Legitimacy Deficits in Colombia’s Peace Talks (2016)

Elites, Trust, and Support for Transitional Justice

Principal Investigators:

As part of Colombia’s transitional justice process, the Colombian government is negotiating with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) to bring peace after 51 years of armed conflict. Negotiations have involved discussions on how FARC members should be held accountable for atrocities committed and what role, if any, FARC commanders and militants may play in the future of Colombia. These discussions culminated in a September 2015 agreement to establish a judicial mechanism, the “Special Peace Jurisdiction,” to try those considered responsible for the most serious crimes. In this paper, a Georgia State University (GSU) research team used a two-wave experimental survey to test whether and how trust in Colombia’s negotiating elites affected support for the peace process, and whether levels of support for more or less lenient treatment of FARC members could be affected by contextualizing ex-combatants’ experiences within narratives that capture the key negotiation points. Key findings include:

  • Public support for the peace process was predicated on trust in all negotiating elites. Increased public trust in any party to the peace talks, regardless of what atrocities that party committed, increased public support for the peace process, and vice versa—implying that parties need to build trust in all players at the negotiating table to gain public buy-in to the peace process.
  • When asked the abstract question, the public does not accept as legitimate alternative justice outcomes that allow demobilized FARC troops to run for political office or preclude jail time for FARC commanders. However, the legitimacy of these alternative justice outcomes increases when FARC members’ experiences are presented in short stories—implying that negotiators could increase the public legitimacy of alternative justice outcomes by framing the decisions in narratives that contextualize individual perpetrators of specific crimes.
  • Both gender and experience of victimization affect public support of the peace process and of the alternative justice outcomes. Women express less support than men of both the peace process and alternative justice mechanisms, and female victims of violence demand guarantees of non-repetition of crimes against them. FARC victims—men and women—express less support of the peace process than non-victims; however, victims and non-victims show no difference in level of support for alternative justice outcomes.