Institutional Reintegration & the Security Sector for FARC in Colombia

The Colombian government and the FARC-EP ended their 38th round of talks on 12 July reaching an agreement to expedite the peace process. Once a settlement is reached the parties will address technical issues. Central among these are disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) recognizing FARC-EP as stakeholder in Colombia’s polity and is acceptable to Colombian society. Congruent to President Santo’s previous call for DDR, reintegration into public sector institutions may place high on the agenda. Public sector employment of former fighters (FF) in Colombia is not new; FFs hold government jobs at rank and file and senior leadership positions. Colombian public sector reintegration may exclude the formal, armed security sector such as police, army or border patrols. So, what options exist whereby former FARC-EP would not carry arms? Best practices and lessons learned show a combination of reintegration approaches is optimal as a positive contributor to longer-term peace and development. Below 4 options are examined.

Mine Action (MA), is effective for FF reintegration. Advantages include an economic livelihood opportunity, psychosocial transition from military towards a civilian identity, and social reintegration and benefits as FFs and communities cooperate in development and recovery functions. In Cambodia MA programs were successfully utilized to support DDR. Economically, MA often affords a de-miner a source of income exceeding what is otherwise available in a local market due to the dangerous nature of the work. De-mining work requires a command and control structure similar to a military structure providing a robust psychological support network. As MA requires command and control akin to a military structure, consideration should ensure FFs are not entering into MA as cohesive units avoiding an environment whereby remobilization is facilitated or FF’s ability to socially reintegrate is constrained.

The education sector is another reintegration option.  DDR in Afghanistan generated 800 employment and placement jobs for women to serve as certified teachers with the Ministry of Education (MoE). As there are a number of FARC-EP that are women this can be an attractive complementary option to MA as global experience demonstrates a large proportion of de-miners are men. Criteria for training and placement was based on MoE standards with beneficiaries chosen by community based governance committees. Any government concerns placing former fighters in public schools to teach children may be allayed as this option requires adherence to government curricula with monitoring and verification mechanisms in place. Education has proven to be the most effective reintegration approach for DDR in Colombia. The government may also consider policy options affording former FARC-EP children access to affordable, or free education.

Public works projects have precedent incorporating FFs from DDR. In Kosovo, Afghanistan and South Sudan these options were utilized, or considered as a transitional tool supporting longer-term reintegration into the public sector. They can take the shape in DDR as an interim stabilization measure (ISM). The government may want to consider training FFs together in the short term to retain group cohesiveness for an interim period, and then dispersing individuals to various state institutions and projects. In doing so the same advantages occur as for MA, with the government being able to closely monitor former XC progress and activities.

A recent case includes the Kosovo Civil Protection Corps (CPC) in 2014. The CPC is a group of armed hardline Serbs resident in Kosovo. Considered belligerents by Kosovo authorities, the government has little appetite to preserve command and control of the CPC. Even so, the CPC self mobilized in northern Kosovo in 2014 to respond to flooding in Kosovo, thus providing a significant public service within a structure akin to a public works project.   In Colombia integrating FFs into public work projects without former comrades is a possibility.

Commander incentive programs have history in DDR as a program, and political process integral to peace consolidation. Commander incentives can offer positions and posts at appointees and senior leadership levels and depending on the nature of the conflict and trust in the peace process, keep intact elements of group cohesiveness, or seek to disband groups. Where groups are kept cohesive, the political reintegration objective is ‘transformation’ of the group identity; by contrast where disbandment is a political and strategic objective ‘disassociation’ of former armed group members is the reintegration aim. In Afghanistan a challenge was breaking the bond between the commanders and soldiers that may aid reintegration, yet threaten to security. This persists presently for Taliban and anti-government elements slated for DDR. Conversely, in Tajikistan whole units of anti-government forces were incorporated into state structures including police and armed forces. Tajikistan’s comprehensive peace settlement aimed at inclusion of armed elements into government and public structures as stakeholders in the democratic process. To this end a full 30% of top government positions were reserved for opposition leaders. Today Tajikistan enjoys considerable success in maintaining durable peace and security.

Research supports the conclusion that FF participation in civil society increases chances for successful social and economic reintegration. Results suggest socially and politically aware FFs in more participatory communities are likely to have an easier time with social reintegration. There is a direct correlation indicating that increased FF participation in civil society, though civil society organizations (CSOs), decreases recidivism, or what we may term ‘remobilization’. This suggests supporting the social life of local communities as a pathway to stimulate social reintegration, providing entry points for government policies supporting CSOs fostering FF participation. Global examples relevant for Colombia’s DDR of FARC-EP reintegration into public institutions includes mine action, education, public works and commander incentives. Taken together, these public sector (re)integration options provide for a blend of social reconciliation, economic livelihood and psychosocial support. Equally, DDR is recognized as a political process in the transition from war to peace affording policy agency to non-state armed actors and providing for reintegration with dignity.

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