December 2017 – In late November 2017, Watchlist conducted a field mission to Colombia in support of its work with local civil society. Watchlist participated in a series of events organized by its long-time partner, the Coalición contra la vinculación de niños, niñas y jóvenes al conflicto armado en Colombia (COALICO), in commemoration of Universal Children’s Day, celebrated annually on November 20. The mission also coincided with the first visit of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC), Ms. Virginia Gamba, to Colombia.

On November 20, Watchlist and COALICO jointly conducted a day-long workshop for civil society on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children. Based on Watchlist’s 1612 Resource Pack for NGOs, the workshop sought to strengthen participants’ knowledge and understanding of the framework set up under UN Security Council Resolution 1612. The 44 participants (37 women and 7 men) included school teachers, social activists, community workers, and representatives from local and international NGOs, from conflict-affected areas of the country.

On the same day, COALICO hosted a separate workshop for children and youth from conflict-affected communities across Colombia. Participants discussed their vision for the implementation of the peace agreement and developed recommendations to the same effect.

On November 21, COALICO, Watchlist, and other partners hosted a full-day conference on challenges to protecting children’s rights since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement between the Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). The children and youth participants from the previous day’s workshop opened the conference with a presentation of their recommendations for policy makers on the implementation of the peace process, prevention of recruitment and other grave violations, and strengthening of protection mechanisms.

Despite the signing of the peace agreement, children continue to be subjected to a number of grave violations, as well as forced displacement, at the hands of FARC-EP dissidents, other armed groups such as the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), post-demobilization armed groups, and criminal groups.

The SRSG-CAAC provided opening remarks for a panel discussion that brought together stakeholders engaged in different phases of the peace process. She urged the panelists, which included Colombia’s Presidential Adviser for Human Rights, civil society leaders, and representatives from the Ombudsperson’s Office and the FARC-EP component of the National Reintegration Council, to implement, without delay, the peace agreement and to work together to fulfill the commitments made to protect children. She also encouraged the panelists to consider lessons learned from the release and reintegration process of children from the FARC-EP, and to apply them to future peace processes.

As Watchlist highlighted in its presentation at the conference, “Peace agreements provide a blueprint for a country’s post-conflict society; protecting the needs and rights of children in the post-conflict society is an essential building block towards a sustainable peace.”