Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Colombian President Santos for FARC deal

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Marxist rebel leader Rodrigo Londono (R), better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, shake hands after signing an accord ending a half-century war that killed a quarter of a million people in Cartagena, Colombia September 26, 2016. © John Vizcaino
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos "for his resolute efforts" to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, the Nobel Committee has announced in Norway’s capital, Oslo.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end,” the Nobel Committee’s statement read.

Santos received the prestigious prize for securing a peace accord with FARC rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, back in September after nearly four years of negotiations.

What we have signed […] goes beyond a simple agreement between a government and guerilla to put an end to a conflict. 

[It] is a declaration by the Colombian people in front of the world to say that we are tired of war and that we do not accept any more violence as a mean to defend ideas, and that we say loud and clear: ‘No more war!’” Santos said upon signing the deal. 

It had to be ratified by the people of Colombia in a referendum in order to come into force.

Polls ahead of the vote suggested the deal to have public approval, with the peace deal also backed by a great number of politicians in Colombia and abroad, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

However, in a dramatic turn of events, Colombians rejected the deal, with 50.2% voting against it.

Under the current agreement, FARC rebels are to lay down their heavy weapons, leave jungle camps and gradually re-enter Colombian society through government training programs. Special courts are to be created to try crimes committed during the conflict, while rebels who confess to their crimes could be given more lenient sentences or avoid serving time behind bars altogether. FARC are also to be given 10 seats in Colombia's Congress until 2026.

The main obstacle appeared to be anger over amnesty for former militants, which is part of the proposed deal. ‘No’ campaigners claim they do not oppose the peace deal as a concept, but want several parts of it renegotiated. Among these “corrections” are demands to send FARC leaders to prison, bar FARC members found guilty of war crimes from running for public office and make FARC pay compensation to their victims.

After the referendum, President Santos said he would not cease efforts to bring the deal to life, promising to “begin discussions as soon as possible addressing all the necessary issues to have an agreement and realize the dream of every Colombian to end the war with the FARC.”

On Tuesday, Santos also announced the extension of the ceasefire with FARC rebels till the end of October while the peace deal is being amended.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the award is “a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.

The Nobel Committee also said that the public’s rejection of the deal doesn’t mean the peace process is dead. 

The referendum was not a vote for or against peace. What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement,” the Committee noted, adding that despite the majority voting against the deal in the referendum, Santos has “brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution.

The Committee did not, however, mention Santos’ counterpart in the peace negotiations, FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez, or “Timochenko,” whose real name is Rodrigo Londono.

Santos said he was deeply honored by the prize, and dedicated it to the people of his country.

This is a great, great recognition for my country.

“I receive this award in their name: the Colombian people who have suffered so much in this war. Especially the millions of victims that have suffered in this war that we are on the verge of ending,” he said in an audio interview  on the Nobel Foundation Facebook page.

The Colombian conflict, which is the longest in the history of Latin America, claimed over 220,000 lives, most of them civilians, since FARC rebels first declared war on the government in 1964, according to a report by Colombia's National Centre of Historical Memory.

FARC are Colombia's largest rebel group, believed to be the oldest one in the Americas. Inspired by the Cuban revolution in the 1950s, they were founded in 1964 as an armed wing of Colombia’s Communist Party. Their main goal at the time was fighting against inequality in Colombia, as well as more rights and control over the land. A largely guerilla organization, the group mainly attacked Colombian security forces, police stations and military posts. It suffered a decrease in its ranks in the recent years, however, and many of FARC’s top leaders were killed or died of natural causes within the past decade.

Santos' victory is the first Nobel Peace Prize for Latin America after Rigoberta Menchu, human rights activist from Guatemala, secured the award back in 1992. The Peace Prize amounts to 8 million Swedish crown (US$924,000).

Other candidates for this year’s award included prominent Russian campaigner for human rights and refugees Svetlana Gannushkina, Edward Snowden – the famous CIA whistleblower who leaked details of US surveillance – the negotiators of Iran's nuclear deal and Syria's White Helmets, a controversial civil defense group that operates in rebel-controlled parts of Syria. 

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 130  since 1901. 

Last year's Peace Prize was given to Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet, four civil society organizations that paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between citizens and efforts in helping build democracy in the country after the Arab Spring in 2010 and 2011.

The Nobel Committee has made some surprising decisions over the years. The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to US President Barack Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” less than a year after he took office. In 2015, Nobel Peace Prize committee’s ex-secretary Geir Lundestad said this award was a mistake as Obama had to achieve what the committee hoped he would. 

In 2012, the award was given to the European Union despite the eurozone  that was already  at the time. But the committee specified the prize was given to the Union “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

The Nobel Prize award ceremonies began on October 3, with winners in medicine, physics and chemistry already announced. Awards in economic sciences and literature are expected to be handed out next week.