Month: July 2018

Can Conflict Resolution & Peace Building Survive Right-Wing Populism in Colombia?

I don’t feel that Duque can jeopardize my legacy,” asserted Juan Manuel Santos, the outgoing Colombian president and Nobel Peace laureate in an interview with the news website La Silla Vacía published on July 7, 2018.  Santos’s response might calm down some of the fears of Colombian peace process supporters, as much of them see in the entry into office of the president-elect Iván Duque on 7 August 2018 a serious menace to the ongoing implementation of the peace agreement signed by Santos’s government with the FARC guerrilla in 2016.

But statements made at the 2017 National Convention of the Democratic Center Party have even sparked the fears of those who were confident in the implementation of the peace agreement, as one of its most relevant members asserted that the first challenge to be undertaken by Duque’s political party will be “to shatter this cursed paper called final agreement with the FARC.” Nevertheless, during the presidential campaign which led to his election in May 2018, Duque was able to play a more moderate card by using a double-edged strategy. One the one side, Duque claimed that he we will make some adjustments to the peace agreement and, on the other, he pledged to support the ongoing process of FARC demobilization opened up by this agreement. When starting his government on August 7, Duque will have a comfortable absolute majority in the Parliament, which will secure him the ability to pass any proposed reform. However, the peace accords have been enshrined in the Constitution and, moreover, a ruling of the Constitutional Court obliges the next three governments to implement them.

All well and good, but can we trust Duque’s independence from the hard-liners of his right-wing party? Why should we be cautious about the populist imprints of the Democratic Center? And more precisely, how might the Democratic Center’s populism endanger gender mainstreaming in the peace-building process?

Why Should We Fear the Democratic Center’s Populism?

Contrary to what this question might suggest, I must start by asserting that I don’t reject populism outright. As Chantal Mouffe suggests, there is a necessity of certain forms of populism in order to enhance the agonistic relations that are essential for a vibrant democratic debate to exist. In their defense of populism, Mouffe as well as Ernesto Laclau explain that populism is not an ideology but “a way of constructing the political” (Laclau 2005). It is a way to build a transversal political identity by articulating different political demands. Not limited to concerns of class, populist demands may stem from other cross-cutting social relationships including, for instance, nationality, gender, race, religious belonging, or even environmental relations. A populist chain of demands is not fixed, but rather can be re-articulated or fall apart. That is another reason why populism is better defined as a way of “constructing the people,” and not as an ideology.

To put it shortly, the need for left-wing populist alternatives, that Mouffe prompts, arises as the current post-political consensus has rendered the adversarial model of politics obsolete and has achieved to turn the rule of technocracy into a hegemony. But at the same time, it is precisely the increasing rule of technocracy, with its ability to depoliticize and foreclose any debate about possible alternatives to, for example, measures of austerity, the rules of neoliberal globalization, or the global refugee crisis, what is at the roots of the current global success of right-wing populism.

Unlike a current elite unable to formulate alternative answers, right-wing populist parties claim that they embody the voice of the people, and their ability to construct a collective difference between an Us opposed to a Them is one their basic features. Notoriously, the other key feature of right-wing populism is its ability to build a political identity based on the articulation of a chain of identities and demands against a current elite, who they claim has failed or betrayed the people. And precisely, this recurrent practice whereby a political group labels those who dissent or oppose them, for instance, of being unpatriotic or supporters of terrorism, has been one of the most prominent footprints of Duque’s party Democratic Center. Thus, in order to map the populist architecture of this right-wing party, it is good to start by scrutinizing this practice.

Founded by Duque’s godfather, ex-president Alvaro Uribe, the Democratic Center fiercely opposed not only the Havana peace talks all along, but reparation to the victims. Insofar as Santos deepened his commitment to these causes throughout his presidential mandates (2010-2018), Uribe’s response was not long in coming and expressing his fury. Uribe labeled Santos as a traitor  who was leaving the country in the hands of a communist menace that he called  Castro-Chavism  and, moreover, accused Santos of  leading the surrender of the country to the FARC. The gendered dimensions of Uribe’s rhetoric are close to the surface, and that, coming from a politician whose war-centered approach to end the Colombian armed conflict and to deal with the coca cultivation entailed a serious militarization of women’s lives, is not surprising. Echoing the sense suggested by Cynthia Enloe, by militarization of women’s lives, I mean a governmental rule that provides a sense of worthiness and normalcy to military –and paramilitary– ideas.

