Secretary-General’s Special Representative Warns against Reopening Colombia’s Final Peace Agreement in Climate of Uncertainty

SC/13778
12 April 2019
8511th Meeting (AM)

Secretary-General’s Special Representative Warns against Reopening Colombia’s Final Peace Agreement in Climate of Uncertainty

Secretary-General’s Report Notes Critical Juncture of Peace Process, Where Bogota Government Sees Opportunity, Says Foreign Minister

The greatest uncertainty in a climate of uncertainty would be to reopen the Final Peace Agreement that ended five decades of conflict between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country warned while briefing the Security Council today.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, who is also Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, spotlighted growing divisions and polarization related to a draft statutory law for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace — a fundamental pillar of the peace process — after President Iván Duque Márquez objected to six of its articles.  “The statutory law is the last missing element of the legal framework for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and a necessary one to ensure that this institution can operate with the necessary independence and autonomy,” he said, as he presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Mission.

While reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for prompt action by all concerned to ensure that the statutory law is put in place as soon as possible, he said it is encouraging that Colombians at the local level are engaging with each other across ideological lines to embrace the opportunities that the peace process provides.  However, he also pointed to serious challenges involving deadly violence against human rights defenders and social leaders, as well as obstacles to the reintegration of former FARC-EP combatants.

Also briefing Council members, Rosa Emilia Salamanca, Executive Director of the Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica (CIASE) and a civil society representative, told Council members that the present is a time of both hope and difficulty in implementing the peace agreement.  Of key importance are reintegrating former combatants into communities, ensuring that the justice system delivers, and implementing a comprehensive mechanism to protect the human rights of all.  It is also vital to invest in women, and to integrate a gender perspective into the peace process, she said.

In the ensuing discussion, several Council members reiterated their support for the peace process as a model for resolving other conflict situations around the world.  At the same time, however, they expressed concern over acts of violence, the slow pace at which former combatants are being reintegrated, and the uncertainty over the statutory law for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace as Congress considers the President’s objections.  Some members also acknowledged Colombia’s efforts to accommodate refugees and migrants from neighbouring Venezuela.

Peru’s representative emphasized the need to ensure timely implementation of the peace agreement, emphasizing the importance of addressing the security concerns of ex-combatants.  On the substitution of illicit crops, he said Peru’s own experience proves the effectiveness of that approach.  Reaffirming the spirit of the peace agreement, he said the Special Jurisdiction for Peace warrants a statutory law, in accordance with Colombia’s international institutional processes.

The Dominican Republic’s representative noted that Colombia put more than 50 years of conflict behind it with the signing of the peace agreement, holding elections and establishing a transitional justice institution.  However, many challenges remain, with less than 20 per cent of ex-fighters reintegrated.  It is also vital to implement the Final Peace Agreement’s gender-related provisions, he said, adding that financial and technical resources must be mobilized to reintegrate female former combatants.

Emphasizing that implementation of the peace accord is at a critical juncture, the representative of the United States expressed support for the expansion of the Government’s security presence in remote areas to fend off armed groups.  He went on to describe the partnership between the United States and Colombia as the strongest ever, noting that it entails efforts to dismantle criminal organizations, among other things.

The Russian Federation’s representative agreed that the peace process is at a critical stage, stressing that, after two-and-a-half years of progress, this is not a time for rollbacks.  Alternative crop programmes are falling behind and direct dialogue with armed groups has yet to take place, he said, emphasizing the key importance of reintegrating former combatants, while noting that ex-combatants are taking up arms again.  He went on to underline that developments around Venezuela should not become a hindrance to implementation of the peace process.

Colombia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs reiterated President Duque’s commitment to implementing the Final Peace Agreement through concrete measures, several of which are recognized in the Secretary-General’s report.  However, whereas the report states that the peace process is at a critical juncture, the Government of Colombia believes it provides a moment of opportunity, he said, adding that while some of the most difficult challenges remain ahead, the Government is optimistic due to the strength of its determination to hold dialogue with others and to build consensus.

On the reintegration of FARC-EP members, he acknowledged the Secretary-General’s concern about the need for progress, pledging that the Government will step up efforts to offer demobilized fighters the means to make a living, to contribute to community development and “to stay on the right side of the law”.  Noting that several thousand former FARC-EP members and their relatives have been settled in areas conceived as focal points for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, he said the legal status of those areas will expire at the end of August, but that should not lead to uncertainty.  The areas were created as a temporary measure, but the Government’s commitment is not temporary, he emphasized, pointing out that the President has stated as much during his visits.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, France, China, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Kuwait and Germany.

The meeting began at 10:46 a.m. and ended at 12:53 p.m.

