Unmaking the Armies: the demobilization of
Collaboration: Miguel Abdala, Julián Aguirre, Miguel Álvarez, Amalia Erazo, Manuel Forero
(Lieutenant Colonel), Mabel González, Vera Grave, Beatriz Linares, Antonio Maldonado, Erika Páez,
María Eugenia Pinto, María Eugenia Ramírez, Édgar Ruiz, Sandra Ruiz, Andrés Vergara, María
Eugenia Vázquez and Darío Villamizar.
Having ensured that civilians are protected (Chapter 7), reduced the barbarity of the conflict (Chapter 8)
and compensated direct victims (Chapter 9), the next logical step towards ending a war would appear to
be reducing the size of the armies involved. This chapter will deal with the demobilization of irregular
combatants and their reincorporation into society.
The large scale demobilization and reinsertion of combatants is usually the last stage of a peace
process. In most countries that have undergone a successful experience, the agreement is that insurgents
demobilize first, then paramilitaries. Surely then, it is premature to speak of such occurrences in
Colombia, where there is little likelihood of a peace agreement with the guerrillas being reached soon.
There are, however, two types of demobilization unique to Colombia that should be covered at this
stage of the report: i) the growing number of individual demobilizations from all the illegal armed
groups, and ii) the possible collective demobilization of fairly large contingents of the AUC and other
paramilitary groups, a subject currently under discussion.
There is little we can predict here regarding this process. However, the declarations and documents
we have seen suggest that the negotiations are not based on economic and social reform (see Chapter
17), but on the conditions and guarantees for a gradual paramilitary demobilization. The negotiations
may also include some fairly drastic judicial changes, as well as the modification of current
This chapter aims to examine the turbulent state of current programs. We will refer only briefly to
the effect of a collective paramilitary demobilization on the already high rate of individual
demobilizations. Over the past three years 3000 combatants have left the illegal groups – around 10%
of the total. To this figure must also be added those who lay down their arms without reporting it to the
authorities. These figures will grow even further if the government achieves its target of 6000
individual demobilizations, and in view of the current negotiations with the AUC.
In spite of this, Colombia does not have a clear policy regarding demobilization and reincorporation.
Current policy, which is the legacy of those peace deals reached in the 1990s, is in a state of transition.
In spite of recent reform, there are still judicial and administrative vacuums. The structure of programs
is not functional. Public opinion oscillates between those who see demobilization as an anti-insurgent
strategy, or as an economic cost or a humanitarian problem, and this indecision leads to inter-
institutional rivalry and inconsistency.
The first part of this chapter refers to the adult population (18+) and part B deals with the
demobilization of girls, boys and adolescents. Both sections include a profile of the demobilized
population, a description of existing norms and programs, an analysis of current changes and a set of
From a human development point of view, reincorporation policy must be able to transform
thousands of isolated individuals and ex-criminals into a force for peace. This requires the design of a
sustainable system for reinsertion: one that protects those who lay down their arms, minimizes their
ability to move from one group to another or enter organized crime networks, offers adequate
assistance, gives them back all their rights, gives them a space in politics, avoids perverse incentives
and leads to a cultural change that results in demobilized combatants being accepted by society in
general (Box 10.1).
The heartbeat of an ex combatant
In a marginal neighborhood of Bogota, three men walk into a bakery with Pedro’s (an ex combatant’s)
ID card. They ask the baker if he knows the man. They assure him that they are relatives and that they
are looking for him because he has disappeared.. But the baker bec omes suspicious. By chance,
Pedro’s girlfriend walks into the bakers and the men show her the same ID card and ask her if she
knows him. The woman quickly leaves the shop, walks into a neighboring house and tells Pedro what
has just happened a few meters away. But why have they got his ID card if he still hasn’t been able to
get a duplicate himself? They contact the people’s ombudsman who arranges for them to leave the
neighborhood and then the city under armed guard.
Three deserters in rural Boyaca send a message to the municipal representative describing their hiding
place and asking for a humanitarian commission to help them. The army and the people’s ombudsman
participate in the operation, which is successful.
One night a minor ex combatant arrives in Bogota from a military unit in Antioquia. He is cold and still
has his warm weather clothes on. He looks out over the capital city from the third floor of a state office.
He asks a secretary how big the city is and where he’s going to stay tonight. He knows no one. He
hasn’t had lunch. He asks for a cigarette and quietens down. When asked to fill in a form he can’t. He’s
10 Demobilized combatants are getting impatient at the entrance to a government office. They try to
force an entry. All of them have problems and feel they are not getting a fair deal. An official talks to
them, takes notes and goes back inside. An hour later he comes back out, explains, informs, clears up
doubts, resolves some cases and leaves others on the back burner.
People in a neighborhood make an official complaint because they fear a house occupied by ex
guerrillas will be targeted for an attack that could endanger their lives and possessions.
A group of demobilized girls get lost in a shopping mall. When the tutors find them, one girl is
enchanted by an exhibition of dolls. It is the first time she has held one in her hands!
An ex paramilitary enters the reinsertion program, but he is held in a maximum security prison for a
crime not covered by the agreement. He is taken by ambulance to a special center because he has
injured his spinal column and cannot walk at times. The doctors have to operate.
The news tells of the capture of El Diablo, a paramilitary accused of having participated in a massacre.
It turns out that he is an ex-guerrilla who has been recruited by his old enemies.
A demobilized combatant is reunited with his parents and his eight brothers and sisters to work out who
cashed a check without the consent of the title holder. Things get heated. The title holder accuses his
father, whilst reminding him that he used to say “I wish you were dead” to him when he was a boy.
After spending six months in Medellin, a demobilized combatant has arranged to move back to Cali to
be with the mother of his two young children and take up family life where he left off. Just as he’s
packing his bags, his companion phones to say that the plan is not going to work because she’s
expecting a child by a new sexual partner. The couple had not seen each other for four years.
These ten scenarios illustrate the complexities of the reinsertion process, which does not end after
demobilization, nor are the effects reduced by the humanitarian aid and economic and judicial benefits
provided by the state.
A Shock to the System
Reinserted combatants have to quickly learn to trust the state and stop perceiving it as the enemy, to
not confuse their productive project with their life, to distinguish between what is possible and what is
ideal, and to differentiate between the short, medium and long term. At the start of the formal process,
the ex combatant is in legal limbo and has to wait for the authorities to clear up his past.
Demobilized combatants have to adapt from army discipline to responsible freedom. In a militia
everything has to be authorized and orders are given all the time; there’s also not much space for
personal autonomy, the family or feelings.
Until their situation has been cleared up, they have to earn a living, reconstruct their families, adapt
to a new lifestyle, deal with many different people and institutions, deal with their emotions, solve
problems that others have caused, and recognize the fact that they are citizens with rights and duties.
But more than that, at a given moment they need to be listened to by someone who understands the life
they used to lead, by a lakeside, for example, or in a land of wide open spaces.
Demobilized combatants suffer a lack of confidence during their test-period in society; they are
looked at suspiciously during this type of civil internment. However they usually have a strong sense of
honor, loyalty, honesty, discipline, respect for the law, personal austerity and solidarity – things they
learned while in the group they belonged to.
Basically, the reinsertion process needs to keep its finger on the pulse and listen to the heartbeat of
The Lives of Reinserted Combatants in Bogota. INDH 2003.