Feminists, as Meger reminds us, “have documented the role that discourse plays in constructing gender symbolism and naturalizing hierarchies of dominance and subordination.” Moreover, she claims, “the discourse of counterterrorism is not only a means of delegitimizing insurgencies but also of feminizing them” (Meger 2016: 90). Uribe’s strategy to deny the FARC guerrilla belligerent status during his mandate was not an exception in this respect. But here, in order to sabotage Santos’s peace process, Uribe was able to use the discourse the other way around. Crafting an analogy between the Havana peace talks and military surrender, and equating Santos’s peace politics with a betrayal to the long effort of the Colombian Army against the FARC’s terrorist menace, Uribe sought to turn the military and their supporters against Santos. And in fact, in the view of public opinion, Uribe succeeded in creating a climate of distrust between the executive and the military. In Uribe’s populist rhetoric, Santos’s peace politics meant the dishonor and emasculation of the Colombian National Army, rendering both the long military struggle against the FARC as if it has been of no value and the sacrifice of Colombian people in the war of drugs as if it would have been in vain.

But, just as Santos counteracted the effects of Uribe’s rhetoric by including the military at the negotiating table, so too the Democratic Center was also able to reframe its chain of equivalences (interests-identities) and to keep its populist architecture going. In this endeavor, another maneuver particularly gendered that serves the purpose of securing to Uribe’s party a large section of the Colombian electorate was set in motion during the campaign on the plebiscite for peace that took place on October 2016. At that time, the Democratic Center orchestrated a misleading campaign that led not just to the resignation of Education minister Gina Parody but, even worst, to the rejection of the Havana peace accords. In what has been one of its most successful attempts to destabilize Santos’s government, the Democratic Center appealed to the religious beliefs and fears of the Colombian electorate by directing its attacks to the mainstreaming of gender in schools and to the inclusion of the term gender in the Havana accords. Crafting a discourse to stir up fear among the growing Christian community (Protestant and Catholic), the Democratic Center targeted as its new scapegoat the minister Parody. Blaming her for smuggling a supposed gender ideology into the schools and into the peace agreements, this party claimed that the inclusion of such foreign gender ideology would jeopardize the heterosexual basis upon which the traditional Colombian family is grounded. In the aftermath of such a defeat in the plebiscite, which journalist Maria Jimena Duzán has called “The Night of Tears”, Santos managed to achieve a new peace deal which included amendments and clarifications suggested by sectors of the “No” vote.  Approved by the Colombian Congress on December 2016, yet the new peace accord maintained the use of the gender-based approach, which broadly speaking was referred to as the recognition of equal rights for men and women. Despite the fact that Colombia has not issued a National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325, the final peace agreement has been recognized for having incorporated 122 gender-specific provisions.

In its ambitious architecture, the Colombian peace agreement with the FARC seeks to tackle the following aspects: First, what have been identified as the causes of the war, and which, worthy to mention, have underpinned the FARC insurgency’s political grievances, such as inequality in land access and concerns related to territorial control. Second, factors and dynamics that fuel the war, being the most significant drug trafficking and others such as illegal mining. Third, socio-economic and political inequalities that have allowed human rights violations, which include but are not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political beliefs or affiliation. Four, the peace accord aims at offering to the victims a comprehensive system for truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. Thus, going beyond the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the FARC guerilla, the final document addresses the above-mentioned aspects in six chapters: (1) comprehensive rural reform, aimed at reducing the socio-economic gap between urban and rural areas  which, worth mentioning, involves measures aimed at bringing about sustainable development; (2) political participation, with a view on enhancing democratic pluralism broadly understood; (3) DDR of the FARC members in order to guarantee their political, social, and economic integration into civilian life; (4) comprehensive solution to the drug problem which promises to overcome the over-criminalization produced by the war on drugs and, instead, involves a comprehensive plan with an equity-based and gender-based approach for the substitution of crops tackling the structural causes that lead families to cultivate illicit drug crops; (5) comprehensive system of transformative transitional justice;  and (6) system for the verification of the implementation of the agreement.

So far, so good. But can we be sure that in his attempts to adjust the peace agreement, the newly elected president Duque could resist its political party’s tendency to resort to right-wing populist strategies?