Briefings

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, presented the latest report of the Secretary-General on that Mission (document S/2019/265), emphasizing that the interwoven commitments of the Final Peace Agreement must be implemented in a comprehensive and integrated manner and with adequate resources.  That was evident during a visit to Icononzo with President Iván Duque Márquez, he said, describing a training and reintegration area of central Colombia, from where former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) conveyed a range of concerns relating to Government support for productivity projects, security and legal guarantees for the period after the current legal status of the 24 areas expires on 15 August.  Nearly two years after FARC-EP members laid down arms, a critical challenge is to maintain their optimism in the face of uncertainty about their future, he said, encouraging the Government to speed up approval of more reintegration projects and to promptly disperse funds, alongside implementation of a gender-sensitive approach and timely decisions on access to land.

Expressing grave concern over the killings of community leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC-EP combatants, he said the deployment of Government forces near those areas is critical, while warning that violent competition among illegal armed groups for control of areas outside security perimeters risks undercutting implementation of the peace agreement.  He said that community and social leaders he met recently in Tumaco on the Pacific coast were emphatic that security in those areas requires the integrated and coordinated presence of State authorities, including civilian institutions and security forces.  Welcoming the Government’s approval of 16 development plans with a territorial focus, he said it will benefit 170 municipalities affected by armed conflict, and encouraged it to devote the necessary resources to ensure prompt implementation.

He then turned to divisive debates in Colombia over transitional justice and President Duque’s objection to six articles of the draft statutory law for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.  Underlining the Secretary-General’s call for prompt action by all concerned to ensure that such a law is put in place as soon as possible, he declared: “The statutory law is the last missing element of the legal framework for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and a necessary one to ensure that this institution can operate with the necessary independence and autonomy.”  That entity is carrying out its work with impressive results, having initiated seven large cases involving significant violations that affected 820,000 victims, he noted.  Close to 9,700 former FARC-EP members, and almost 2,000 individuals from the armed forces, have so far subjected themselves to the authority of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, he said.

Emphasizing that the principle of non-retroactivity is critical to preserving confidence in the peace process, he cautioned that, in a climate of uncertainty, the greatest uncertainty would be to reopen core elements of the Final Peace Agreement.  “The path to consolidating peace requires consensus, and consensus can only be achieved through dialogue,” he emphasized, strongly encouraging all efforts in that regard.  It is encouraging that, at the local level, Colombians are engaging with each other across ideological lines to embrace the opportunities that the peace process provides, he said, noting that in those areas that he has visited, soldiers and former combatants live, work and play football together, while the Mission’s work on youth, peace and security has drawn inspiration from young Colombians from across political, geographic and class divides to embrace reconciliation and support the reintegration of former combatants.  He concluded by stating that Colombians can count on the unwavering support of the United Nation in their efforts to consolidate peace, and that the Security Council’s firm and unified support remains as crucial as ever.

ROSA EMILIA SALAMANCA, Executive Director, Corporacion de Investigacion y Accion Social y Economica (CIASE), spoke on behalf of civil society, describing the present as a time of hope but also a time of difficulty in implementing the peace agreement.  Highlighting key implementation elements, she said they include the reintegration of former combatants into communities.  They and their families should be able to live in safety, she said, emphasizing the need to provide physical and legal guarantees to former combatants.  She also stressed the need to ensure that the justice system delivers for those seeking justice, as well as the need for a comprehensive mechanism to protect the human rights of all, including human rights defenders.  It is also vital to invest in women, who generate peace dividends, she said, adding that a gender perspective must be integrated into the peace process.  She went on to acknowledge the work of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia in assisting the peace process.