A. The Demobilization and reincorporation of adults
If it is difficult to estimate the number of deaths caused by a conflict (Box 4.2), it is even more difficult
to calculate how many people enter or leave clandestine groups. Deserters may quietly go back home or
they may attempt to hide in a city. There will also always be those who claim to have been combatants,
in order to obtain the economic benefits. Armed groups may infiltrate agents into the programs, or use
them as a way of pensioning off certain members. Figures may be inflated as part of the psychological
war. Some deserters may even rejoin the ranks. Those who do not have (or do not show) an identity
card can be duplicated. And so on.
By looking at official registers and diverse journalistic or psychoanalytic testimonies, it is possible to
characterize demobilized adults thus:
Between January 1999 and May 2003, 1,849 adults were demobilized. 83% were men and (notably)
17% were women. All had a low level of education; of 316 people attended to by the State, just 8% had
completed two or more years of high school, 84% had not finished primary and 8% had never been to
The ex combatants were generally low level members of their respective organizations. They were
aged between 18 and 25 and had joined the group between the ages of 10 and 17, for the reasons
described in Chapter 3. They had been in their organization for between 1 and 7 years.
Some of the reasons given for leaving the armed group were: unfulfilled economic promises, the
difficulty of military life, physical and psychological abuse and a lack of freedom. Amongst the women,
demobilization was also the result of sexual abuse – the use of the body as a weapon of war and the
requirement to abort any pregnancies, as usually stated in the rules of the group.
In these circumstances, the decision to demobilize should be understood as a show of peace, a bid for
civility and the exercising of the right to non-violence (Box 10.2). To which must be added the gains
obtained from taking pe ople out of the war and reducing the spiral of violence.
On Life’s Merry-Go-Round*
One sunny Sunday morning, Carlos Andrés and Marcela meet the others in a neighborhood park. He’s
playing football and she’s riding her bike. He’s got a new Rivaldo T-shirt on and she’s got a new lip
piercing. John Freddy’s lying back on the grass feeling bad because he hasn’t been able to talk to his
mum on the phone in two months, and Maritza says she hasn’t finished her math homework.
One afternoon, Toño goes with Sebastián to a rap concert. Miguel goes with Doña Rosa to pay a
neighbor for a window he broke playing football. The woman scolds him. She’s his tutor, his confidante
and authority figure in Bogotá until he can go back to his mother, who lives near Lejanías, Meta.
Many have learnt to read and write; and all, without exception, are now living lives without having to
obey orders from a comandante, There are no sentries, no camouflage, no armbands identifying their
group, no Wellington boots to wear, nor guns and grenades, nor security rings with the risk of being
ambushed or being disciplined. They are now living life away from their families and villages, in a new
climate, with new time-frames, codes of conduct and measures of success or failure.
They have to exorcise the past, throw their fear and dreams to the wind, cleanse themselves of the
stigma of war, bring their emotions out into the open and be responsible. Juan dreams of the pigs and
cows he herded when he was small, and dreams of being a vet in Catatumbo. Jair is painting the
butcher’s shop he’ll open when he receives financial help from the state. Nelsy is looking for volunteers
who’ll let her practice the new hairstyle she’s just learnt at beauty college. Marlon is happy about the
story he’s written for Spanish class about how he met Iris in a guerrilla camp. But Cristian is shouting at
the principal and threatening not to come back. Magnolia walks to the café on the corner to meet the
man who’s had her so head-over-heels for the last three weeks that she had a heart tattooed next to
her belly button, and noone saw her all weekend. Camilo grumbles about the math teacher; the other
day he said he couldn’t be bothered to copy down the exercise.
¿Reinserted ex -combatants? Yes, but over and above that, adolescents at boiling point: sullen,
antisocial, silent, aggressive, arrogant, rash, know-alls, incorrigible, unpredictable, impatient, unstable,
liars or just indifferent. But also, warm, trusting, boisterous, calm, simple, prudent, studious, voluble,
predictable, routine, adaptable, conformist, sincere and sensitive. Boys and girls who dare the state and
society to show coherence between their words and actions, balance between being loving and
demanding, and proportional with rights and duties, according to Olga Lucía Bueno, a psychologist who
has professionally helped young ex -combatants.
More than anything, reinserted minors hope that they will be respected, that promises will be kept
and that they will be successful at work. They also want a hug and a smile when the time’s right and
hope for a miracle that will heal the damage to their souls.
César, for example, joined the guerrilla because the paramilitaries killed his father and he wanted
revenge. Three years later the same guerrillas killed h uncle for being a suspected paramilitary
informer. Zenaida deserted because her comandante ordered her to have an abortion; her 17-year-old
partner fled with her. Hildebrand gave himself up to a patrol close to where his mum lived. He was in
the area for four days, but was not allowed to say hello to his mum. Sigifredo had to collect firewood for
a week because he’d crept into María’s bed one night and they had made love, without the
authorization of the comandante. Jonas will never forget the look on the face of his partner of fifteen
years when she was wounded in a fire-fight with the paramilitaries in the serranía de San Lucas.
Marcos feels good that he stopped a badly-wounded soldier from suffering by shooting him dead. When
Joaquín gets drunk he remembers how his older brother was captured by an army captain, and later
appeared dead in a nearby forest. Carmen regrets having made fun of a hostage who cried alter
hearing a message from his 14 year old daughter on the radio. Mario wishes he could read the only
letter his sister sent him in the three years he was in the jungle, but he can’t because he’s illiterate.
This kind of emotional pain doesn’t always go away when you’re demobilized. The armed group
sometimes retaliates by assassinating a loved one, or driving the ex-combatant’s family off their land—
very few can ever go back to where they come from without risking their lives.
All are affected by the relationships they had to leave behind in the guerrilla army, and many resist
forming new ones. In a war, most commanders are men, and many young reinserted ex-combatants
cannot accept a woman as a figure of authority, although all evoke their mothers as symbols of love
and protection. The fact that commanders can arrange the separation of a couple at any time—for
instance by transferring them to different fronts—means that patterns of emotional stability are fragile
among demobilized adolescents. One key aspect is the sharing of emotions with people outside the
group of reinserted combatants without the restrictions of their encampment and without the
interference of their commanders.
The long-distance relationship many have with their families, mainly by telephone, is not always
easy. There are places and circumstances that impede contact or restrict the time, frequency and
confidentiality of contact. In some areas the ex-combatant’s mother or father cannot go to the local
telephone office because they are being followed. This is not the general situation, but it does happen
and many children live in a situation of insecurity regarding their own and their parents’ well-being.
* INDH 2003
2. Previous norms and programs
Until December 2002, demobilization and reinsertion were controlled by Law 418, 1997 and Decree
The Law established just cause for omitting the trial and sentencing of people for political crimes.
There were judicial benefits available to all members of politically recognized groups who gave up their
arms individually and stated their desire for peace, as long as they had not committed “crimes against
humanity”. The Decree led to the creation of the Comité Operativo para la Dejación de las Armas
(CODA - the Operational Committee for the Laying Down of Arms) who certified the condition of the
person being demobilized, as a prerequisite to receiving judicial and socioeconomic benefits.
Various organizations were involved in the demobilization and reinsertion process: CODA, the
National Reinsertion Office—part of the Ministry of the Interior, with 17 regional delegations—, the
Attorney General’s Office and the Armed Forces. In 2001, the Ministry of Defense Programa de
Atención Humanitaria al Desmovilizado (PAHAD - Program of Humanitarian Aid for Demobilized
Combatants) also became involved.
This model had some serious problems. There was no clear policy, programs were more suitable to
collective demobilization than to the growing phenomenon of individual demobilization, planning was
not based on a basic diagnosis of who the ex-combatants were, and the allocation of resources did not
always meet technical criteria. There were no mechanisms in place to control and follow up ex-
combatants reincorporated into civilian life. Often the institutional response was not immediate and was
poorly articulated— it was affected by institutional jealousy.
