War with FARC in Colombia

June 23, 2016, marks the historic ceasefire between Left-wing FARC rebels and the Colombian government, concluding the fifth and final item of negotiation. While peace talks have been ongoing since 2013, the peace deal witnessed by five South American presidents and a U.N. official should bring an end to the half-century war with FARC in Colombia. The U.N. will oversee the disbandment of FARC and hopes to collect all weapons by December 27, 2016.

Colombia’s long civil conflict was caused by many class tensions that hail back to its colonial history. The social classes are highly stratified between rich landowners of primarily Spanish decent and the poorer, generally mixed-race majority.

The power imbalance led to the formation of left-wing guerrilla groups like FARC. Drug trafficking financed their weaponry, significantly escalating the violence in the 1980s. Because the state was unable to defeat these groups, a right-wing paramilitary group called AUC (United Self Defence Forces) formed as a result. While the AUC was disbanded in 2006, FARC has continued to be in conflict with the government.

Both left-wing and right-wing groups have been criticized for horrible human rights violations. It is estimated that seven million people are victims of massacres, disappearances, kidnappings, murders and forced displacements perpetrated by both sides during the war with FARC in Colombia. Internal displacement alone currently affects 224,000 people, more than any other country in North or South America.

Five topics have been resolved over the last three years:

Rural Reform

Because much of the war with FARC in Colombia between the factions was fueled by social inequality, the agreement takes measure to balance land distribution to reduce poverty.

Political Participation

FARC’s leftist leanings caused the government persecution of nonviolent groups with similar political ideologies. FARC has argued for fair channels of political participation.

Illicit drugs

Drugs, particularly cocaine, have funded FARC and increased violence. The government is encouraging crop substitution and, most importantly, differentiating between rural growers and criminal groups driving trade.


To bring justice to the U.N.’s estimated seven million victims, Colombia’s government will allow an “international justice tribunal and a Truth Commission.” A Victim and a Land Fund will provide financial reparation. Amnesty will be given to FARC rebels who have not committed human rights violations and are willing to participate for justice.


This final phase began on June 23 with the official ceasefire. The U.N. hopes to have completely disarmed FARC by the end of the year.

While the ceasefire will not end all the Colombian people’s troubles, the agreements between FARC and the government provides a concrete end to the atrocities that have plagued them for decades and a plan toward peace.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: BBC

The Syrian civil war has caused the country to be in constant need of food and medical aid. The ongoing war since March 2011, has led to over 240,000 deaths and more than half of the country fleeing their homes. An estimated 11.5 million Syrian refugees have gone to neighboring countries to escape the dangers of conflict, hunger and diseases that result from war.

The Syrian people only get a little bit of a break from these traumatic experiences when there are periodic ceasefires to allow for the delivery of aid. One of the most recent ceasefires was in mid-August, in which 3 towns participated.

One of the towns was Zabadani, which had been in the news for trying to drive out insurgents. The other two towns participating in the ceasefire were Shiite villages. The ceasefire was arranged between Iran and Turkey and was initially scheduled for two days but was extended for five days.

These ceasefires are crucial in saving lives and delivering basic health care to people who are undergoing tremendous suffering. The need for food and medical aid is so great that people are dying because they can’t access aid with the ongoing conflict. The ceasefire allowed for those in critical conditions to be evacuated.

The ongoing conflict is between Syrian government forces and Syrian rebels. In some towns such as Zabadani, there is an effort to drive out insurgents. In other towns, Syrian government forces have had to retreat because as President Assad has recognized, they have a manpower shortage.

As a result, some government forces have shifted to places that are considered more strategic holdings. The negotiations between the Syrian government forces and the Syrian rebels are underway but are going very slowly.

The Syrian civil war has been devastating, contributing to the largest amount of displaced people our world has ever seen. Amnesty International has accused the Syrian government of war crimes against 163,000, given the constant aerial bombardment and shelling, adding to the traumatic experiences of civilians.

No human should be living under these conditions. Syrians are dying in their own country, while food and health care aid are oftentimes on the other side of the conflict, and they can only have access to it when a ceasefire is agreed upon by their own government and rebel fighters.

Even those who have escaped, while lucky for making it out alive, are facing a difficult life, of being displaced with the limited resources of aid they receive.

