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Primero Franco, a Colombian marine, fires an M-60 machine gun during a field training exercise June 30, 2009. (U.S. Navy photo/R.J. Stratchko)

SSR Country Snapshot: Colombia

Colombia is a conflict-affected country that entered peace talks in 2012 to end their protracted civil war. Reforms officially began in 2002.


SSR Snapshot: Table of Contents

1. SSR Summary

2. Key Dates

3. Central SSR Programs/Activities

4. Key Funding Commitments

5. Major International Donors

6. Major Civil Society Stakeholders

7. Key Domestic Government Actors

8. Central Challenges

9. For More Information


1. SSR Summary

Colombia is a country in northwestern South America. It is bordered by Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. After Mexico, it is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world by population. It is also highly diverse, as interaction between original Spanish colonists and native inhabitants, African peoples brought to the country as slaves, and 20th century immigration from Europe and the Middle East have produced varied ethnic groups. The country has been marred by a protracted civil conflict that has endured since the mid-1940s. Numerous governments have attempted to resolve the conflict and engage in peace negotiations. In 2012, talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia began in Norway.

Given the ideological roots of the conflict, and its extreme duration, the necessary reforms are as numerous as they are profound. Reforms have touched many segments of the Colombian state, mostly in response to corruption and violations of human rights. For example, in 2011, the Administrative Department of Security, Colombia’s internal security and intelligence agency, was dissolved after years of scandals. Massive demobilization programmes have also become commonplace, in order to process the disarming rebels and reintegrate them into society. Justice reforms have also become a priority, as the Colombian justice system struggles to keep up with the caseload resulting from the demobilizations. With the recent announcement of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the possibility of its demobilization, these reforms can be expected to continue for many years.

Arguably, the demobilization of guerilla and paramilitary groups is the most significant component of Colombia’s peace efforts. Progress in this area is less than definitive. New illegal armed groups have emerged to replace those paramilitary groups that have been demobilized, and the rampant drug trade encourages combatants to retain their arms, and in some cases to re-arm. The Colombian justice system also struggles to keep pace with the caseload resulting from paramilitary demobilizations. Recent negotiations with the FARC guerillas threaten the justice system with more cases, increasing the urgency of judicial reform. Institutional reforms have been incremental, and have often drawn criticism from human rights organizations, who either argue that the reforms are inadequate, or that they do more harm than good.

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2. Key Dates:

  • 1948-1957: Approximately 250,000-300,000 killed in civil war.
  • 1958: Left and right-wing parties unite to form the National Front and end the war, all other parties banned
  • 1965: National Liberation Army (ELN) and Maoist People’s Liberation Army founded.
  • 1966: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) founded.
  • 1971: Rebel group M-19 emerges.
  • 1989: M-19 reaches an agreement with the Government of Colombia, becomes a legal political party. Demobilization of many smaller rebel groups is also achieved.
  • 1991: Colombia’s new constitution comes into effect.
  • April 1997: United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) is formed.
  • 1998-2002: Government engages in peace talks with rebel groups.
  • February 2002: Peace talks end after FARC hijacks an aircraft.
  • July 22, 2005: Justice and Peace Law enters into effect.
  • Early 2012: Secret preliminary talks begin between FARC and the Government in Havana, Cuba.
  • April 2012: FARC releases the last of its police and military hostages.
  • October 2012: Formal peace talks between the Government and FARC begin in Oslo, Norway.

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3. Central SSR Programs/Activities: 

Justice and Peace Law (JPL): The JPL (Spanish: Ley de Justicia y Paz) helps facilitate the demobilization of paramilitary groups. Under the law’s guidelines, members of paramilitary groups can be offered incentives for demobilization. These incentives may include reduced sentences in exchange for truth-telling, reparations to victims, and a promise not to return to lawlessness. The JPL has been criticized since its inception for providing undeserved benefits, such as amnesty, to former combatants. In 2012, the Colombian Senate approved a package of reforms to the JPL. Under the new formulation of the JPL, former combatants who have not co-operated fully with the justice system could have their cases referred to the regular courts, significantly increasing their sentences (Colombia Reports, 2012).

Política Nacional de Reintegración Social y Económica para Personas y Grupos Armados Ilegales (PRSE): The PRSE sets policy objectives for reducing socioeconomic barriers for demobilized persons. It places emphasis on the development of civil and social skills, and improving access to education, health, and the labour market (ACR, 2013).