CODA did not have enough operational capacity and thus access to judicial and socioeconomic
benefits was delayed. Furthermore, obtaining the former was difficult due to the fact that judges were
not aware of the relevant norms; often due to the complexity of political crimes. One ex guerilla -fighter
was quoted as saying “I have spent a year waiting to be processed. I’m going to wait two more months
and if the situation has not changed I’m going to join the Paramilitaries” 1. In terms of the
socioeconomic benefits, there were not enough places in education nor enough jobs on offer. Those
who organized the productive programs took the erroneous view that every ex-combatant was a
potential businessperson. The health insurance given to ex-combatants did not cover mental health
problems, nor did it offer psychosocial assistance. Nor was enough attention paid to protecting the lives
of demobilized combatants, in spite of the obvious risks they ran.
3. Current Changes
Law 782 came into force on December 23 2002, and the Ministry of Defense laid down the guidelines
for reincorporation into civilian life in Decree 128, January 2003.
The Law permits dialogue that leads to the demobilization of armed groups on the margin of the law,
and gives their members the opportunity to demobilize and reincorporate into civilian life, as long as
they have not committed crimes against humanity. The latter requirement may become more flexible if
the following presidential initiative is approved “... people jailed for crimes against humanity will be
offered an alternative sentence. Instead of putting people in jail, there should be alternative punishments
that lead to social healing” 2.
The law defines someone who has been demobilized as a person who voluntarily abandons his or her
activity as a member of an armed group, and someone who has been reincorporated as a demobilized
combatant who has been certified by CODA. This certificate must be issued within three weeks of
having handed in the necessary documentation. A representative of the Colombian Family Welfare
Institute (ICBF) and an ombudsman also sit on the committee. The technical secretary fall under the
Ministry of Defense, rather than the Ministry of the Interior.
The Decree establishes that reinsertion policy will be decided by the Ministry of the Interior, in
conjunction with the Ministry of Defense. Preliminary benefits are defined as the issuing of identity
documents, a military card and police record, as well as health insurance, benefits for having handed in
weapons, protection and security. There are further benefits for collaborating with the authorities;
Article 9 states “ex-combatants who wish to make an effective contribution to justice by offering
information that could prevent further terrorist attacks or kidnappings, or that enables hostages to be
freed and arms caches, communications equipment, money from drug-trafficking or other illegal
activities to be found, in accordance with current legal regulations, or that leads to the capture of
ringleaders, will receive economic benefits in accordance with Ministry of Defense rules”.
The judicial and economic benefits are granted only once and within no more than two years.
Whatever the state of the process, the Decree offers the following judicial benefits: a pardon, the
conditional suspension of a sentence, the ending of a process, the expiry of the preliminary
“instruction” phase or a disqualification. According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists (2003), the
only prerequisite to receiving a pardon is the CODA certification.
Among the economic benefits are funds to get productive projects off the ground, access to the
Colombian Modernization and Technical Development Fund for Micro, Small and Medium Businesses
(Fomipyme), and jobs from a labor network created by the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, in
collaboration with Sena (Apprenticeship School).
The Decree establishes the possibility of beginning or continuing basic, middle or technical
education, or of being trained in semi-skilled work. Education is also available in the human and social
values of citizens’ rights and duties.
These legal changes, the subsequent state restructuring and the democratic security policy have led to
• The elimination of DGR and its regional committees, and the creation of the Program for
Reincorporation into Civilian Life.
• The political and financial strengthening of PAHD. It is now the direct responsibility of the Deputy
Defense Minister and is responsible for publicizing demobilization policy, receiving the ex-combatants,
offering them humanitarian aid and regulating the benefits available for collaboration.
• The Ministry of the Interior program implies starting afresh with a clean slate. However, although
the old DGR had serious deficiencies, there was no careful evaluation carried out of accumulated
experience, and no serious alternatives were examined, such as that suggested by the DNP Security and
Justice Office (Pinto, 2002).
• Inspired by the principle of co-responsibility between the State and the ex-combatant, the new
program has six lines of action: 1) humanitarian aid and health, 2) education and minors, 3) productive
projects, 4) justice, 5) administrative and 6) financial security.
• The reinsertion process begins three months after demobilization. The ex-combatant receives nearly
2 million pesos for living costs and is offered help to formulate a productive project. Once the project
has been approved the ex-combatant receives seed capital of between $3 million and $5 million pesos to
carry it out, but then receives no more help with living costs. This capital may also be invested in
education if preferred (Table 10.1).
• The program aims to unify criteria for humanitarian attention in the hostels demobilized combatants
stay in until they are certified, define their legal situation and become independent.
As a whole, the new arrangements have taken a new direction, corrected deficiencies and have given
rise to doubts and additional problems. The principal innovations are:
• Eliminating the need for a group to have political status to enable reinsertion. Although debatable,
this facilitates the process (especially in the case of the paramilitaries).
• Enhancing the Ministry of Defense’s role in policy formulation over the Ministry of the Interior and
• Centralizing the reinsertion process in Bogotá; although this seems somewhat unwise, especially
when dealing with poorly educated peasant farmers.
• Dividing the process into two stages; demobilization, and reincorporation into civilian life.
However, there is insufficient capacity in the second stage to deal with the growing number of people in
the first stage, especially if the current negotiations with the paramilitaries are successful.
• Modification of operational mechanisms and processes, without having reached a consensus about
the objectives of the system. But is this a step on the road to national conciliation? A way of rescuing
peasant farmers who have lost their way? Or a way of using the deserters to gain a military advantage?
Furthermore, although some administrative and operational changes have been positive (for example,
the strengthening of PAHD), many well known defects of the previous system were not corrected.
• The Ministry of Defense is still not informing the Ministry of the Interior on the judicial situation of
demobilized combatants, nor about the risk to their personal - and their family’s - safety when they are
• The state agencies still have no way of following up the people they attend. Nor do they file
information regarding people’s mental, physical and socio-cultural health – all of which are necessary
to the design and execution of reinsertion programs.
• CODA does not have enough operational capacity and thus the classification of ex-combatants is
being delayed. The transfer from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of the Interior can take months
to complete, which implies additional risks for demobilized combatants.
• The lack of communication between state agencies has not been corrected. There are also problems
in the legal system regarding the granting of judicial benefits. No one has tried to change the logic of
justice for a more political focus related to national reconciliation.
• The state agencies have no plan of attention for the lapse between demobilization and
certification—and thus gaining access to the benefits. Many people spend months in hostels doing
• Protection is offered during the first stages of the process, but not once the ex-combatant has
become independent. Early warning and reaction mechanisms that could prevent the summary
execution of ex-combatants have not been designed.
• Psychosocial help remains of secondary importance—it is seen as enough to just forget the past—in
spite of the fact that a successful reinsertion requires that the past be analyzed and wounds healed.
Based on the above, we have formulated five broad questions about the post-reform system:
• Firstly, it is not clear who is in charge of demobilization and reinsertion policy. Is responsibility
shared or is it in the hands of the military?
• Secondly, how healthy is it, in terms of national reconciliation, to offer benefits for collaboration?
Has a short, medium and long-term cost/benefit analysis been carried out on the effect of the
demobilization process seen as just a counter-insurgency strategy?
• Thirdly, how apt is it for benefits to be seen as incentives?
