Foreign Affairs Minister Highlights Policy to Reintegrate Ex-Combatants, Guarantee Security for Most Affected Communities
Hard-won gains in Colombia must be preserved and built upon, the Special Representative told the Security Council today, urging the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to fully implement their historic 2016 peace accord, amid resumed violence by illicit armed groups in the traditional epicentres of Cauca, Chocó and Nariño.
“I encourage both parties to deepen their dialogue regarding any differences on the implementation of the Final Agreement,” said Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s report on developments from 27 September to 26 December 2019 on the matter.
To be sure, Colombia has made significant strides in its peace process, he said: enhanced participation and improved security in the October regional elections demonstrated the positive impact of the peace process on democracy. Social mobilization under way since November has opened a path for dialogue, while the 27 December adoption of the reintegration road map created opportunities for former combatants.
At the same time, he drew attention to the 23 December killing of artist and social leader Lucy Villarreal in Nariño department, and killings of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC-EP) combatants, notably Benjamin Banguera Rosales in Cauca department, stressing that the perpetrators must be brought swiftly to justice. “Peace will not be fully achieved if the brave voices of social leaders continue to be silenced through violence and if former combatants who laid down their weapons and are committed to their reintegration continue to be killed,” he insisted.
The underlying conditions for such violence are consistent, he said: rural areas affected by a limited State presence and persistent poverty, and where criminal structures seek to control illicit economies. Each condition is addressed by the Peace Agreement and he underscored the urgency of establishing a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups, criminal structures and their support network through the National Commission on Security Guarantees.
In the ensuing debate, Council members agreed that peace is still fragile, with the representative of the Dominican Republic calling the 2016 agreement a “critical tool” to be upheld by all stakeholders. Germany’s delegate encouraged the National Commission on Security Guarantees to work to dismantle criminal groups and their support networks responsible for the killing of social leaders.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was among those voicing concern about the pace of progress in accrediting former combatants and difficulties in ensuring the security guarantees for some communities. Permanent solutions for the 70 per cent of former FARC-EP combatants residing outside Territorial Areas for Training and Integration are essential for the Agreement’s full implementation, she said.
The Russian Federation’s delegate meanwhile cited gaps in political reintegration, with one Parliamentary seat — which under the accord was supposed to go to FARC — still blocked. On the legal front, independence of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace must be preserved. Without strict compliance with Final Agreement obligations, 50 years of violence will not be overcome, he cautioned.
To many of those concerns, Colombia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said the Government’s “Peace with Legality” policy aims to achieve the constitutional right to peace for all Colombians within a rule of law framework. This policy is in line with the 2016 agreement and contains instruments for both reintegrating former combatants and providing security guarantees for communities most affected by violence.
In that context, she cited the participation of FARC for the first time in October regional elections — and further, the election of former combatants or candidates supported by them. Job access now allows former combatants to generate their own incomes, while the Government more broadly is working to tackle threats affecting former combatants, social leaders, ethnic groups, rights defenders and other vulnerable communities. While Colombia’s commitment to peace with legality is unwavering, it nonetheless requires support by the Council and the international community, she emphasized.
The Council began its meeting by holding a moment of silence in tribute to the tenth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and to the victims of the 9 January terrorist attack in Niger.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, United States, Belgium, France, Tunisia, China, Indonesia, South Africa, Estonia, Niger and Viet Nam.
The meeting began at 10:23 a.m. and ended at 12:13 p.m.
CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Colombia, presenting the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2019/988), said that over the past year, Colombia continued to make significant strides in its peace process amid serious challenges, notably in terms of security for conflict-affected communities, social leaders and former combatants. Enhanced participation and improved security during the October regional elections demonstrated the positive impact of the peace process on Colombian democracy. The Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition continued its invaluable work, while thousands of former combatants forged new lives through opportunities provided by peace.
Such advances were made possible thanks to efforts by the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), along with support from the international community, he said, recalling that on 11 January in Southern Tolima, — a region where the conflict began half a century ago — former combatants, the Armed Forces and members of the community started building a bridge to benefit surrounding communities. “These hard-won gains must be protected, preserved and built upon,” he said, through comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement. He encouraged both parties to deepen their dialogue around any differences on the Final Agreement, especially through mechanisms designed by the Agreement itself, such as the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement.
Citing other gains, he said that the social mobilizations which have taken place since November also have opened an opportunity for dialogue. On 27 December, the “reintegration road map” was adopted, with the approval of 12 new collective productive projects — which now number close to 2,500. Former combatants will benefit. It is now important to ensure the viability of these projects through access to land, technical assistance and markets. More broadly, it is likewise necessary to continue devoting attention to the more than 9,000 former combatants living outside the former territorial areas who face higher security risks and obstructed access to education and employment. Former combatants with disabilities also require attention, and measures are needed to provide protective environments for some 2,000 children of former combatants. He welcomed the 128 additional accreditations for former combatants since the Secretary-General’s September report.