Ivan Duque: Under the Shadow of Populism

Since he was picked up as the Democratic Center’s official candidate, Ivan Duque was depicted for many as Uribe’s new puppet; a shadow from which Duque has not been able to free himself. And that despite the active support of the media, which facilitated him to elude any serious public debate. The media played its part directing the spotlight towards Duque’s experience working at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and thereby helped him to build a pro-business profile. In the meantime, Duque refused to attend various debates, and notoriously a debate organized by women’s movements and feminist organizations, so-called “The Women Ask.” Yet, the Democratic Center could not afford to overlook the LGBT constituencies. Hence, it found a way around not just to repair the rifts caused by its misleading campaign on gender ideology, but to counteract the fears of the LGBT community that the Democratic Center will re-open the so-called anti-gay referendum. Without hesitation or shame, Uribe rushed to give a hand to his protégé by addressing a public statement to the LGBT sector and declaring that the Democratic Center will respect all acquired rights.

As for the peace process, Duque maintained his positioning as a moderate politician by emphasizing that he will adjust the agreements rather than shatter them. However, history might repeat itself and, hence, Duque might face serious difficulties to maintain a margin of autonomy from his party. As it happened with Santos, any step Duque might take in an opposite direction from Uribe’s rightist approach or from the Democratic Center’s hard-liners could cause him to be labeled as traitor.

The latest developments show that Duque’s government has begun to reshape the peace-building process even before its entry into office. Just some days after Duque won the presidency, the Congress passed a reform proposed by his party which weakens the power of a backbone institution created through the Havana agreements, so-called Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP in Spanish). The JEP is a transitional justice mechanism whose main function is to investigate and prosecute serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed during the Colombian armed conflict. Since the creation of the JEP, the Democratic Center has argued that this tribunal places on equal footing guerrilla members and the military. Thus, recycling the argument according to which the peace agreement undermines the honor of the Colombian Army, the Democratic Center succeeded in obtaining from Congress approval of a reform that obliges the JEP to create a special chamber to judge military personnel. Law scholars, such as Rodrigo Uprimny, have argued that this measure disarticulates the entire transitional justice architecture, while others have warned that this reform leaves over 2,000 military personnel who have expressed their intention to appear before the JEP in a legal limbo. But beyond that, what this amendment suggests is that the attacks to the peace-building process that Duque’s right-wing party may put in motion will be brutal, though not necessarily frontal. While keeping his technocratic façade, Duque can be tempted to resort to populist tropes and strategies aimed at disarticulating the institutions created through the peace agreement.

For instance, Duque might cast doubts on their design or on the neutrality of the functionaries appointed to work at these agencies asserting that they are ideologically biased. Thereafter, he can use that argument as a pretext to change their organization, turning them into dysfunctional agencies unable to accomplish their mission. Even starker, Duque’s government might provoke a division between the traditional poor and the victims. For instance, and given the huge cost of victim reparation programs, hard-line factions of his party can spread rumors asserting that, because of such expenses, the government might be obliged to reduce social investment for the poor. Or finally, as a report of the International Crisis Group has warned, the government might render transitional justice institutions inefficient by starving their operational budgets.

Yet, by way of conclusion, the Colombian peace-building experience does not suggest that we should reject all forms of populism, or that populism is antithetical to peace building and democratic rule. If the tropes used by populism include, for instance, those related to gender equality and respect for diversity, populism can help societies to bring about transformative justice and durable peace. In contrast, when the tropes and mottos adopted by populism work to promote patriarchal masculinities, to undermine democratic pluralism or to maintain inequalities, it is most likely that the only kind of post-conflict context populism can help to bring about is one ruled by an oppressive peace.

Note: at the time of submitting this article (July 2018), the Colombian Supreme Court announced that it has widened a criminal investigation to include Ex-president Uribe on charges of bribery and intimidation of witnesses. This investigation stems from another case concerning alleged participation of Uribe in the formation of death squads during the 1990s.

Acknowledgments

My grateful thanks go to Lucy for permission to use her cartoon. I would like to thank also Carine Middelbos for her invaluable comments and editorial support.

Sonia Garzon-Ramirez received her PhD in Comparative Gender Studies from Central European University, Budapest. Her area of study includes the intersections between feminist theory, transitional justice, post-colonial urban studies and critical race theory. Her current research focuses on societies of the global South experiencing democratic or post-conflict transitions. It explores questions concerned with how oppressed populations negotiate and struggle for achieving spatial justice and the role of urban spatial politics in enabling their enjoyment of the right to the city.