• Fourthly, how well adjusted are the mechanisms and time given to reincorporation into the
characteristics of the p opulation? What criteria and technical analysis were used to design these
• And finally, how much continuity is there in the process of laying down arms, abandoning an
armed group, demobilizing and being reincorporated into society? Are there gaps in the process? What
is the common vision that guides all state agencies?
The last question refers to ministerial programs and, in turn, generates some additional questions. Is
there enough institutional capacity for 6000 people to be demobilized, not including the paramilitaries?
Are institutions capable of offering pertinent, integral attention? Is the rate of demobilization the same
as that of reincorporation? Are the ambitious plans to increase demobilization working? Do the
programs have adequate human, technical, logistical and financial resources? Are there mechanisms in
place to prevent fraud (people claiming to be ex-combatants so as to gain access to the benefits offered
by the government)?
The answers to these questions are far from satisfactory. Capacity is frankly meager in terms of the
expected flow of demobilizations. There is no information, diagnosis nor analysis available about the
impact of the different programs. There are serious operational and administrative problems. There is
no effective coordination between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. Protection is
not offered for very long. Psychosocial attention is no longer offered. Policy is based on loose
agreements and does not constitute a communications strategy that leads to the social acceptance of
Based on the above diagnosis, we now outline a set of initiatives that touche on various levels and
components of demobilization and reincorporation policy, and that may help to improve results.
a. The perspective of policy
The Colombian state and society should not look on ex-combatants as deserters. The armed groups see
them thus and fear that they will join an opposing group to act as informants.
The majority of those who lay down their arms do not do so for a few scanty privileges. Many show
a genuine desire for peace. The state should look towards national reconciliation. It should exalt the
value of the act of renunciation, especially in a country like Colombia where the sword is becoming
mightier than the pen.
Policy should be designed to construct peace, not fight insurgency – something that gives fruit in the
short-term but that is sterile in the medium and long-term. It should prevent welfare dependency – a
demobilized combatant deserves rights, not gifts. The challenge is to protect the lives of ex-combatants
and prevent their transition to a different group or their entering into criminal activity, as well as
smoothing the path towards national reconciliation. Perverse incentives should be avoided, as should
their use by armed groups. In brief, reinsertion policy should be based on perspectives of peace,
humanism, civility, citizenship and democracy, and also on politics.
b. State Agencies
Civilian State Agency Guiding Policy
It is impossible to draw an exact line between demobilization and reincorporation. Reinsertion into
civilian life is a process that begins as soon as someone lays down his arms. A high level civilian
agency should form policy and be in charge of the process. We recommend that this agency be linked to
the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, who will be in charge of political affairs. The armed forces
could participate in the process, but only to guarantee the security of ex-combatants.
The agency should design a unified information, follow-up, control and evaluation system, without
which it would be pointless to continue the programs. The country must evaluate and learn from
national and international experience. The agency will be responsible for coordinating the execution of
policy and stimulating civil society, as well as coordinating international cooperation. The agency
should have the technical, operational, administrative and financial capacity to do this. The programs it
runs should be planned, strategic, anticipated, participative and, of course, funded.
On the other hand, the country could try out some more audacious schemes regarding the
demobilization and reinsertion of ex-combatants. One possibility would be to create a supra-State
reinsertion agency, with the participation of a State-appointed high commissioner and the firm
commitment of civil society and the international community. A scheme of this nature was overseen by
UNDP in Congo (Box 10.3).
Congo: Informal Demobilization and Disarming
Raúl Rosende and Max Halty
There were three consecutive civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1990s. They
were fed directly or indirectly by a desire to control income from petroleum. The armed groups involved
• The Cobras (allied with much of the armed forces), who supported ex-president Sassou N’guesso,
who headed a pseudo-Communist regime for two decades until leaving the presidency alter losing
elections his government organized in 19 91.
• The Cocoyes, the private militia of president Lissouba, Sassou’s successor.
• The Ninjas, created by prime minister Kolelas, a Sassou ally who went over to Lissouba – which led
to the eventual merging of the Cocoyes and the Ninjas during the second and third war, although there
were different command headquarters (under the command of the National Resistance Council).
The third war broke out in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire in December 1999, during the so called
peace agreements. A committee was put in charge of demobilizing and disarming the combatants.
The committee asked the PNUD for help with starting a program to disarm and reinsert the
combatants into society, and the PNUD asked the OIM to carry out the project.
However, the peace agreements were no more than a cease-fire designed to allow political
negotiations to take place to agree on power sharing between the different groups. Thus there was no
formal demobilization—the lists given to the verification committee were no more than lists of civilians—
but there was indeed a symbolic disarming and some returning members of the army brought their guns
Thus the PNUD/OIM disarming and reinsertion program began in September 2000 with the financial
support of Norway, Sweden, the USA and the European Commission.
Given that there was a formal demobilization program and that the military leaders of the different
groups decided to remain armed and ready to fight should the negotiations break down, and that there
was no external force to help impose the agreement, the program developed a novel strategy to
achieve its objectives.
Each combatant was individually approached by a network of “facilitators” (made up of high level ex-
combatants from each group who were not only willing to demobilize, disarm and start the reinsertion
process, but who also agreed to work for the program and convince others to join it). This group of
people informed their ex -comrades in arms of the benefits and rules of the program.
• The program treated each ex-combatant individually (so as to cut off the influence of military
• Financial assistance was offered to all ex-combatants who participated in the program.
• Those who voluntarily gave up their arms were given priority access to the benefits available to ex-
combat ants (the arms were completely destroyed by the program in public ceremonies with the support
of the police and military).
Thus there was a clear criterion attached to accepting ex -combatants into the program (given the
confusion created by the lack of adequate lists), that was directly aimed at those most interested in
receiving the support on offer: the foot soldiers. Military leaders had to be negotiated with as they were
initially extremely opposed to a plan that threatened to take away their “cannon fodder”.
The final agreement gave each of the leaders enough time to complete their negotiations with the
government and give their respective combatants permission to enter the program. Thus the program
gave the political negotiation process a catalyst to help achieve a real peace agreement.
Thanks to careful personal follow-ups of the process of training, technical assistance and support for
micro-projects, the program was able to reintegrate more than 8,000 ex -combatants in 18 months via
the creation of more than 2,600 small businesses. At the same time more than 11,000 arms and
explosives were collected and destroyed.
Recent figures show that more than 60% of the businesses are still functioning, and that many of
them are expanding and creating new jobs.
Towards the end of 2001, the World Bank offered to loan the government the money it needed to
finish the process of demobilization and reinsertion of ex-combatants (the PNUD/OIM program lacked
sufficient funds to deal with the 8,000 ex -combatants that still had to be reintegrated), and promoted the
creation of a High Commission for Reinsertion answerable to the President.
The loss of neutrality that occurred following the creation of the High Commission for Reinsertion had
very clear negative effects: no more arms were collected and the process of demobilization and
disarming of the Ninja group not only did not end, but the conflict between that group and the army
restarted (although none of the Ninjas already reincorporated by the PNUD/OIM program were
The new cease-fire (March 2003) between the Ninjas and the government led to the European
Commission giving the PNUD/OIM 730,000 Euros for the demobilization, disarming and reinsertion of
this key group of combatants.
Experts on conflict, PNUD.
CODA needs to be adjusted to speed up the certification of demobilized combatants. It should be
technically and financially strengthened. Coda’s technical secretary and coordinator should be at the
head of the civilian agency guiding policy.
The committee should have clear rules to ensure that its dynamics do not depend solely on the
discretion of the functionary in charge. Its functions should be the certification and processing of
judicial benefits, and it thus needs a minimum specialist staff to run the information, tracking and
process control systems.