On the security front, he described profoundly worrying developments in recent weeks, with the risk of more widespread violence in the department of Chocó due to activities by illicit armed groups. In recent weeks, communities in Bojayá denounced that the illegal armed group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia had occupied territories, while other communities in the area remain affected by the National Liberation Army. He drew particular attention to the 23 December killing of artist and social leader Lucy Villarreal in Nariño department after conducting an art workshop for children, and killings of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC-EP) combatants, notably Benjamin Banguera Rosales in Cauca department, stressing that the perpetrators of such attacks must be brought to justice swiftly. “Peace will not be fully achieved if the brave voices of social leaders continue to be silenced through violence and if former combatants who laid down their weapons and are committed to their reintegration continue to be killed,” he insisted.
He said that the epicentres of violence — in Cauca, Chocó and Nariño — remain the same and the underlying conditions are consistent: rural areas affected by a limited State presence and persistent poverty, and where criminal structures continue to victimize people and to control illicit economies. Each of these causes of violence is addressed in various parts of the peace agreement. Regarding illicit economies, for example, the Agreement created a crop substitution programme to support families transitioning away from coca cultivation. Continued support for the programme — and for security measures for its participants — is essential. The Agreement also provided for development of a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups, criminal structures and their support networks through the National Commission on Security Guarantees. “It is urgent for this policy to be established and implemented”, he said, and for the Government to intensify efforts to address security in former conflict areas.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) noting that October saw the first local elections since the peace accord was reached — and the first in which the FARC political party had taken part — said such gains, along with the highest turnout in modern times, demonstrated the strength and inclusivity of Colombia democracy. Newly elected local authorities have a key role in the implementation of the peace agreement. Citing areas in which urgent efforts are needed to preserve gains, the mechanisms for which already exist, she expressed deep concern about persistent violence against human rights defenders, former FARC-EP combatants and community leaders, a situation that has not improved despite the Government’s commitment. She encouraged full use of security guarantees and engagement with civil society, as well as prioritizing a plan for women leaders and human rights defenders which could transform departmental conditions. She urged the Government to extend protection measures in the context of reintegration efforts and to expedite reintegration programmes. Noting that the report emphasizes the interconnected nature of all elements of the peace agreement, she said that lasting peace in Colombia will not be possible unless all elements move simultaneously and in a coherent fashion. The Government must build consensus with diverse sectors and ensure implementation continues in a comprehensive manner.
KELLY CRAFT (United States), recalling that Colombia hosts 1.6 million Venezuelan refugees and displaced persons, said her country contributed $650 million in aid. During her visit, she learned about the challenges of implementing the peace accord. The fact that local and regional elections were the most peaceful in recent history is a testament to Colombia’s efforts. She nonetheless expressed deep concern about violence against social leaders, human rights defenders and others, and support for Government efforts to enhance protections to these groups. She applauded progress on transitional justice, noting that the Truth Commission and the unit for missing persons had made important but unfinished progress. Stating that the narcotics problem and crisis in Venezuela are linked to peace accord implementation, she said that the United States shares the goal of reducing coca cultivation to half of 2017 levels by 2023. The widespread peaceful mobilizations signal that Colombians are engaged and she applauded the Government’s national conversations in response, which she hoped would facilitate the reintegration of former combatants.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that despite the challenges in implementation, the peace agreement represents a critical tool and actions must strengthen ongoing efforts. Commending the Government of Colombia for its reform initiatives, he said it is fundamental to continue to offer education opportunities to former combatants for the final reconciliation of the country. Regretting to note violence targeting rights defenders and former combatants who support the peace agreement, he said that armed groups continue to attack the most vulnerable, including those fleeing Venezuela. He encouraged authorities to provide all necessary guarantees to those joining the political process, including former combatants. All violent acts must be investigated, with perpetrators brought to justice. Moving forward, inclusive dialogue can foster trust among parties and promote development.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) encouraged the Government to work towards common solutions in a spirit of inclusive and respectful dialogue. Council unity and engagement on Colombia must be preserved, he said, supporting the Secretary-General’s call for more use of tripartite arrangements to promote dialogue and build confidence. He emphasized the importance of implementing the reintegration road map, with more clarity on such issues as education, health, economic reintegration and psychosocial assistance. On the security situation, he encouraged the National Commission on Security Guarantees to work hard to dismantle criminal organizations and their support networks that are responsible for the killing of social leaders. At the same time, the presence of State institutions in remote and conflict-affected areas must be extended, he added.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), while commending Colombia for gains made, including recent elections and development achievements, raised concerns about continued violence against human rights defenders and former combatants alongside targeted attacks against women. More effective measures are needed to reverse this trend, including finalizing of an action plan involving relevant national commissions. Echoing the Secretary-General’s concerns about children and armed conflict, he called on all armed groups to free any young people from among their ranks. He also called for boosting investment in reintegration programmes, strengthening confidence among parties through dialogue and intensifying cooperation in implementing the final peace accord.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said that the Council has made every effort to present a united front on the Mission, including supporting its extension until 2022. Citing gains made, including elections and former combatant reintegration efforts, she said some elements of the peace agreement remain unimplemented and called on stakeholders to redouble efforts to carry out all provisions, including financing alternative crop farming. As rights defenders and former combatants continue to face targeted attacks, authorities must do more to protect them in consultation with civil society. Moreover, existing mechanisms to address these issues must be used for dialogue to ensure progress in all areas.
