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48 Questions about Peacebuilding in Colombia: An Applied Research Agenda

In 2015 we asked more than 100 leaders and experts from government agencies, international organisations, NGOs and grassroots organisations with first-hand experience in peacebuilding, about the issues on which academic research could make a difference (*). Based on their responses, we launched an Applied Research Agenda about Peacebuilding in Colombia.

The agenda consists of 48 questions that, if pursued through research projects, could lead to significant improvements in the impact of peacebuilding policies and projects in the country. The questions are organised in five thematic groups. Within each group, the questions are listed according to their importance (the question at the top of each group was ranked by participants as the most important):


I. Agriculture and development

1. Can peasant families and organisations affected by armed conflict take part in national and global supply chains so that they improve their livelihoods and reduce their vulnerability? How to replicate or escalate successful experiences?

2. What legal instruments are more effective in protecting small landholders against land-grabs? How to strengthen such instruments? For instance, how effective are land title formalisation, the ‘family agricultural unit’, the agrarian jurisdiction and the peasant reserve zones?

3. What political and institutional reforms could speed up land restitution? ¿What gaps in financial resources and personnel must be addressed?

4. What factors account for the success (or failure) of illicit crop substitution programmes? What are the keys to effective, sustainable substitution of illicit crops?

5. Can environmental services, ecological restoration and ‘green businesses’ become viable, legal alternatives for peasant households affected by armed conflict or illegal extractive economies? What technical, economic and institutional conditions are needed?

6. Can peasant economies and land restitution programmes become more sustainable through access to credit and rural development programmes? What policies and investments are needed?

7. How to protect the lives and rights of rural populations? What can be done to protect the leaders of claimants’ and victims’ organisations? What reforms and resources are needed?

8. How to regulate the extraction of natural resources so that they do not fall under control of criminal organisations and their use is sustainable?

9. What are the ethical and legal responsibilities of companies and investment projects that profited, directly or indirectly, from land- and resource-grabs? What is their responsibility in victims’ reparations?

10. What public investments could have an early, tangible impact on peacebuilding? What projects could have such impact and where should they be implemented?

11. How can Colombian cities manage the challenge of massive forced migration? Can they prevent further forced displacement? Should they promote the return of displaced families to their hometowns? How can they contribute to social and economic integration? What about the reparation of victims?

12. How can (social, economic and environmental) land planning contribute to land conflict resolution and peacebuilding? Where in Colombia is it urgent?

13. What are the legal responsibilities of the state, private actors and armed groups in the ecological restoration of ecosystems damaged by armed conflict and land grabbing? What interventions are more effective?

14. Can the private sector contribute to peacebuilding? What are the most effective contributions and how to increase their impact?

15. Could ‘do-no-harm’ principles improve ex ante project evaluation and prevent damages to (and conflicts with) local communities (especially in infrastructure projects)?

16. How to reassert and realise the human rights of peasants so that living in the countryside becomes a viable alternative for them? Should peasant rights be legally enacted? Is it necessary and viable?


II. State reform

17. What reforms to intergovernmental relations are necessary to promote equality, improve accountability, and strengthen the state’s response capabilities in municipalities affected by armed conflict and criminality?

18. What security sector reforms are necessary in view of the changing forms of violence and criminality? What reforms in policing, armed forced recruitment and border control are necessary?

19. How to revitalise local participation and strengthen social organisations in municipalities affected by armed conflict and criminality? How to make local governments more democratic and accountable?

20. How to strengthen local governments and increase their capabilities to provide security and promote coexistence (convivencia)?

21. How to harness civic participation for peacebuilding? How to avoid its manipulation by armed organisations?

22. What explains the limited effectiveness of the police in fighting organised crime? How to tackle the obstacles?

23. How can information systems help in monitoring violence and criminality? How to measure the impact of such phenomena on certain groups (e.g. youth, women, ethnic minorities)? Can those systems generate early warnings and be used to assess government’s responses?


III. Society, education, and culture

24. How can (mass, community and social) media contribute to peaceful coexistence, tolerance and respect for difference? How to avoid they become a platform for those who incite violence?

25. How can we make civil society and the state better able to manage social conflicts without violence and respecting the rights of citizens and groups?