CODA should work more closely with state security agencies to prove that the ex-combatant really
was a member of an armed group. The necessary filters should be designed to prevent substitutions of
• A Public Prosecutor for Demobilized Combatants
The Crimes against the Constitution Unit is currently in charge of processing the judicial benefits
available to demobilized combatants. However, the public prosecutors that work with the unit have
many other responsibilities. The government should therefore support the creation of a specialized
public prosecutor’s office, with adequate human, administrative and financial resources.
c. Communications Strategy
The state should design a communications strategy on demobilization and reincorporation policy that
goes further than a few flyers and TV commercials. This strategy should not be confused with a
publicity campaign, but should use truthful, pertinent, attractive content to achieve: i) the divulgation of
policy amongst combatants at the margin of the law that informs them of the rights of demobilized
persons; ii) the transformation of society’s view of demobilized combatants, enabling their full
reincorporation into civilian l fe; iii) the promotion of a climate of confidence, credibility and state
legitimacy among those affected.
The strategy should produce clear and dignifying messages. It is vital that degrading Manichaean,
messianic, moralistic and chauvinistic content be abandoned. Content should be neutral and of high
credibility. It should not generate false expectations.
The messages are unique, but their audience is not. Thus, strategy should contemplate specialized
tactics that include all audiences and take into account people’s grades of literacy or orality, the media
they use, their cultural background and their regional differences.
The Ministry of Defense’s media infrastructure is an asset, but not the only one. The commitment of
the mass media should be assured, and community media should be used as well as alternative means of
communication. There should be a presence at regional events and patron saint holidays, many of which
are used by the armed groups to recruit new members.
Strategy design should be overseen by the civilian agency that traces policy guidelines. It is also
within the realms of possibility to imagine that the private sector may support the process. The
communications strategy is vital to policy. The strategy should include a symbolic/affective component
that helps people identify the common purpose: peace and national reconciliation.
d. Humanitarian Assistance
Humanitarian assistance should be subject to a uniform set of criteria. It should be offered directly by
the civilian agency in charge of policy guidelines, or via specialized NGOs or international
organizations. However, the criteria for selection, evaluation, control and tracking should remain the
responsibility of the civilian agency.
It is of vital importance that psycho-social and security considerations be part of humanitarian
attention, including early warning systems, fast reaction and crisis management.
A reference framework should be established, based on humanitarian assistance, to ensure a
continuous process for those who la y down their arms—gaps between the demobilization and
reincorporation processes should be avoided.
Finally, demobilization and reinsertion politics should be designed in such a way as to prevent the
prolongation of humanitarian assistance due to delays in the judicial process.
e. The Benefits
• Political and Judicial
The political dimension should not be left to one side. Demobilization and reincorporation strategy
should encourage the inclusion of ex-combatants as legal subjects, and listen to their interests and
aspirations in terms of reconstructing the country.
With a view to facilitating the frustrating process of obtaining judicial benefits, it is necessary that
the Public Prosecutor, CODA and security organizations form an inter-institutional u in which all
information is centralized, processes are kept in the same place and the certification of cases is speeded
Educational programs should meet the needs of the demobilized population. This implies, in
particular, flexible classification systems that correct pre-existing deficiencies via innovative teaching
methods and redesigned content.
Training should be based on productive reincorporation processes. Thus Sena should play a
particularly active role.
Places should be reserved in public institutions for the demobilized combatants, and the presence of
private education and the business sector should also be encouraged to create a real sense of solidarity
in the search for peace.
—Labor and Production Problems
We cannot continue with the view that all ex-combatants are potential business persons. Apart from a
few successes (see Box 10.4), the majority of projects have ended in failure. It is thus necessary to
design a set of programs and projects be designed offering broad options and in line with the
characteristics, aspirations and interests of the demobilized population.
Flor Viva: a life initiative*
In November 1999, a group of ex-combatants decided to form an NGO called Germinar. Their objective
was to give a second opportunity to those who had renounced war and left their combat gear and
weapons behind them. The NGO came up with the Flor Viva initiative, one of the most successful
socioeconomic reinsertion projects for thousands of ex-combatants.
Flor Viva is a company that processes tropical fruits to produce fruit pulps and juices. It was started
by 7 ex -guerrillas—six from the Farc and one from the ELN, six men and one woman.
The foundation stone of the company was the ex-guerrillas’ decision to work together. They pooled
the resources given to them by the reinsertion committee and came up with the initial sum of almost 50
The members of Flor Viva also decided to attend training programs, with their business initiative in
mind, that built on the skills they had learnt in the ranks of the guerrilla organizations. The training they
received was directed towards their project, using their existing human assets. Thus, “those who had
worked in the financial area of the guerrilla forces attended accounting, marketing and sales courses.
Those who had worked in the kitchens were given fruit processing and food manipulation and
The seed capital and training courses provided the necessary conditions, but they were not enough.
More resources, machinery, buildings and a market, amongst other things, were needed to ensure that
Flor Viva could achieve a level of production close to 4,000 juices and 7 tons of concentrate per month.
Thus the partners began to “market their idea”. Thanks to their tenacity, a start-up loan of close to
200 million pesos was approved. Then they obtained the buildings they needed in the center of Bogotá,
receiving international aid from the Belgian government in the form of machinery. Moreover, they were
able to get their old enemy, the army, in their sights as a potential customer.
Were the tenacity of the ex -combatants and their desire to live a civilian life factors in the success of
Flor Viva? They were, without doubt, two of the factors contributing to its success, but they were not the
only ones. It is also important to look at other factors that could be incorporated into future initiatives.
The first is the self-management and organization of the ex-combatants, that gave them a sense of
co-responsibility; that is to say that reinsertion into civilian life is not just the responsibility of a state
agency, but also that of the ex-combatants themselves. The second is the level of ability of the
partners, their existing skills and those they learned. The trust of the financial sector and the help of the
private sector are the third factor. The fourth was international cooperation and the aid offered by the
Belgian government to help construct peace in this country. The fifth was the mark et offered by the
armed forces, and the businesses started by reinserted combatants in the early 1990s.
A long, hard look at this experience will help prevent many of the problems that other ex-combatants
face when designing their own productive projects, and will contribute to the germination of the dreams
and businesses of other citizens who bet on peace.
Adapted from The Wall Street Journal. “Going Straight: Colombian Guerrillas Now in the
Juice Biz”. June 21 2002. In Cambio magazine, “La paz pulpa”, Sección Colombia en Paz,
January 28 2002, edición 449, pp. 36-38.
DNP has proposed thirteen alternatives for reinsertion that include educational and productive
components. The public investment needed for each ex-combatant is between $4.8 million and $24.4
million pesos (2002 values).
One type of reinsertion will involve training the ex-combatant to run a small business. Dates will be
set for the project to be submitted and approved, and for the payments the State will make to the ex-
combatant to enable him to support his family for a period of one year, by which time the project should
have got off the ground. Maintenance payments will be between one and two minimum salaries, to a
maximum value of $9.6 million pesos (2002 values).
Another proposal is to offer tax credits to private businesses that create jobs for ex-combatants.
A third possibility is to divide the subsidy into an educational grant and a fixed-term deposit that can
be used as seed capital later. “Once the person has satisfactorily completed his or her studies, the initial
capital is returned, adjusted for inflation, to enable him or her to begin a productive project. If the
person decides not to go ahead with the project and enter employment instead, the capital will be
returned to the Sta te” (Pinto, 2002: 50).