Paula Acevedo

Sources: Farsnews, BBC, Reuters
Photo: CBS News

central african republic ceasefire
After a year and a half of vicious bloodshed, Christian militia and Muslim Seleka rebels have drawn up a ceasefire in response to the deaths of thousands in Central African Republic. Requests have been subsided for both groups, with one of the failed demands being that the country is split based on the religious line on behalf of the rebel forces.

The warring groups traveled to the Congo to have the ceasefire initiated by the Congolese president, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, the formal mediator of the conflict. After the signing, President N’Guesso made a statement to the press: “We have taken the first step today. The journey is long, but we have made promises. After what has happened here, I am confident.” Both groups hold hope for future democratic elections to replace multiple informal and interim leaders.

The effects of this violence have not gone unnoticed, with over 1 million people fleeing their homes due to the conflict. While the Central African Republic ceasefire appears to be the first step to a different future, both sides took precautions at the signing ceremony with heavy military representation in case the other forgot their capabilities.

Both sides have shown their willingness to enforce the ceasefire, and those that are caught breaking the truce would face arrest.

Head of the Seleka delegation made a statement after the signing. “We have signed this ceasefire agreement today in front of everyone. Our commitment is firm and irreversible,” said Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane.

Seleka’s violent rule began back in March of 2013 when they rose to power, a group made up of various northerners from neighboring countries like Chad and Sudan. The “tit for tat” aggressions quickly developed the anti-balaka militia and the two warring sides immediately fell into an endless cycle of battle, even after the Seleka government stepped down in early 2014. Since then the violence has continued to affect Central African Republic, causing death tolls in the thousands for both sides.

Both the Seleka and anti-Balaka leadership appear willing to concede to the changes required by a ceasefire, but the amount of work to be done to bring the country together will take much more than a few agreements and a little time. The future of CAR is cloudy as both groups are forced to work with one another again and put on a united front for their people, as well as the rest of the world.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Big Story, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

A 10 day truce ended on July 1 when Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko ended a unilateral ceasefire in Ukraine between the government in Kiev and separatist rebels. As a result, Ukrainian fighter bombers and tanks have already begun storming the eastern part of the country, which is home to 7 million people.

The truce, which was designed to help end the armed conflict between separatists that have been stoking an increasingly violent and complex movement for the region to gain more autonomy and have closer ties to Russia, was only tenuous at best and was violated several times over the course of its 10 day existence. The separatist rebels have been scattered throughout the eastern part of the country ever since Russia annexed Crimea in March earlier this year. There have been fluctuations in the amount of violence that this conflict has caused, but the statement by President Poroshenko opens the doors to a very wide scope of violence that is about to take over the eastern part of the country.

In his most recent address to the nation, Poroshenko said, “After examining the situation I have decided, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, not to extend the unilateral ceasefire. The separatists’ leaders have demonstrated their unwillingness and inability to control the actions of the terrorist units and marauding gangs under their control.” His statement came after a conference call with leaders from Russia, Germany and France who were all trying to convince Poroshenko to extend the ceasefire and continue indirect talks with separatist leaders.

As of now the 11-week conflict has already claimed at least 450 lives, halted a fragile economy that is largely dependent on coal mines and steel mills, and caused even more people to flee their homes. The death toll and amount of refugees and displaced persons only stand to rise in the wake of Poroshenko’s decision to halt the ceasefire. There have already been multiple reports of citizens fleeing over the border into Russia. Heavy tank battles have already started taking place in the Donetsk region, and other intense clashes have been reported throughout the eastern countryside. Because the separatist rebels have been using residential buildings for shelter, many civilians lack adequate safety and could potentially stand in harms way. Three residential buildings and a school in the Kramatorsk region have already been hit with heavy shelling.

While there has been no immediate word on the amount of casualties that this new offensive by the Ukrainian government has caused, the situation only stands to get worse from here.

– Andre Gobbo 

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNN, Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The Syrian peace talks in Switzerland at the start of 2014 have had little success. Members of the West insist on a transitory government away from the present Assad regime, yet that is a non-starter for negotiators from the regime. In the meantime, the Syrian people are still being killed, starved and stuck in the midst of battlefields. Relief organizations looking to bring in goods to the region have had repeated difficulties in doing so.

The one major development from the talks has been the agreement for a ceasefire at the city of Homs.