Instrumentalizing Women’s Security in the Counterterrorism Agenda

The UN Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has become the dominant international legal and discursive framework for addressing gendered violence in international relations. The United Nations made its first great strides towards recognizing violence against women as an issue of international security in its landmark Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. For many, the securitization of gendered violence through 1325 and the subsequent resolutions that now make up the WPS agenda has been a decisive win, elevating to the ‘high politics’ of security the long-expressed concerns that the effects of war, armed conflict, mass violence, and other forms of international insecurity have distinctly gendered effects on men and women. However, as the WPS agenda has developed, the increasingly instrumentalist and reductive view of ‘gender’ and of ‘violence’ employed therein has had unintended impacts on structural, cultural, and economic forms of violence against women.

Since the adoption of SCR 1325, the development of the WPS agenda has been divergent and highly contested. Many feminists have noted with concern the practical bifurcation of the agenda into two parallel, and rarely integrated, concerns: protection versus participation, with ‘protection’ afforded greater attention and institutional support within the UN and other agents of global governance. This prioritization of ‘protecting’ women in times of conflict and insecurity has problematically both relied upon and reinforced gendered logics of protection that reproduce stereotypical ideas of women as passive, weak, and victims, in need of saving by rational, heroic, and militarized men.

When, in 2015, the UN Security Council passed a new WPS resolution, 2242, on countering terrorism and violent extremism, some optimistic that it finally represented a shift in perspective from seeing women only as helpless victims of men’s violence in armed conflict to also being active agents whose inclusion in political peace processes is central to advancing our peace efforts. Yet, the move to incorporate countering violent extremism (CVE) into the WPS agenda has largely focused on women’s roles in preventing radicalization and extremism, further instrumentalizing women’s security towards conventionally statist priorities. Key stakeholders in the implementation of both CVE and WPS measures have tended to operate in a way that seeks to fit women and their concerns into existing militarized prerogatives for addressing international security, rather than considering the social conditions that make such insecurities possible. In this way, the incorporation of gender into the CVE agenda may further represent how gender and gender-based violence has become securitized through the WPS agenda.

What has not been systematically addressed in this ‘gender mainstreaming’ paradigm for CVE are the multiple ways that terrorist groups use highly gendered narratives in their recruitment campaigns to bolster their appeal both to men and women, and how such narratives resonate with their target audiences. For example, ISIS’ recruitment narrative relies on hyper-masculinized and violently militarized motifs, portraying their jihadists as ‘real men’ who are rewarded for their service with promises of a home, monthly allowance, and a wife. The reliance on conventional gender norms and exploitation of gendered anxieties regarding the capacity to fulfill said norms are critical to understanding the appeal of extremist groups.

Yet, within the CVE frameworks, gender remains narrowly understood as relevant only to ‘women,’ and the interest in gender instrumental to the security of states. Rather than rendering the global security regime developed to combat the threat of terrorism a “gender-friendly” space, global policy on terrorism and counterterrorism “show the continued dominance of a masculine paradigm in those arenas central to international security.”

 

How the WPS-CVE Nexus is Failing Women

In July 2018, thousands of women are being held in Iraq and Syria on terrorism related charges on accusations of their links to Islamic State. Known as “jihadi brides” or “sexual jihadis,” these women are being denied basic provisions of human rights and facing punishment on the mere suspicion of their links to IS militants. Facing death sentences for their links to terrorism, the implementation of CVE measures in this case has exacerbated gendered abuses.

Captured in 2017, many of the women are being held in detention camps in legal and political limbo, as their home countries refuse to repatriate them, fearing the spread of radical Islamism. While many of the women are from neighbouring Gulf States, a number also come from Western countries including Germany, France, Russia, and the United States. Others have already been charged with terrorism-related offences and are now facing 10-minute death sentence trials under the Iraqi judicial system. Accused of entering the country illegally and supporting ISIS by living in the caliphate, the thousands of women are facing punishments to the full extent of counter-terror laws in Iraq. Iraqi officials speaking to the New York Times explained:

“These Islamic State criminals committed crimes against humanity and against our people in Iraq, in Mosul and Salahuddin and Anbar, everywhere,” said Gen. Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for the Iraqi joint operations command. “To be loyal to the blood of the victims and to be loyal to the Iraqi people, criminals must receive the death penalty, a punishment that would deter them and those who sympathize with them.”

According to critics, one of the most egregious outcomes of these women’s being swept up in the counter-terror proceedings is that it has also impeded political will to investigate gender-based crimes perpetrated by ISIS, including the systematic use of forced marriage, sexual slavery, and strict curtailments of women’s rights. News reports suggest that the lives of ‘jihadi brides’ were strictly monitored and controlled, with women facing harsh punishments if they behaved in a way considered un-Islamic.

