University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

John Paul Lederach

John Paul Lederach is an internationally known peacebuilder and teacher who contributes to the Peace Accords Matrix at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

In October 2012, formal talks between the Colombian government and the largest armed insurgency in the country were launched in Oslo and soon after transferred to Havana. Supported by Cuban and Norwegian facilitators, these negotiations were the first serious attempt in more than a decade to end the half-century war. In the past two years the talks have made important progress and have seen innovations on several fronts.

The negotiating framework established six broad topics, each to be separately discussed with an understanding, as in the Northern Ireland case, that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’ The two sides entered into the negotiations without a cessation of hostilities, which meant the development of talks while fighting on the ground continued.


The thematic topics in the negotiations include what many consider as root causes and key dynamics fueling the war over the decades: land reform, political participation, illicit drugs and trafficking, the rights of victims, arms and disarmament, and eventual implementation structures. The past two years have seen agreements in principle around land reform, political participation, and drugs. In a recent innovative process in late 2014, groups of victims were allowed to address the negotiators directly in Havana. The sides have also taken up the goal of increasing the participation of women and addressing gender issues related to the conflict and implementation concerns. In these latter two areas—victims and women—the talks in Havana have brought significant innovation, opening the process to far greater intentional and explicit forms of participation. With internally displaced people and victims numbering nearly 6 million over the past 50 years, these topics remain difficult and highly contentious.


External facilitation has provided support for the negotiation process. One of the tools for supporting the process is the use of comparative research on peace processes in other settings. This has been provided through the Peace Accords Matrix (PAM), a database and data set that tracks 34 comprehensive peace accords. The PAM research team connects research to practice by systematically analyzing multiple provisions within accords and assessing the state of their implementation year-by-year for a full decade. This comparative analysis allows an examination of the factors that account for the success or failure of various provisions within peace agreements. Using cases from this database, the PAM team has been directly engaged in support of the Colombian peace process through discussions with key actors, the raising of awareness within strategic sectors of civil society, and preparation for what everyone hopes will be a period of implementation once an agreement is signed.

Three initiatives illustrate the nexus between research and practical application:

  1. Intentional engagement with the national peace process facilitated  integration of the concerns, contributions, and needs of local communities, especially those most affected by armed conflict. This innovation argues in favor of on-the-ground dialogue in local areas prior to completion of the agreement to anticipate and advocate for implementation processes responsive to their needs. This has involved convening regular meetings with grassroots, regional, and national leaders in Montes de María, an area where significant relationships have developed over the past 15 years. The effort develops through an active collaboration with the UNDP’s support for the peace process.
  2. A research paper prepared for a national conference of Regional Education Secretaries, convened by the Bogotá Secretary of Education, explored the patterns, approaches and challenges in the education sector following the signing of a peace agreement and suggested a range of recommendations for Colombia. Those participating came from regions throughout the country.
  3. Briefing papers provided comparative approaches, dilemmas, and implementation strategies around core topics, particularly the challenge of victim-oriented transformation. This has typically emerged through direct dialogue with the High Commissioner for Peace and his Office in reference to relevant issues under discussion at the Table.

In conclusion, the comparative study of peace accords has time-relevant value as input and support for on-going negotiations. Research findings can also help with the preparation of realistic and responsive platforms of implementation prior to the signing of an accord. This strategy has relevance for all levels of society and opens up opportunity for effective dialogue and relationship-building, in contrast to past experiences where peace process implementation has proven weak. The Colombia case illustrates a promising horizon for increased connections between research and practice in peace processes.