All of these schemes will have deadlines for socioeconomic reinsertion, controls regarding the
performance of all organizations involved and limits on how long the person is able to remain in the
Financial payments should be gradual and regulated; lump sums should not be handed out. It would
make no sense to offer a relatively large amount of money for maintenance and then a proportionally
small sum for the productive project. Furthermore, all projects should continue to be given technical
assistance once the initial period has ended. In some cases the private sector or the international
community may be asked to help.
—Medical and Psychosocial help
The demobilized population has experienced traumatic events that have left physical and
psychological scars. Any medical assistance offered should take this into account. Specialized programs
are needed that, among other areas, deal with sexual and reproductive health and offer systematic
psycho-social help to those who lay down their arms. Long-term spaces should also be made available
for sharing experiences and constructing new ways of life.
This factor is fundamental to all types of demobilization and reincorporation into society. All state
security organizations must be involved in protecting the lives of the ex-combatants; making use of
intelligence, alert and fast reaction systems.
The international community could play a special role in offering additional security for ex-
combatants in cases of imminent risk or where local protection is limited. Friendly governments should
take note of the following data when adopting or extending such programs: i) armed groups are in
control of many of the ex-combatants’ places of origin, making their return home difficult; ii) individual
demobilization from an armed group carries the death penalty; iii) those who have individually
demobilized have shown a firm commitment to peace and iv) protecting the lives of ex-combatants is
the only way to persuade others to follow their example.
Functionaries should be subject to a rigorous selection process to ensure that only truly specialized
people administer the programs. Each agency should be responsible for training their own agents, but
still coordinate their efforts with the other agencies.
B. The Demobilization and Reinsertion of minors
In 1998 the ELN handed over 5 minors to a commission headed by the public ombudsman. In 2000,
Operation Berlin led to the capture of 73 minors who had been members of the FARC. In 2002 the
AUC made public their willingness to hand over underage combatants that they had recovered from the
guerillas. Thus the boys, girls and adolescents involved in the conflict have become ever more visible,
as has the poor capacity of the state to prevent this happening and respond when it does.
The recruitment of minors degrades the conflict. It is a crime under Colombian law and is defined as
a war crime in international law. Article 4, number 3b of Protocol II of the 1949 Geneva Convention
states that “children under 15 cannot be recruited by armed forces or groups and may not participate in
hostilities”. It is also a violation of the Children’s Rights Convention protocol regarding the
participation of children in armed conflicts.
Children, who are voluntarily or forcefully recruited, carry out logistical and intelligence tasks as
well as going into combat.
1. Profile of Demobilized Minors
The statistics related to minors vary according to the source. A 2000 UNICEF report estimated that
6000 boys and girls are members of Colombian armed groups. This figure is accepted by the public
ombudsman and by ICBF.
The children join up between the ages of 7 and 17 (average age 13.8). Their average level of
education is just fourth grade (Defensoría, 2002). As stated in Chapter 3, there are a number of reasons
why children join the groups – reasons that differ between the countryside and the city.
In rural areas factors such as who has control of the zone, whether another family member is already
in one of the groups and the absence of opportunities are at work. “The war becomes an option just like
any other option in the labor market. Many consider their time in the armed group as if it were a job or
an obligatory service that they have to perform” (Aguirre, 2002: 67).
In the cities, the phenomenon has other characteristics. Although militias do recruit new members,
the difference between common and organized crime is less clear. In some cases a gang may offer its
services to an armed group—and political conviction appears to have little to do with the decision.
The reasons for leaving are similar to those stated for demobilized adults. However, the risk to life
and not being able to see their families are of greater importance to minors.
Between January 1999 and April 2003, ICBF dealt with 830 child ex-combatants. 8% were from
urban areas and 92% were of rural origin. Almost 80% were aged between 15 and 17. 595 were men
and 235 women. 72% gave themselves up voluntarily and the rest had been captured. 84% had been in
guerilla organizations, 10% had been paramilitaries, and the origin of the other 6% could not be
The ICBF regional offices in Antioquia, Meta, Santander, Tolima and Bogotá have attended the
greatest number of ex-combatants. Their place of origin is concentrated in five departments: Antioquia,
Santander, Cundinamarca, Meta and Tolima (Table 10.2).
Table 10.2 Demobilization Zones:
boys, girls and young people
Departments with highest Place of Origin
level of demobilization
Antioquia Dabeiba, Granada, Yondó, Puerto Berrío,
Remedios, Ituango, Caucasia, Apartadó,
Chigorodó, Guatapé, Segovia.
Santander Barrancabermeja, Cimitarra, Soata, Lebrija.
Cundinamarca Medina, Gachetá, Viotá, Cabrera, Gachalá.
Meta La Uribe, Vista Hermosa, Castillo,
Tolima Dolores, Anzoátegui, Planadas, Villarrica,
Líbano, Venadillo, Ortega, Prado.
Source: Map of zones, Defensoría del Pueblo–Unicef, 2002.
The background to joining an armed group is a lack of opportunities for the boy, girl or adolescent.
They are often expelled from their families, school doesn’t meet their expectations, and the armed
group seems like an attractive option. Young people dream of camouflage and the power of the gun.
However the reality is the drudgery and degradation of war, and a life dominated by violence.
Thus the call for specialized treatment to give minors back their rights and reinsert them into social,
civil, emotional, cultural and educational life, regardless of their reason for leaving the armed group.
2. Previous programs and norms
When the ELN handed over 5 minors in 1998, an absence of legislation and institutional ability came to
light. The authorities indiscriminately used the old Law 418 and youth law. The result was differential
treatment that, at times, violated the rights of the minor. The demobilized minors were treated in three
• The first, based on article 17 of Law 418, 1997, defined the minor as a victim of violence and made
the state responsible for offering preventative and protective programs.
• The second looked at the type of demobilization—voluntary, via capture or as part of a handover by
the armed group—and at the organization the ex-combatant had belonged to. If the minor had
surrendered voluntarily, and was from a politically recognized group, then he could enjoy all the
benefits available to the demobilized population. If the minor had been captured, or the organization he
belonged to did not have political recognition, he was given no access to benefits.
• The third was based on the so-called “irregular” situation doctrine in youth law. However,
participation in armed conflict and demobilization from a combat force do not figure among the
circumstances mentioned in the code, and therefore different judges interpreted the cases differently:
the child was either a criminal, in a situation of danger, or an abandoned minor. In the first case the
minor was sent to a child detention centre along with other child criminals. In the other two cases, an
administrative protection process was initiated and the minor became the responsibility of ICBF or
In short, the legal definition of the demobilized population fell somewhere between public order law
and youth law. This had serious implications regarding the attention and protection the minors received.
There was notorious inter-institutional competition between DGR and ICBF; the latter did not favor
DGR dealt with 70 demobilized minors in two ways. The first was to place them in a foster home.
The second was to place them in children’s homes in the care of tutors. When they reached the age of
18, they received the benefits stated in Decree 1385, but only if their demobilization had been voluntary
and they had been part of a politically recognized group. However the mandate was not fully complied
with and there were gaps between the needs of the minors and the programs on offer.
ICBF has dealt with demobilized minors since 1994. “Operación Berlin” (2000) exposed the
precarious nature of institutional policy and the need for a specialized attention and protection program.
The Internal Working Group was created in 2001 to attend to victims of the armed conflict, and a
specialized program was started to “support the consolidation of young people’s return to a life outside
the armed conflict” (ICBF: 2002). The program has focused on integrating family, social, cultural and
productive life using three tools: therapy, the law and education.