European Commission assistance to the Colombian justice sector: Currently, the EC is managing three programmes in Colombia that seek to improve the institutional capacity of the justice system. The first is the FORJUS programme, which seeks to strengthen rule of law and reduce impunity by improving the capacity of the Ministry of Justice. Second, the FORVIC programme seeks to strengthen the justice system’s capacity to deliver assistance to the victims of conflict. And third, the FORSISPEN, which is still in the planning stages, will provide further institutional support to the justice system by focusing again on the Ministry of Justice, and also by working to improve the investigative capacity of the country’s police forces (European Commission, 2012, p. 33).

Victims Land and Restitution Law (Law 1448): The Law “facilitates the restitution of millions of hectares of lands abandoned or stolen as a result of human rights abuses and violations (Amnesty International, 2012). It also contains special provisions for women and children who have survived human rights abuses, and those who may have suffered abuses due to their sexual orientation, to name a few. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that there are both positive and negative aspects of the law (UNHCR, 2013). However, the provisions that make special mention of women, children, and those targeted for their sexual orientation provide evidence of a stronger concern for accountability and the protection of human rights in Colombia.

Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación (CNRR): The CNRR was established by the Justice and Peace Law in 2005. Its purpose is to provide recommendations to the government for the reparations program, and to ensure that victims of the conflict participate in the justice process. In 2011, the CNRR presented the first collective reparations programme to the Government. The programme was designed with assistance from the International Organization for Migration, and the United States Agency for International Development (IOM, 2011). The Colombian government has announced that it will spend US$ 22 billion on reparations over the next decade (Justice in Perspective, 2012).

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4. Key Funding Commitments:

EUR 160 million from the European Commission for the period of 2007-2013 (European Commisssion, 2012, p. 17).20% (EUR 20 million) of this funding is earmarked for rule of law, justice, and human rights programmes. Some of the EC’s objectives in this area are to help Colombia implement some of the UNHCR’s recommendations, build state capacity in the areas of investigation, legal examination, and judgment, promote a culture of good governance, improve assistance to vulnerable populations, and fight corruption (European Commission, 2007, p. 29).

US$ 65,300,200 from USAID in support of the International Organization for Migration’s 2nd phase of the Programme of Community Oriented Reintegration of Ex Combatants in Colombia (2010-2014) (IOM, 2012, p. 6). The programme strengthens initiatives that provide reintegration for former combatants and assistance to victims of the conflict in accordance with the Justice and Peace Law.

US$ 36,460,387 from the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare for the Rights Restitution and Prevention of Recruitment of Children Affected by Conflict (IOM, 2012, p. 18). The programme will work with children and adolescents in vulnerable communities to address the socioeconomic conditions that make them prone to forced recruitment and abuse.

US$ 26-million from the UNDP for the Fund on Transitional Justice in Colombia (FTJ) (UNDP, 2013, p. 62). This funding is channeled into two key programs: The Programme for the Promotion of Coexistence, which promotes truth-telling, reparations, and reconciliation, and the Strengthening of the Justice System Programme, which seeks to address criminal accountability mechanisms. US$ 17,970,131 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for various programmes in support of internally displaced persons, including the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System and the Transitional Solutions Initiative - which provides assistance to displaced populations (UNHCR, 2012)

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5. Major International Donors:

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6. Major Civil Society Stakeholders:

Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz – The Asamblea is a forum for civil society organizations to take part in discussions associated with Colombia’s peace process, and provides opportunity for civil society groups to involve themselves in the political agenda. It organizes and coordinates nationwide meetings, and contributes to civil society participation by providing training for civil society leaders.

REDEPAZ – REDEPAZ is made up of national NGO’s, civil society organizations, and academics. Its primary goal is to support civil society operations at the national, regional, and local levels.

Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (CPDH) – The CPDH focuses on the protection of the civilian population, and promotes the protection of human rights. It records and analyzes information about human rights violations, facilitates the involvement of the international community in the protection of human rights, and promotes civilian participation in the defence of human rights.

INDEPAZ – INDEPAZ is a national peacebuilding organization that focuses on the status of victims and armed groups, drug trafficking, DDR, and government peace initiatives. The organization’s work has been praised for building connections between civil society organizations and promoting an understanding of the country’s conflict. A comprehensive list of Colombian civil society organizations can be found here.

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7. Key Domestic Government Actors:

National Army of Colombia – The National Army is responsible for the external security of Colombia.

