Colombia Symposium: Santos Administration

Challenges to Human Security and the Santos Administration

Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London

16 March 2012, 13:00 – 19:00

Macmillan Hall, Senate House

Kindly sponsored by the FCO


There have been numerous attempts to reach a settlement of Colombia’s prolonged armed conflict, which have occasionally been combined with efforts to hold perpetrators of mass atrocities to account within Colombia. In 2005 the Colombian congress passed the “Justice and Peace Law” aimed at demobilising the various paramilitary groups that have grown economically and politically powerful through the lucrative drugs trade and that are responsible for decades of violence. The subsequent process of paramilitary demobilisation have been heavily criticised, however, for its leniency on perpetrators of human rights violations, perpetuating impunity, failing to secure victims’ rights and reparations for past violations, and failing to learn the full truth from perpetrators. Moreover, whilst atrocities remain a constant of Colombia’s conflict, the armed confrontation has become increasingly fragmented and its nature blurred in recent years, especially in its crossover with the drug trade. This dynamic is further complicated by regional ‘spill-over’ effects as well as questions regarding the role of powerful North- and South-American States in the conflict.

Yet, after decades of armed conflict, widespread human rights abuses, and a humanitarian crisis involving millions of internally displaced people, developments in recent years, and in particular since the installation of the administration of Juan Manuel Santos in August 2010, have raised hopes of a resolution of the long-standing conflict in Colombia. This reflects the strong underlying perception that the political future of Colombia itself hangs in the balance in various inter-related ways: (i) the Colombian government’s military campaign against the guerrilla groups is at a critical juncture; (ii) the outcome of recent paramilitary demobilisations is uneven; (iii) efforts to hold perpetrators of violations accountable under the Justice and Peace Law have generated limited results; (iv) the newly adopted Victims and Land Restitution Law has raised hopes amongst victims groups for comprehensive reparations, but efforts at implementation have also led to increased violence, particularly in certain rural areas; and (v) political rapprochement between Colombia and Venezuela seems to have generated closer security cooperation, particularly in critical border areas.

This symposium will bring together recognized experts on Colombia to evaluate the record to date of the Santos administration. The symposium will be broadly structured around three main and overlapping themes: (i)  Dynamics of the armed conflict; (ii) Rural development and peacebuilding; and (iii) Challenges facing the implementation the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law.