3. Current Changes
a. The New Norms
Law 782, 2002, established that all minors involved in the conflict are the victims of political violence
and ICBF was given the responsibility of designing and executing a special protection program for
The law guarantees legal and socioeconomic benefits to those who voluntarily leave their group and
show they are willing to reincorporate into civilian life. “When a minor is involved… the judicial
authorities must send the documentation to CODA, who will rule on the certification referred to in
decree 1385, 1994, in accordance with the law” (Article 50. Paragraph).
Decree 128, 2003, states that attention and protection for child demobilized combatants should be
personalized and “in the child’s best interest”. Minors should be handed over to the ICBF within 36
hours of their demobilization. The ICBF will then carry out all the necessary steps to include the minor
in the special protection program and ensure that he or she has access to the socioeconomic benefits.
The judicial authorities and the Ministry of Defense must be notified to enable them to verify that the
minor was indeed a member of an armed group, and allow CODA to issue the certification. The decree
forbids the use of minors in intelligence-gathering activities.
The new laws correct some old deficiencies. Putting ICBF in charge has eliminated inter-institutional
competition. The new “in the child’s best interest” doctrine corrects the irregular situation and brings
domestic law into line with international law.
The definition of these minors as victims of political violence is an important advance and makes it
clear that the minors are not criminals, nor have they been abandoned. Other advances are the equality
given to ex guerrillas and ex paramilitaries and prohibiting the use of minors in intelligence-gathering.
There are, however, some gray areas:
• The classification “victim of political violence” given to underage ex guerillas or paramilitaries
appears to leave the victims of the minors’ acts (even of grave crimes) unprotected. This interpretation
opens the door to countermeasures such as lowering the age of criminal responsibility—under
consideration by the current government—that go against international treaties (especially the
International Criminal Court and the Optional Protocol of the Children’s Convention) and legal science.
It would have been better to classify minors as victims, not of the vague term “political vio lence”,
but of a precise crime such as forced recruitment— which constitutes a crime according to ILO
Convention 182, the Children’s convention (Law 12, 1991), Optional Protocol (bill 110, 2001) and
Article 8 of the International Criminal Court Statute.
• The new law is too restrictive. Only those who participate in hostilities are seen as victims. Thus,
how would a child who had guarded kidnap victims or carried out administrative work for an armed
group be classified? Another gray area is that of minors recruited into the urban militias: What is their
legal position and how will they be treated?
• There are certain differences depending on the way the minor left the armed group and the benefits
he is entitled to. It is unclear what will happen to minors captured by the authorities; they may be
treated as criminals, which would be an error, or they may be denied the benefits available to
demobilized child combatants, which would also be an error.
• If the minor is a “victim of political violence”, then why give him or her a judicial classification?
• If minors are not allowed to participate in intelligence gathering activities, then how can it be
proved that they were in an armed group (for CODA classification)?
The answers to these questions depend on the interpretations of children’s judges and the work of
family officers, the legal update being carried out by the people’s ombudsman and IOM (International
Office of Migrations) training for the judicial authorities. However, training does not guarantee that the
judicial authorities will apply a coherent interpretation of “best interest” in the case of a demobilized
b. ICBF: Responsible for Attending Demobilized Minors
ICBF began a technical, administrative and financial reorganization at the start of 2003, to attend to the
needs of demobilized minors.
The first change was that the Working Group became part of the special interventions area to ensure
more effective use of the organization’s regular channels.
The second change has been to elaborate technical/administrative guidelines for the departments that
deal with demobilized boys, girls and adolescents. These guidelines introduced nine principles for
action, including the child’s best interest, equal opportunities and the strengthening of family ties. There
are also 17 prohibitions. Common criteria are established and then the process of reception and
The guidelines cover the set of temporary hostels, specialized attention centers and young people’s
hostels, all of which a part of the National Family Welfare System. The new laws cover the three
stages of the process—enrollment, period of permanence and departure—and refer to four areas: life
and survival, development, participation and protection.
The system deals with d emobilized minors on a temporary basis. ICBF develops the “strategies
necessary for families and social support networks to reassume the role of guaranteeing the rights of
their own people” (2003).
In broad terms, the reinsertion process for demobilized mi ors has two stages (Table 10.3):
• The reception of the minor by ICBF and his or her placement in one of two temporary hostels; each
one has 45 places. The institute pays around $700,000 pesos per child and the maximum stay is 45
days. The hostels should offer integral attention and carry out a pre-diagnosis of the minor—which is
the first part of the intervention plan.
• Placement in a Specialized Attention Center (CAE). There are currently nine centers with around
20 places each. The ICBF pays around $800,000 pesos for each minor. The maximum stay in these
centers is eight months. Exceptional cases can be reassessed by CAE and ICBF. The CAEs offer
integral attention and help reconstruct the demobilized minors’ lives so they can reenter society looking
to the future.
Reinsertion places the demobilized population into society and the community. There are two main
methods: family reintegration, and children’s homes for those who do not enjoy the support of their
family. There are currently 5 homes with 48 places. ICBF pays about $500,000 pesos per young person.
The homes are responsible for areas such as education, culture, sport, recreation, productivity, labor and
ICBF also works with the primary social units, such as the family, peer groups and community and
institutional networks. This work is designed to protect demobilized people and guarantee their personal
development and health, educational, cultural and recreational welfare.
In spite of the advances mentioned, there are two rather obvious points that should be made. One is the
gap between new concepts and old practices in the system’s hostels, centers and homes that will take
some time to adjust. The other is the number of places available —if the expected avala nche of
demobilizations actually materializes, there will not be enough places for everyone. Furthermore, we
wish to make some suggestions regarding the policy and execution of programs for demobilized
a. The Legal Agenda
Although the recent cha nges are a start, the complexity of the phenomenon requires separate legislation,
different from that applicable to adults. This legislation should be based on the child’s best interest,
should be adjusted to international instruments, and should take into account gender, age, place of
origin, ethnic group and culture.
Legislation should adopt agile, clear and alternative processes (especially avoiding Coda’s
participation in the certification process). It should cover all the different ways in which minors
participate in the armed groups. It should state that these minors, without exception, are victims of the
crime of illicit recruitment, as stated above, and sentences should be increased for this crime.
b. An Adequate Interpretation of the Law
The people’s ombudsman (Procurator General), in association with IOM, is currently designing a legal
framework that updates previous work and interprets recent laws in the most favorable way for
demobilized minors. The work of these organizations in educating the administrative authorities and
judicial functionaries should be supported, generalized and introduced into all law school curriculums.
The ICBF Family Officer is currently in charge of offering minors judicial attention. However these
officers have many other responsibilities. It would therefore be a good idea to supply them with extra
personnel from university work-experience schemes financed by the state, NGOs or the international
According to the people’s ombudsman, nine out of every ten demobilized combatants do not have a
birth certificate, identity card or military card. The lack of these documents affects people’s ability to
enjoy their basic rights: name, nationality and access to health and education. ICBF and the Public
Records Department should work together towards the rapid issuing of these documents.
d. The Definitive Demilitarization of the Demobilized Combatant
Conscientious objection to military service does not exist in Colombian law. Exemptions are only
granted to certain ethnic groups, or due to physical or mental problems. Demobilized minors should
also be exempted from obligatory military service and offered the alternative of social service.
Furthermore, the armed forces must stop involving minors in so called civic -military actions: “the
recruitment of boys, girls and young people, even in administrative, civic or recreational functions, puts
the integrity of the forces in danger; the minors become military targets” ( Coalición contra la
Vinculación de Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes al Conflicto Armado en Colombia, 2002b).
e. Strengthening the ICBF Program
In addition to increasing human and financial resources to enable the organization to deal with the new
influx of demobilized combatants, the per capita subsidy must also be increased, the contracting process
made simpler and payments to hostels, homes and centers regulated.
