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DILS Talk: Simon Crabb on Colombia: A post talk breakdown

Original talk 16/10/18


Advocate Simon Crabb of Arnot Manderson delivered an excellent talk on his work in Colombia with Peace Brigade International and Lawyers Without Borders Canada.


The talk began with a potted history of modern Colombia, a feat Simon pulled off in under fifteen slides. After covering the demographics and geography of Colombia the talk looked at the civil war which has been raging for fifty years. Simon discussed the relationships between the three main groups fighting in the country: the army; guerrilla groups such as the FARC-EP and ELN; and paramilitary groups such as the USDA. The army has been accused of using paramilitary groups to conduct activities and all three have dealings with drugs, illegal mining and gangs operating across Colombia.


The UN has described the conflict as a dead end with none of the groups making significant headway in achieving their goals. Simon then went over the estimates of crime committed by each force, highlighting the fact that there was not one group that has fought a “clean” war, with atrocities found in every corner of the conflict. There has been an incredibly high level of impunity in the country with 95% of sexual offences going untried. Due to this high impunity rate there has been a large number of human rights defenders working in the country. However, this has brought its own problems, with 609 human rights defenders being murdered in Colombia since 2010.


The situation has become so bad that the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC has been investigating the civil war since 2005. This investigation focused on prosecution of the leadership of these groups and ensuring a peaceful transition for the country. Colombia has come closer to a peaceful resolution to the conflict in recent years with a peace accord being signed with the FARC-EP in 2016. After four years of negotiations the guaranteed rural land reform and more political participation, allowing the FARC-EP to reform as a political party. The accords created three transitional justice systems including a truth commission with the goals of truth, reparations and non-recurrence. Sadly, however, there has been little success in peace talks with other guerrilla groups like the ELN.


After this whirlwind tour of Colombia Simon opened to the floor for questions. There was one insightful question about why the Colombian public had initially rejected the FARC-EP peace accords in a referendum in 2016. Simon went over why many Colombians had been unhappy with the deal. There were complaints about increased impunity got the guerrilla fighters, many people thought that there should be more punitive measures against them.


The president at the the time, Juan Manuel Santos, was also very unpopular and so his involvement with the accords tarnished them. Finally, the government had failed to conduct the peace education which the UN had recommended. Peace education involves the government going to communities and explaining to them the accords and the peace process. It is intended to help create grass roots support for the peace process to the help the transition succeed.


The first organisation Simon talked about was Peace Brigade International. They have been working in Colombia for three years through three main avenues: protective accompaniment; political advocacy; and reconstruction of the social fabric. Simon shared his experiences focusing mainly on the protective accompaniment of local lawyer Carlos Morales. The group Simon was working in had to accompany Carlos over 150 miles from Bogotá to a remote region of the Antioquia known for its gold mines and large number of armed groups. There was a nine step process for the trip including risk assessments, notification of national and international bodies, creation of security protocols and debriefing with civil society and the PBI. The trip was successful but due to the wet weather the trip took over 12 hours with the group often having to drag their vehicle though mud.


The PBI’s mandate is non-violence, non-interference assistance so these missions were conducted without any armed guard, relying only on their reputation as an international organisation as their protection from armed groups.


Lawyers Without Borders Canada works with local lawyers as well as providing research and legal reports. Simon’s involvement was with the promotion of the Rome Statute and the ICC, focusing on extrajudicial killings, forced displacement and sexual offences. This involved writing a baseline study on the effects of the Rome Statute in Colombia and supporting local human rights lawyers, helping the, build their capacity to take on more cases and deal with more complicated legal issues. Simon helped write an important publication on international criminal law during his time with LWBC.


The talk was incredibly interesting about the alternative international law career options for lawyers and how individuals can impact the international criminal law process. DILS would like to thank Simon Crabb for this wonderful talk and plan to invite him back later in the year to allow more students to attend the talk.

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