The city has been besieged for the greater part of the war, and while it is currently held by rebel groups, the people remaining in the city were still subject the whims of Assad’s forces.  The city had been under siege by Syrian Army troops for 600 days. This city where such horror has taken place was the one area where peace was actually achieved during the Switzerland peace talks.

During the week of evacuations, at least 1,400 Syrians were evacuated from the city.There were projected to be about 3,000 people in the city at the start of the conflict, with many women and children involved.

The effort was focused on getting those groups out of the city, yet some men aged between 16 years old and 54 years old were included as well.Issues arose around these men, who were detained and interviewed by the regime. Some were allowed to leave after declaring their allegiance to the Assad government, bu the evacuation was not extended in part due to the detainment of some.

Even with the ceasefire, there were reports of violence in the war-torn city. Belying the difficulties of administering relief during a time of war, some convoys were fired upon by unknown sources. The United Nations reported that 10 people were killed during the operation, though none were relief workers.

Despite the difficulties, a U.N. team leader said food supplies sustainable for 2,500 people for up to a month were delivered to the city.

The evacuation of Homs is an important first step for the Syrian peace talks, though it is not nearly enough for the international community to deserve praise.

The work that relief organizations did during the operation shows what can be achieved if these groups are given the chance. However, there is not enough work being done by governing bodies to give the people of Syria a fighting chance; it is up to advocacy groups to push governing bodies to do this work.

Despite obvious tensions on both sides, the soldiers on either side were operating in close proximity and there were no blows exchanged for the time of the evacuation. While fighting raged on in other parts of the embattled nation, in Homs there was at least peace for a week. This week showed that these two sides can at least peacefully coexist for a time, and hopefully is an example that could be used to better the situation of all Syrians soon.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: Los Angeles Times, International Business Times, CBS News
Photo: Daily Mail

A temporary pause in the fighting between the Syrian government and rebels allowed emergency personnel to evacuate 83 civilians from the embattled city of Homs on February 7, according to the United Nations.

The evacuation of the civilians  comes a day after the U.N. brokered a three day ceasefire,  under which women, children, the elderly and injured people will be allowed to leave Homs. That day, buses were allowed to enter Homs’ Old City, where as many as 2,500 people are believed to be trapped. The trapped residents have been unable to leave because they are caught in the fighting between the government and the insurgents battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The departing residents will be greeted at a U.N. welcome center and will then give the authorities the names of people who want to stay behind. The provision of the names of citizens who do not want to leave was a key demand of Syria’s government, which wants to learn the identities of the men who reside there, the Washington Post reported.

In addition to the evacuation of these noncombatants, aid will be allowed to enter Homs’ Old City, parts of which have besieged by government forces since June 2012.  Under the temporary ceasefire between the government and the rebels, medical aid and food should reach Homs on Saturday.

The three-day ceasefire covering Homs, which was one of the first cities to take up arms against Assad’s regime, comes nearly two weeks after United States and Russian-sponsored peace talks on ending Syria’s civil war opened in Switzerland. The talks, which began in the Swiss city of Montreux on January 22 before moving to Geneva on January 24, paused last Friday. The negotiations between Syria’s government and a western-backed opposition alliance known as National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces are set to resume Monday in Geneva.

Assad’s government and the opposition had been expected to reach agreement early in the talks on localized ceasefires and on allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered to besieged areas, but the two sides were unable to even reach a deal on these issues.

The official agenda for the negotiations, known officially as Geneva II, is to reach agreement on the composition of a temporary government with full executive powers that would oversee Syria’s transition to democracy.  Syria’s government rejects the idea that goal of the talks is the establishment of a government that doesn’t include Assad, whose family has ruled Syria since 1971, while the opposition has insisted that any transitional government exclude the Syrian president and leading members of his regime.

Syria’s nearly three-year long civil war, which pits rebels largely drawn from Syria’s Sunni majority against a government controlled by the country’s minority Alawite sect and supported by Shia Iran, has stoked Sunni-Shia tensions across the Middle East, particularly in the sectarian tinder boxes of Iraq and Lebanon.

Shia Iran and its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah have backed Assad, a longtime ally of both Tehran and Hezbollah, while Sunni gulf states and Turkey have supported the Sunni insurgents, buttressing the rebels through the provision of light weapons and cash.  Both sides seem to view the Syrian conflict as a proxy war between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: BBC, BBC, Washington Post, New York Times
Sources: Elephant Journal