The program should offer personalized attention according to gender, ethnic origin, region, culture
and age of the minor. ICBF should also develop audit and follow up systems in association with other
f. The Type of Attention
The type of attention should be integrally evaluated at each stage. Internment should be studied with
special attention. What type of minor is it suitable for? Is it suitable at some stages of the process and
not at others?
The attention on offer should not reproduce authoritarian patterns. It should encourage demobilized
minors to participate in decisions that affect them and help them unlearn violent behavior and construct
a new personality. Demobilized minors should not be treated as the object of attention, but rather as
people with rights. Attention should be individual at first, and then move on to group work. The
psychosocial component needs to be emphasized more, and needs better qualified staff.
The model should favor family meetings and reunification. Families should be contacted, their
conditions considered, and then work done to ensure long-term success. Strategies should also b e
designed to help the demobilized minor and his (her) family gain acceptance in community, social and
economic areas (Box 10.5).
The practices of the hostels, specialized attention centers and children’s homes should be better
integrated to ensure the continuity of the process.
Rwanda: an example of attention and reintegration
The programs in this country increased the capacity for families and communities to reintegrate
underage ex-combatants. The program has four axes:
A. To ensure that the child’s best interest be considered at all stages, which implies:
—Separating boys, girls and young people from adult ex-combatants.
—Reuniting them with their families and reintegrating them into community life.
—Strengthening the willingness of families and communities to take charge of reinserted minors.
—Offering psychosocial help and post traumatic stress counseling.
—Reeducating and reinserting from a long-term perspective.
B. To avoid stigmatization and to focus on strong community-led processes o reeducation and
reintegration, that is:
—To avoid stigmatization from the start of the process.
—To ensure access to basic services.
—To support vulnerable families.
—To encourage community dialogue, establish protection networks and to sensitize the com munity.
C. To reach humanitarian agreements that protect the rights of the child and prevent recruitment.
D. To encourage the participation of all parties involved and to follow-up the process.
The process of reinsertion in Rwanda has three phases:
• Rehabilitation (three months). The minors stay in a reception center. Emergency medical and
nutritional help is offered, as well as psychosocial support and information on sexually transmitted
diseases. Integrate the family and offer educational and recreational activities.
• Reeducation, training and reintegration (six months). Offers care, assistance, education and
occupational training. Prepares families and communities to receive the minors. Offers help according
to the minor’s individual needs.
• Support for long-lasting reintegration. Strengthens the ability of communities, families and the
authorities to ensure the protection and full reinsertion of minors once they have been through the
The program avoids unnecessary institutionalization. Investigation is another essential aspect and
was carried out in three areas: economic integration, social protection and the development of abilities.
* UNICEF Programs for the reintegration of underage ex-combatants in Rwanda (www.unicef.org) and Save the Chi ldren UK
g. Coordination with other Agencies
Protecting and assisting demobilized minors is not only the responsibility of ICBF. Local government
and national level educational, health and recreational organizations have fundamental roles to play.
The Ministry of Social Protection and health secretaries should give priority to demobilized minors
and offer them the protection of health insurance immediately. A significant percentage of demobilized
minors are sexually active, and it is thus important to attend to their sexual and reproductive health.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Education and national organizations should guarantee this right to the
demobilized minor. A flexible, innovative program needs to be designed and executed that leads to
educational leveling and a reentry into the normal cycle. SENA and other training organizations should
also offer special facilities.
h. Sustainable Reinsertion
Demobilized minors will remain on the program for six to twelve months. The actual length of time and
content should be closely linked to the main objective – their reinsertion into a peaceful, responsible,
productive, happy life. Experiences such as Expoferia in Medellin, or that of the IOM with indigenous
minors (Box 10.6) are examples of how to achieve this.
With the Indian communities in Cauca
A meeting place *
Along with their wild raspberries, their chicken runs, their fattened pigs and milking cows, and a cultural
project which has produced a fine musical group singing good songs about life, a new scenario came
into being, one in which boys and girls and young Indians and afro-Colombians are making a bid for
The ancestral culture of the Indian communities in the Cauca department, and the work of their
cabildos , have become an important basis in the process of return to normal life of young ex
combatants who have left the ranks of the armed conflict in accordance with the reinsertion plan carried
on by the International Office for Migrations (IOM).
This program has benefited 535 minors in Indian reservations of the following communities: Paéz
(Caldono and Hueyas), Guambiano (La María), Yancona (Río Blanco) and the village of Guachené.
The program’s efforts are oriented to:
. Provide demobilized minors with the necessary means to put productive initiatives into practice.
. Offer legal aid to Indian leaders to facilitate the reinsertion of members of their communities.
. Draw up, jointly with schoolteachers in the region, a curriculum for peace.
Those children and youths who are beneficiaries are now accepted by their communities, and have
opted for activities that are both productive and sustainable. And there is a spirit of solidarity among
them, something which has gradually filtered down to the armed groups themselves, with the result that
fewer children are being taken off to fight in this war.
* Reinsertion Program for boys, girls and youths run by the IOM with resources provided by AID in
i. A Receptive Society
Due to the intense level of polarization in Colombia, the basic goal of demobilization policy should be
to ensure that society understands that armed minors are victims of the crime of illicit recruitment, and
that this is yet another example of the conflict’s degradation. We must start to question the “voluntary”
nature of minors’ participation in the conflict. In regions where daily life is marked by violence, the
“heroes” or “role models” are guerilla fighters or paramilitaries; and where there are few educational or
employment opportunities, an armed group appears to be a secure emotional, physical and economic
option. Simply accepting the costs and danger of secretly abandoning a clandestine organization should
be proof enough that the minor’s original recruitment and participation were not “voluntary”.
The participation of academics and the media, the use of informal networks and alternative means of
communication and, above all, the awareness that this is not about publicity campaigns but a profound
cultural shake-up, should become the cornerstones of policy.
j. A Cooperative Agenda
ICBF should work in conjunction with other state organizations, and in association with Colombian and
international NGOs to design, influence and execute an agenda for international cooperation in favor of
demobilized boys, girls and adolescents. This agenda should encourage international assistance and
then shape it to fit domestic purposes, as well as harmonizing personal interests and the dynamics of
international cooperation. The agenda should include a component designed to strengthen the
contingency plan in the case of an eventual collective or massive demobilization of minors.
1. Semana Magazine, May 19 2003.
2. Explanation of the Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo in an interview with El Tiempo, July 17 2003, pp. 1-2.
3. Government Program, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, President 2002-2006, May 6 2002.
4. In effect, exempting minors from penal responsibility simply recognizes that the boy or girl still is not capable of taking lucid,
free decisions (similar, for example, to the case of a mad person). It does not, however, imply that the act was good, that the
victim should not be compensated and that preventative measures should not be taken, including those against the will of the
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derechos, Boletín n° 8, Bogotá.
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armado interno”, Bogotá, Grupo Interno de Trabajo–Programa de Atención a Víctimas de la Violencia, icbf.
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Pinto, María Eugenia et al. (2002), Diagnóstico del Programa de reinserción en Colombia: mecanismos para
incentivar la movilización voluntaria individual, Bogotá, Grupo de Estudios y Asuntos Internos–Dirección de
Justicia y Seguridad, Departamento Nacional de Planeación.
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del conflicto armado, Bogotá, General Command of the Military Forces- Ministry of Defence.