19 November 2019

From Armed Conflict to Peace: Insights from the Colombian Case for the Theory of “Jus Post Bellum”

In his recent PhD thesis, César Rojas analyses how the concept of jus post bellum can offer an analytical framework to understand the role of international law in the transition from armed conflict to peace, using the 2012–2016 Colombian peace process as a case study. He concludes that international law plays a facilitative role in transition, and that the Colombian case offers new insights into how jus post bellum can frame such a role by identifying the principles, actors and functions involved in the application of international law to transitional processes. 

How did you come to choose your research topic?

In 2016, after four years of negotiations, Colombia concluded an internationally acclaimed peace agreement ending 52 years of armed conflict between the State and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the oldest guerrilla group in the world. Among other aspects, the agreement is admired for its solid grounding in international law: as declared in the agreement, the parties stated their commitment to ensuring international standards on justice, reparations, inclusiveness, and a human rights-based approach to address the root causes of the conflict, related to rural development, political participation and the problem of illicit drugs. 

As a Colombian lawyer studying international law and working on human rights and peace issues in Colombia, I wanted to analyse how the influence of international law on the Colombian transition from armed conflict to peace facilitated or challenged the peace efforts. However, keeping in mind the PhD’s ideal of making a new contribution to knowledge in his/her field, I did not want to merely describe the process, but to give it an analytical framework. Here, I came to the concept of jus post bellum, which has been discussed in international legal scholarship since around 2005 to designate the framework of norms governing the transition from armed conflict to peace. Despite 15 years of academic work, this concept is still contested and fragmented, and no empirical work has been done to assess its content and scope in practice. Thus, analysing the way in which the Colombian transition was shaped by international law, the thesis assessed the concept of jus post bellum in this case, identifying what elements are applicable from theory to practice and what lessons can be drawn from the Colombian case toward further developing the concept.

What are your thesis questions and your methodology to approach them? 

The thesis starts from three premises. First, international law has an increasingly greater role in transition from armed conflict to peace. Second, the Colombian transition offers a recent and comprehensive example of such a role. And third, extensive legal scholarship has proposed the concept of jus post bellum to designate the normative framework governing the transition from armed conflict to peace. 

Then, the thesis aims to answer what role international law plays in the transition from armed conflict to peace by using the Colombian transition as a case study, and to what extent this experience can be framed under the concept of jus post bellum. To address this question, it examines existing literature on jus post bellum, and discusses how it can offer an effective framework to gather the myriad of international legal norms, discourses and practices relevant to the transition from armed conflict to peace. Next, the thesis analyses how international law is reflected in different components of the Colombian transition regarding issues such as the legal status of the peace agreement, criminal responsibility for crimes committed during the conflict, reparations, socioeconomic and institutional reforms, and inclusiveness.

What findings does your analysis lead to?

The main finding is that international law is not a restrictive but a facilitative framework for the transition from armed conflict to peace. In the Colombian case, we can see how international law, as an external framework to the parties, helped to increase confidence among them to delimit their bargaining zone, to ensure victims’ rights, and to empower traditionally marginalised groups to participate and have their demands included in the peace agreement. All those elements are required to make peace legitimate and sustainable, and lessons from Colombia are useful for other contexts around the world. 

In this line, the thesis argues that an analytical framework is needed to better understand the contributions that international law can make to peace, and that despite the controversies around jus post bellum, this concept has the potential to offer a common frame of reference integrating all relevant legal elements applicable to transition to peace into flexible principles that will guide societies in their transitional choices. Gathering the disparate set of legal norms, discourses and practices involved in transition into a common frame of reference for their contextualised interpretation and application can facilitate peace negotiations, the conclusion of peace agreements, and their implementation. However, the thesis also finds that jus post bellum reamins an academic concept and that much work must be done to bring it into practice. In this sense, the thesis calls for further empirical research on the topic.

How can your research findings serve policy reflection and action?

As highlighted by the members of the jury, this thesis constitutes the first empirical comprehensive analysis of jus post bellum. This means that, for now, its main findings – showing the relevance of the topic and the importance to further analyse the concept of jus post bellum – are addressed to legal scholars. However, the thesis also shows practitioners and parties in peace processes how framing their negotiations under international law can facilitate the conclusion of solid peace agreements. 

What are you doing now?

I am currently working at the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia, which is the system of justice established by the 2016 peace agreement to address crimes committed during the armed conflict. This is the first system of criminal justice in the world created by the common accord of the parties ending an armed conflict, showing how the international legal exigencies of justice are compatible with the practical needs of peace. This is a great opportunity to participate in the implementation of the agreement in the country and to keep reflecting on the contributions that international law can make to peace. 

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César Augusto Rojas Orozco defended his PhD thesis in International Law on 16 October 2019. Professor Paola Gaeta presided the committee, which included Professor Vincent Chetail, thesis director, and Professor Carsten Stahn from the Leiden Law School, The Netherlands.

Full citation of the PhD thesis:
Rojas Orozco, César Augusto. “International Law and Transition from Armed Conflict to Peace: Insights from the Colombian Case for the Theory of Jus Post Bellum.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2019.

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Edited by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.
Banner image: excerpt from a picture by Watch The World/