Statements

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) expressed hope that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will receive the legal and political support required to build on the progress made so far, boost public confidence in the peace process and promote national consensus.  On the threats and killings faced by human rights defenders and social leaders, she called for more concrete action to improve security on the ground, which might include a strong State presence in rural areas.  The United Kingdom would like to see the peace process implemented at increased pace across the country, she said, emphasizing that a sustainable peace depends on transforming the countryside and meeting the need of citizens for viable livelihoods, with the international community supporting Colombia’s efforts.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) emphasized the need to ensure timely implementation of the peace agreement.  That means addressing the security concerns of ex-combatants, he said, expressing regret for the persistent pattern of violence against social leaders and human rights defenders.  On the substitution of illicit crops, he said Peru’s own experience proves the effectiveness of that approach.  Reaffirming the spirit of the peace agreement, he said the Special Jurisdiction for Peace warrants a statutory law, in accordance with Colombia’s international institutional processes.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said Colombia has taken the important steps and become an inspiration for peace, not only in Latin America but around the world.  However, implementation of the peace accord is at a critical juncture, he noted, saying that his delegation supports the expansion of the Government security presence in remote areas to fend off armed groups.  He also expressed deep concern about attacks against human rights defenders and social leaders, emphasizing that accountability, including for war crimes and abuses of human rights, is vital to reconciliation.  In this regard, the transitional justice system is critical, he said, expressing support for a statutory law.  Describing the partnership between the United States and Colombia as the strongest ever, he noted that it includes efforts to dismantle criminal organizations.  He also expressed appreciation for Colombia’s hosting of 1.5 million Venezuelans, noting that peace is precious but fragile.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the peace process is at a critical stage.  Noting his country’s support, he said that whereas the peace process has made progress over the last two-and-a-half years, this is not a time for rollbacks.  He emphasized the need for a statutory law while expressing concern over slow progress on some reforms, including in the agriculture and security sectors.  Alternative crop alternative programmes are falling behind and direct dialogue with armed groups has yet to take place, he noted, stressing that the reintegration of former combatants is key, with many ex-combatants taking up arms again.  He went on to underline that developments around Venezuela should not become a hindrance to implementation of the peace process.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said that while the peace process is “without exaggeration” a true source of inspiration for the entire world, recent months have seen a worrying rise in polarization and tension.  On persistent violence against human rights defenders and social leaders, he strongly encouraged the authorities to assert the State’s presence in all parts of the country, including through social programmes addressing the question of violence against former combatants.  Describing transitional justice as the cornerstone of the Final Peace Agreement, he called upon all parties to take steps leading to the adoption of a statutory law for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, thereby ensuring the legal security of FARC members and others who might wish to avail themselves of that opportunity.  He went on to note the grave impact that the situation in Venezuela is having on Colombia, while commending the latter’s solidarity with refugees and migrants from the neighbouring country.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said her delegation recognizes President Iván Duque’s right to fulfil obligations made to those dissatisfied with the Final Peace Agreement, but cautioned that he must ensure that his actions do not cast a shadow on the foundations of a fragile peace process.  She urged the Government, Congress and other entities to reach consensus swiftly on a statutory law for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which should be given all the political and practical tools it needs to function independently and autonomously.  Land ownership remains crucial to the reintegration progress, she emphasized, expressing regret that no land has been granted to former FARC members, despite initial steps in some regions.  She went on to acknowledge the “very positive and constructive role” being played by Colombia and other regional actors in response to the crisis in Venezuela.

The representative of France said Colombia is at a turning point, stressing the need for a comprehensive success in implementing the peace agreement, including bringing sceptical political actors together.  He outlined several elements, including transitional justice, which must be preserved at the heart of the peace process, as well as the importance of respecting the decision made by the jurisdiction.  The economic and social reintegration of former combatants must be accelerated, including ensuring their access to land.  He encouraged the Government to fully incorporate the gender perspective in the reintegration process.  Addressing the fragile security situation is a priority, with human rights defenders, including women, remaining targets.  These challenges remain to be overcome.

The representative of China said that although the overall situation is stable, and much progress has been made, tireless efforts are still required to implement the peace agreement facing various challenges.  It is a systematic project, including various reforms and social and economic reconstruction.  He expressed concern over the divergent views on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.  China stands ready to support Colombia’s path to stability, peace and development.

TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) echoed the importance of ensuring that all parties lend their full support to Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace, as well as its independence and autonomy.  Expressing support for any initiatives aiming to strengthen the Special Jurisdiction — and hope that it will be implemented as soon as possible — he said the instrument will reduce the growing polarization related to Colombia’s transitional justice system.  On the reintegration of former combatants, he stressed the need to demonstrate “that it is in their interest to be on the right side of history”.  Access to legal revenue sources and land is at the heart of effective integration, he said, also voicing support for the country’s illegal crop substitution programme.  He further underlined the importance of international support, noting that healing wounds after a half century of conflict will not be easy.  Colombia demonstrated its desire for peace by approaching the Council — an uncommon move by a country — and the 15-member organ should work diligently to support the Government and people in addressing their remaining challenges.

KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) urged Colombia’s authorities to redouble efforts to lower the level of sociopolitical violence directed at social leaders, FARC members and human rights defenders.  He welcomed Government measures to ensure land access to former combatants and called on bilateral partners to help finance that programme.  Turning to transitional justice, he agreed with the Secretary-General’s recommendations on the steps that all stakeholders must take towards a statutory law for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) expressed full support for the implementation of the peace agreement and for the United Nations verification mission, encouraging the Government of Colombia to operationalize its “Peace with Legality” plan.  Former combatants could take up arms again, jeopardizing the gains.  His delegation is of the view that many challenges lie ahead towards peace, thus urging the international community to provide support.  The Special Representative recognized progress made by the current President on the Peace with Legality plan.  The Special Jurisdiction for Peace must start functioning because it is a vital part of the peace agreement.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), welcoming progress made in integrating former combatants and other areas, nevertheless spotlighted many challenges going forward.  Voicing support for the 2016 peace agreement and calling for its full implementation, he also expressed hope that President Duque’s decision to review the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will not result in heightened tensions.  The Special Jurisdiction is a vital component of the peace process, and any further delay in its implementation could undermine Colombia’s political, socioeconomic and security prospects.  Noting that South Africa’s own reconciliation and reconstruction process was underpinned by the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he underlined the need for “understanding but not for vengeance, the need for reparation but not retaliation”, which was crucial to the long-term consolidation of hard-won freedom in South Africa.  In that vein, he called on all parties in Colombia to respect the constitutionally mandated mechanisms and frameworks established to assist the political and judicial transition.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that the Government made many achievements in Colombia, but the peace agreement faces many challenges and the parties must make concerted efforts.  Regarding the social and economic reintegration of former combatants, the process must be accelerated by providing legal and security guarantees for them and their families.  Expressing concern over attacks on human rights defenders and social leaders, he looked forward to the operationalization of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.  Noting the role of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, he also stressed the need to involve youth and women in the peace process.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that with the signing of the peace agreement, Colombia put more than 50 years of conflict behind it.  The country has held elections, and established a transitional justice institution.  But many challenges remain, including the provision of security across Colombia, and the urgent need to implement some provisions governing the reintegration of former combatants.  Less than 20 per cent of ex-soldiers have been integrated.  It is also vital to implement the gender-related provisions in the agreement.  Financial and technical resources must be mobilized to integrate female former combatants.  In the 24 territorial areas for training and reintegration, monthly grants should be maintained until summer.  It is also vital to give them access to land and alternative income sources.  Reintegration may require short-term sacrifices but will yield long-term benefits.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) stressed that Council unity and engagement on Colombia must be preserved, particularly when the peace process is faced with challenges.  Such challenges currently include the need to encourage the Government to provide full political backing to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and other critical mechanisms for truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition.  That Jurisdiction still does not have a statutory law, and a growing sense of uncertainty about the legal status of former fighters could prove detrimental to the peace process.  On the security situation, he said concerns remain — especially in rural areas — while social leaders and human right defenders that support the peace agreement face risks.  Also expressing concern about the safety of indigenous leaders, women leaders and women’s rights defenders, he added that progress in reintegrating former FARC members could also be more effective.

CARLOS HOLMES TRUJILLO GARCÍA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, noted that his country is hosting 1 million Venezuelans in a spirit of solidarity and humanity.  He reiterated President Duque’s commitment to implementing the Final Peace Agreement through concrete measures, noting that several of them are recognized in the Secretary-General’s report.  While it states that the peace process is at a critical juncture, the Government of Colombia believes it is a moment of opportunity, he said, adding that while some of the most difficult challenges remain ahead, it is optimistic due to the strength of its determination to hold dialogue with others and to build consensus.

On the reintegration of FARC-EP members, he acknowledged the Secretary-General’s concern on the need for progress.  The Government will step up efforts to offer demobilized combatants ways to make a living, to contribute to the development of their communities and “to stay on the right side of the law”.  Noting that several thousand former FARC-EP members and their relatives have been settled in areas conceived as focal points for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, he said the legal status of those areas will expire at the end of August, but that should not lead to uncertainty.  The areas were created as a temporary measure, but the Government’s commitment is not temporary, he said, noting that the President has stated as much during his visits.  The expiration of their legal status will be addressed through a strategy covering their incorporation into the rest of Colombia’s land use planning, alongside legal, security and other measures.

He said the Government agrees with the Secretary-General on the scale of the challenges that Colombia faces in ensuring the physical security of reintegrated combatants and social leaders.  Containing violence is always a challenge for societies in transition and, in Colombia’s case, such violence has its roots in armed groups linked to criminal organizations, he noted.  Recalling that the number of hectares under coca cultivation had reached historic levels, with drug trafficking fuelling the bloodiest violence, he said the President has announced steps to combat illicit drugs through several measures.  He went on to cite data from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia, noting that the number of verified murders of human rights defenders fell to one in February 2019.  “Our commitment to legality and preserving the law is unwavering,” he emphasized.

On 11 March, he recalled, the President objected to 6 of the 159 articles making up the draft statutory law on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in order to ensure that the entity has the clearest and most coherent framework possible to meet the aspirations of all Colombians for lasting peace, with no impunity.  Congress is now debating those objections and the Senate’s pronouncement is awaited.  He added that the executive branch will respond in accordance with the law.  Turning to gender issues, he went on to stress that the effective exercise of the rights of women is a priority for the Government and that a national development plan now before Congress includes measures to strengthen the institutional framework for gender in tandem with concrete action to empower women.  Dialogue with women and their organizations is an ongoing practice for the President, including in the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement, he said.

Ms. SALAMANCA took the floor a second time in response to a question asked by the representative of Germany, stressing the need for the Government to allocate sufficient institutional resources to ensure that the gender issue has a cross-cutting impact on the ground.

For information media. Not an official record.