would lead to a generalised social disintegration.
From that point of view, it is not a pleasant perspective for the population in general, and simply the only thing to change will be the end of the conflict with the FARC, but the rest of everyday life will continue to be precarious, marginalised, ostracised. Now, in those regions where there is a presence of other illegal armed groups, they will fall under the control either of the paramilitaries or of other guerrilla groups. Additionally, one of this county’s biggest problems is that large areas of the national territory are being conceded to, or sought out by, multinational companies for extractive resources projects, producing palm oil and other monocultures, commercialising fishing or water, or logging, which is finishing off what little forest we still have.
One would aspire to the countryside changing for the best, but, as things look now, if the State’s policies don’t change, the breach will widen between the wealthy few or transnational companies, and the hugely marginalised population that will get poorer every day.