National Police of Colombia – The National Police is responsible for internal security, and for ensuring the provision of human rights. National Intelligence Directorate – In 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) after several years of scandals, including allegations of ties to insurgents, illegal wiretapping, and corruption. The Directorate is exclusively dedicated to intelligence gathering; it has no judicial police functions, does not engage in criminal investigations, and has no role in monitoring the security of the state.

Ministry of the Interior – The Ministry of the Interior is in charge of managing relations between the national government and the local administrative divisions; the relations between the executive and legislative branches of government; and the relations between the Government and vulnerable population such as indigenous and LGBT Colombians.

Ministry of Justice and Law – The Ministry of Justice and Law is responsible for public policy in the field of justice, and is responsible for managing relations between the executive and judicial branches of government, the office of the Inspector General, and all other public agencies in order to implement public policy on justice and law.

Ministry of Defence – The Ministry of Defence is responsible for defence policy.

Colombian Agency for Reintegration – The ACR works in cooperation with the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Interior and Justice, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace. It is responsible for coordinating, advising, and running reintegration and demobilization programs.

Organization of American States - Misión de Apoyo al Proceso de Paz– The MAPP was created by the OAS to aid the Colombian government in the peace process. It is currently involved in DDR, transitional justice, and democratic reform projects. Office of the High Commissioner for Peace – An advisory office appointed directly by the President of Colombia. The High Commissioner guides the President and government on the development of peace policy. The High Commissioner’s office is the point of contact between the government and the rebels, and is the only body authorized to make direct contact with rebel groups.

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8. Central Challenges:

Corruption Corruption occurs at almost all levels of the public administration. In 2012, Colombia was ranked 94 out of 176 countries surveyed by Transparency International (Transparency International, 2012). The justice system in particular is burdened by corruption and extortion (Freedom House, 2013, p. 3). Questionable behavior on the part of the judiciary has also raised concerns over respect for human rights and due process. In 2012 a judicial reform bill was revoked by Congress following controversy over a provision that would have stripped the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over criminal allegations against parliamentarians (Freedom House, 2013, p. 3). Incidents of this kind complicate the reform process and fuel public dissatisfaction.

Human Rights Abuses and Impunity Instances of human rights abuses continue, as does impunity for those responsible for such abuses. Despite recent attempts to increase human rights training and investigation for abuses, many soldiers function with little to no civilian oversight. Until 2012, the systematic killing of civilians to artificially inflate guerilla death tolls was a common practice; thousands of security personnel remain under investigation for the practice. Jurisdiction over human rights violations has been a contentious issue in Colombia. In fact, the prosecution of high-ranking military officers has increased the tension between military and civilian justice institutions. In 2012, the government sponsored a bill that would have given jurisdiction to the military justice system. However, following a massive international and domestic outcry, exceptions were added for the most extreme crimes. Despite the exceptions, human rights groups warn that the law weakens efforts toward accountability.

Drug Trafficking Lawlessness in Colombia is fuelled by the drug trade, which provides a steady resource stream for guerilla groups and the paramilitaries (Freedom House, 2011).

Insurgent Violence Although violence has decreased since the early 2000s, and homicides reached a 27-year low in 2012, many areas are still “besieged by violence” (Freedom House, 2013, p. 4); resource-rich zones and drug-trafficking corridors are particularly affected.

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9. For More Information:

International Crisis Group (2012). Colombia: Peace at Last?. Retrieved from

This report is very up-to-date, taking into account some of the most recent developments in the peace talks between the Government of Colombia and FARC. It focuses on what has made FARC so resilient over the years, and more generally what has complicated the peace process so far. As usual, ICG makes specific recommendations for a successful transition.

Freedom House (2011). Countries at the Crossroads, 2011. Retrieved from

The Countries at the Crossroads reports by Freedom House provide detailed analysis of many aspects of democratic governance; of particular interest here is the section on the rule of law. The 2011 report on Colombia includes plenty of information regarding corruption, human rights violations, and other problems that are currently plaguing the peace process, as well as information on the reforms that have been made thus far to address those problems.

Wolf Grabendorff (2009). “Limited Security Sector Reform in Colombia.” In Born, H., Schnabel, A. (eds.), Security Sector Reform in Challenging Environments (Munster: LIT): pp. 69-86

This chapter is part of a book that examines specific country examples of SSR. In the case of Colombia, it is critical of the limited nature of SSR, which has focused mostly on improving the capacity of the security sector in order to overpower non-state actors.

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If you notice any information that needs to be updated in this SSR Country Snapshot, please let us know at [email protected].