The example of jihadi brides underscores the tensions between the two available subject positions of women in armed conflict. The narratives of these women as dangerous terrorists is premised on the fact that their active participation in violence runs counter to the idealised feminine role we expect of women, ultimately characterizing them as gender deviant. On the other hand, to characterize them solely as unwitting or unwilling victims, subject to the will of their male protectors and guardians, reinforces gendered stereotypes and deny any agency or attachment to political ideals that the women may hold. The explicitly sexual connotation associated with ‘sexual jihadis’ implies a sexual deviancy and suggests that the women may be getting what they deserve for allowing themselves to be ‘seduced’ or ‘lured’ into ISIS in the first place by men more powerful or more clever than themselves.

Yet, even where attitudinal shift has taken place towards women who have been associated with ISIS from seeing them only as victims to also seeing them as active agents of terrorism, the focus has remained on how to instrumentalize women towards operational effectiveness in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism. For example, in March 2016 at an event on Gender and CVE, the US Under-Secretary of State Sarah Sewall stated that “empowered women provide powerful antidotes to violent extremism. They are able to refute extremist narratives and nihilistic visions with independence and authenticity. Societies that respect the rights of all and fully engage the participation of all have no room for violent extremism. So women’s empowerment is not only essential for defeating violent extremism; defeating violent extremism is essential for women’s empowerment. The two go hand-in-hand” (qtd in Chowdhury Fink and Davidian 2018, p. 163). These sentiments are echoed in SCR 2242 itself, which calls for ‘the participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism.” Such sentiments have sparked concern amongst scholars and civil society activists regarding the co-optation of the WPS agenda in service of counter-terrorism policy and the retention of a problematically narrow scope of concern for what constitutes ‘violence’ of relevance to international peace and security. Women’s unfeminine, unruly behaviour is interpreted as a warning sign and thus efforts to address women’s participation in terrorism, or to empower them to join efforts in countering terrorism and violent extremism, still stem from assumptions that women are not independent, political agents.

 

Gender in the CVE Agenda

Both narratives, while exploiting stereotypical assumptions about ‘femininity’ and appropriate roles and behaviours of women in relation to violence and armed conflict, work to downplay the significance that politics may have in women’s participation in organized violence, including terrorism. Much like the label of ‘terrorist’ has succeeded in securitizing, and thus de-politicizing, the social and political grievances that lead to violence, or that make participation in a terrorist group attractive. A 2017 report issued by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) showed how reductive the ‘jihadi bride’ narrative has been, and how far it went towards constructing women in terrorist groups as passive, manipulated, and brainwashed. Contrary to this prevailing narrative, the study found that many women, particularly those coming from Western countries, were drawn by a sense of ‘empowerment’ offered by ISIS, and were thus “deliberately seeking to challenge both traditional and Western-imposed gender norms, by seeking a new identity for themselves”. The report also suggests that exclusion and marginalization from wider Western society were compelling ‘push’ factors for women to join ISIS. Yet, prevailing efforts to account for women’s role in terrorism and counter-terrorism strategies ignore the structural social, political and economic roots of their own involvement, as well as the unique ways that women’s social positions may present alternative reasons or pathways for radicalization than their male counterparts.

Thus, while SCR 2242 and the focus on women in combatting violent extremism does, for the first time, shift the prevailing discourse of the WPS agenda from one of protection to one of participation, the scope for participation is restricted. Women’s agency and capacity for empowerment is discussed in complete isolation from the underlying social dynamics that both shape their social, economic, and political positions and that underlie the political economic dimensions of violence, armed conflict, and terrorism in the first place. Much like other global initiatives aimed at ‘empowering’ women, the discourse is designed to ‘sell’ women’s empowerment as good for the economy (or, in this case, good for political stability) rather than as a good in and of itself.

Because international security regimes enabled through processes of securitization enable states to use extraordinary means of force to eliminate threats outside of the oversight of democratic processes and civil society, the marrying of the WPS agenda to national security prerogatives, including the securitization of terrorism and violent extremism, may have quite serious implications for gender and gendered forms of violence. As feminists, we ought to be critically interrogating the extent to which gender-based violence and gendered vulnerabilities are best resolved through their formulation as acute existential threats that require such exceptional responses.

Sara Meger is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include feminist theory, international security, and global political economy. Her current research investigates drivers of political violence in contemporary conflicts, including Ukraine and Colombia. She is author of Rape Loot Pillage: The Political Economy of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, published by Oxford University Press.