Both peace and justice vital to heal wounds of conflict, Colombian leader tells UN

President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon of Colombia. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

24 September 2013 – Stressing the need to ensure justice as well as peace and stability in the wake of long-term conflict, the President of Colombia told the United Nations General Assembly today that transitional recovery efforts must include clear strategies to secure “the best possible satisfaction of the rights of all victims.”

Laying out his Government’s efforts to undo the damage wrought on Colombian society by nearly half a century of guerrilla warfare, President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón said that he hoped that armed groups understood that with a real opportunity to achieve peace, “the time has come to change bullets to votes” and to continue their struggle, but through democratic means.

Mr. Santos Calderón told world leaders gathered for the Assembly’s annual General Debate that while the Government will endeavour to end the conflict according to democratic tradition and within the framework of international law, it will not sacrifice truth, justice and reparation for victims.

He noted that the international community has long struggled to find ways to equally address both peace and justice, as witnessed by the mixed results of the UN tribunals prosecuting war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, respectively, which have been endowed with immense resources and have only managed to solve a small number of cases.

Colombia was confronting that dilemma “honestly and seriously” and had adopted a strategy for transitional justice, which aims to address the principles of truth, justice and reparations. “We ask you to accompany us in this effort, respecting our choices and trusting our decisions have never [contravened] the international community’s needs,” he said.

While Colombia could not investigate every act that had taken place over 50 years of conflict, nor prosecute every one of those responsible, it could nevertheless build a realistic, honest and transparent strategy that could enable the best possible satisfaction for all the victims, said Mr. Santos Calderón.

“If we understand justice and the fight against impunity as a set of measures aimed at satisfying victims and [not] just as the administration of criminal processes, it is possible to find a comprehensive solution,” he said, referring to such aims as acknowledging responsibility, restoring trust and providing access for reparations. The goal should be to “achieve peace with maximum justice.”

Yet, he said, even with the crucial opportunity before Colombians to ensure lasting peace and justice, the conflict, with all its violence and cruelty, had an even darker dimension: it was being fed by the “poisonous arrow” of drug trafficking. That illicit activity had been the main source of funding for violence and terrorist activity, and while the State must take action against the guerrillas, it must also curb illegal drug production and trafficking.

In that context, he said that Colombia, as Chair of the Summit of the Americas, had led a proposal to debate and explore ways to tackle the drug problem. Further, the Organization of American States (OAS) had conducted studies on the matter. He expected the UN to consider the results at its 2016 special session on drugs.

“If we act together on the drug problem, with a comprehensive vision, devoid of ideological biases, we will be able to prevent much harm and violence,” he said.

Meeting yesterday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Santos Calderón discussed the ongoing peace process between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The two leaders also discussed, according to a read out of their meeting, progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as Colombia’s contribution to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

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