26. How to ensure schools provide protective environments for children? What changes in the curriculum, in education management and teaching training are necessary? How can basic education contribute to the unlearning of violence and to develop the skills for coexistence?

27. Can the teaching of history and the construction of local collective memories contribute to peacebuilding? What methods can be used and how to measure their effectiveness?

28. What are the roles of international organisations, embassies and international development agencies in the implementation of a peace agreement? Can they help the country to overcome legal and political obstacles? How best to harness their experience and resources?

29. How to mobilize and harness the knowledge and capabilities of local peacebuilding initiatives (such as peace and development programmes and ‘humanitarian spaces’) for peacebuilding? How can they contribute in the implementation of a peace agreement?

30. How to reduce horizontal inequalities? What institutional mechanisms can help to settle conflicts in cities and regions where different ethnic and racial groups coexist?

31. Should higher education train new professionals in skills to tackle the consequences of armed conflict and address the challenges of peacebuilding? Should the teaching of professions such as law and psychology change? How to improve the teaching of agrarian law?

32. How to build trust between social organisations and the state in zones affected by armed conflict or criminality? What reforms or policies could be more effective?

33. Can the transformation of masculine values contribute to the reduction of violence in society? If so, how?


IV. Justice and reparation

34. How to strengthen judicial institutions in zones affected by violence? Or in zones where they have been co-opted by criminal interests? Or where insurgent groups have been administering justice?

35. In setting up a transitional justice regime, what alternative sentences could enjoy widespread acceptance among citizens? How to convey them to the public so that reparation, reconciliation and a negotiated settlement to armed conflict become viable?

36. How can individual and collective reparations contribute to improve the victims’ livelihoods and reduce their vulnerability in a sustainable way? Can they strengthen their organisations and communities?

37. Under what conditions can displaced victims of conflict return to their homes? How to create such conditions?

38. Can community justice and other alternative conflict resolution mechanisms contribute to the reparation of victims? Can they contribute to peacebuilding?

39. How to make victims organisations more capable to influence public decision-making? How to improve their ability to access public funds earmarked for reparation?

40. How to ensure that assistance and reparation schemes adopt a differential approach that takes into account the diversity of victims (e.g. age, gender, ethnic affiliation)? How to gauge if they are tackling the discrimination and marginalisation structures that underpin violence?

41. How to promote the wellbeing and security of victims of armed conflict living in public (‘free’) housing projects?


V. Implementation of a peace agreement

42. If a peace agreement prescribes the transformation of insurgencies into political parties, how to protect the civil and political rights of their members as well as their opponents? What institutional reforms and mechanisms could be more effective?

43. How can subnational governments contribute to peacebuilding? What are their roles regarding reparations, and the implementation of a peace agreement? What political and institutional transformations are needed for they to assume such roles?

44. How to monitor the implementation of the peace agreement and its effects on human rights, the economy, the environment, and civil society at the subnational and local scale? Who could monitor such effects and produce early warnings when such effects are harmful?

45. How effective is the current scheme of reintegration of former child soldiers? Can it be improved?

46. Since the implementation of public policies in Colombia is often slow and uncoordinated, what transitory mechanisms could help to speed up the process so that it delivers tangible results without losing transparency?

47. How to assess the contribution of reintegration processes to reconciliation, reparation and local development in conflict-affected communities?

48. What are the main limitations to the economic reintegration of former combatants? How to overcome them? Are successful cases replicable? Are they scalable?

(*) Most participants were interviewed (or took part in workshops) in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla and other cities. Others sent us their opinions by e-mail. All had the chance to prioritize the final questions using an on-line form. To see the full list of participants (in Spanish), click in the tab ‘Participantes’ above. Our methodology is based on: Sutherland et al. 2011. “Methods for collaboratively identifying research priorities and emerging issues in science and policy.” Methods in Ecology and Evolution 2(3): 238-47; Oldekop et al. 2015. A hundred key questions for the post-2015 development agenda (SIID Working Paper 2015-4). Sheffield, Sheffield Institute for International Development. Pretty et al. 2010. “The top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture.” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 8(4): 219-36.