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What’s Business Got to Do with Peace in Colombia? Law Students Find Out
Celebrating the ceasefire in Colombia
CREER-Colombia-New-England-Law-German-Zarama-Luis-Fernando-deAngulo

CREER Senior Researcher Germán Zarama

CREER-Colombia-New-England-Law-presentation-materials

Human rights and business presentation materials

CREER-Colombia-New-England-Law-Zarama-deAngulo-Professor-Lisa-Laplante

Lisa Laplante (center), Professor and Director of the Center for International Law and Policy

 

Colombia and its people survived fifty years of internal armed conflict. Today, it’s a nation in recovery, and the country’s businesses may play a critical role in the process.

The Colombian organization sorting through this fraught history came to New England Law | Boston to discuss its unique challenges and the relationship between a transitional justice system and the private sector.

The school welcomed members of Colombian Centro Regional de Empresas y Emprendimientos Responsables (CREER), a regional affiliate of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, to introduce law students, professors, and members of the Boston community to the process of involving private businesses in peace-building efforts in Colombia.

The March 26 event was the culmination of a day-long expert meeting at the school, where participants joined CREER to discuss policy and program recommendations for the Colombian government. Two CREER representatives—Executive Director Luis Fernando de Angulo and Senior Researcher Germán Zarama—graciously stayed on to present to students. The event was hosted by New England Law’s Center for International Law and Policy and co-sponsored by the school’s Center for Business Law.

The Colombia conflict

CREER’s Zarama and de Angulo started by giving the crowd background on the Colombian conflict, a complex struggle between multiple factions that included the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla fighters. Who was “right” and “wrong” seems particularly murky, and all parties involved have been accused of human rights violations and questionable motivations.

What is clear is that 220,000 people died, five million people were displaced, families and communities were destroyed, and the sense of amity is tenuous at best. Peace talks started in 2012, with FARC finally agreeing to a ceasefire in July 2016. But Colombia is still on a long—and uncertain—road to reconciliation. CREER hopes to help the country down that path.

They’re trying to understand just how businesses contributed to the conflict, to involve them in the peace-building process and bring a modicum of closure to the Colombian people.

How were businesses involved?

Colombian businesses of all sizes and allegiances were involved in the conflict in various ways, from funding the military to protecting mafia to laundering money. In fact, de Angulo said FARC owned one of the largest supermarket chains in the country at one point. But how, exactly, these businesses contributed to the conflict is unclear, and there’s also no legal framework to force them to participate in peace-building process.

So how do you get businesses involved? That’s the unique and complicated problem CREER is facing: promoting a peace dialogue in these communities without government pressure. They’re talking to businesses directly and working with the Colombian government to offer leniency in exchange for the truth. CREER is “scratching” to get to the bottom of what happened during those years of conflict, de Angulo explained to the crowd.

Colombia’s citizens want an explanation for the atrocities they endured for so long. There are no easy answers or explanations. But the hope is that, by working with businesses to unearth the truth, Colombia can sustain its peace and provide justice to victims.  

Moving forward

Zarama and de Angulo will present ideas from the day’s expert meeting to the Colombian’s government and share their findings internationally.

They explained that there’s a need to ensure that all Colombians understand what happened so they can morally and materially overcome the trauma of five decades of conflict. And ensure it won’t happen again.

Learn more about international human rights law or business law at New England Law | Boston.