Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to secure peace with the FARC rebel group, despite the rejection of a proposed peace deal in a national referendum.
“I am infinitely grateful for this honorable distinction with all my heart,” President Santos said Oct. 7. “I accept it not on my behalf but on behalf of all Colombians, especially the millions of victims of this conflict which we have suffered for more than 50 years.”
“It is for the victims and so that there not be a single new victim, not a single new casualty that we must reconcile and unite to culminate this process and begin to construct a stable and durable peace,” he added.
Since 1964, when the FARC uprising began, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in Colombia’s civil war.
The conflict has caused the rise of right wing paramilitaries aligned with the government, as well as secondary rebel groups such as the National Liberation Army.
The Norwegian Nobel committee said it hoped the prize would encourage all parties to continue peace efforts, The Guardian reports.
The proposed peace accord followed four years of negotiations in Cuba. The deal was to have incorporated some of FARC’s leadership into the government in exchange for their disarmament and renunciation of kidnapping and drug trafficking.
Pope Francis had expressed approval of the proposed peace deal when it was approved by Colombian government and FARC leaders in August. Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, attended the Sept. 26 signing in Cartagena.
When the peace deal was put to a vote Oct. 2, it narrowly failed. About 50.2 percent of voters rejected it, while 49.8 percent approved.
Fewer than 38 percent of voters participated in the referendum, and the result was divided regionally: voters in outlying provinces were in favor of the peace agreement, while those more inland tended to oppose it.
Kaci Kullmann Five, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chairwoman, said there is a real danger of an end to the peace process and renewed civil war.
“This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño, continue to respect the ceasefire,” she said.
Five said the vote against the peace agreement was not necessarily an end to the peace process. She said the Nobel committee wanted to stress the importance of Santos’ invitation to all parties to a national dialogue to advance peace.
Many Colombians who voted against ratification charged that it was too lenient on FARC. Members who confessed to crimes were to have been given more lenient sentences, and not face conventional jail time. Opponents of the deal, including former president Álvaro Uribe, wanted to renegotiate the agreement, with fewer concessions made to FARC.