MONCEF BAATI (Tunisia), noting critical positive advances in social, economic and security sectors, said that the required remaining steps must be taken. Welcoming Colombia’s efforts to promote inclusive economic growth and security for its people, he said national inclusive dialogue is a key tool to resolve disputes and address all matters. Achieving reconciliation and fostering stability relies on realizing inclusive development, with further efforts required in providing health services, education and training for all. Moving forward with transitional justice, protecting women’s rights, strengthening rural reform and providing security guarantees are other critical tools to ensure further progress.
WU HAITAO (China), highlighting recent progress, said that elections and reintegration efforts have supported advancing the peace process, but much remains to be done. To address a fragile security landscape in some areas and threats facing some groups, authorities must take up their responsibilities and obligations to find solutions to disputes and work with the Mission to promote the peace process. For its part, China stands ready to work with Council members to support the work of the Government of Colombia and the Mission.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia), congratulating Colombians on the relatively peaceful conduct of local and departmental elections on 27 December, said that they must build on this important step and the Secretary-General should encourage newly elected local authorities to continue in that vein. Peace can only be achieved if all stakeholders comprehensively, consistently fulfil all commitments made under the Final Agreement. He called on all parties to deliver on their individual commitments, noting that while slow, there has been progress in resolving the accreditation of former combatants and it must continue. He likewise urged all parties to make use of the National Reintegration Council and to address pending challenges in the reintegration process through the recently adopted road map. “Political and economic reintegration is crucial for building trust and confidence in the peace process,” he said, urging the Council to continue providing assistance based on its relevant resolutions, and to remind itself that the United Nations Verification Mission was established in accordance with the 2016 peace agreement, in which parties requested the United Nations to set up a political commission. He drew attention to a 5-9 November 2019 “crops for peace” workshop organized by Indonesia and Colombia, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), noting that Colombians have the primary responsibility for the peace process, said that in addition to new challenges, fundamental problems must urgently be resolved. Noting that 2019 saw the highest number of victims since the Final Agreement was signed, he said that every murder must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. He also cited gaps in political reintegration, with one Parliamentary seat — which under the accord was supposed to go to FARC — still blocked. On the legal front, the State did not accredit a single participant. The independence of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace must be preserved, he said, cautioning that wherever threats emerge, “we see this as attempts to pressure the justice system”. Those responsible must be brought to justice. Noting that the Secretary-General’s report states that civil society organizations affected by the National Liberation Army (ELN) insist on the need for dialogue with that group, he agreed it is essential to account for the full spectrum of opinions and expects that Colombia will engage with Cuba on that front. He noted with concern the wave of protests throughout the country, stressing that preventing a return to arms is only possible through full implementation of the peace accord and peaceful public dialogue. Without strict compliance with Final Agreement obligations, 50 years of violence will not be overcome.
MARTHINUS VAN SHALKWYK (South Africa) expressed his country’s continued full support for the final peace agreement as the only viable sustainable solution to conflict. Welcoming that the local and departmental elections in October were relatively peaceful and successful, he said that the participation of the FARC and former combatants presented a positive step forward. The demobilization of former combatants should be accompanied by continued training and the creation of economic opportunities for them. Voicing concern about the intimidation and increased killings of FARC-EP members and social and community leaders, which now also include indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations, he said it is essential to ensure that the necessary security environment is in place.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) said that as peace efforts move through a challenging phase, the newly elected local authorities must align themselves to the process and ensure the implementation of the agreement’s provisions. The vast majority of former combatants support peace and continue to reintegrate into civilian life, but risks and challenges remain, including accessing the same services offered to all people. Meanwhile, violence towards them represents a real threat to the peace process. More broadly, policies are needed to address other challenges, including one aimed at dismantling organized-crime groups and another addressing challenges facing indigenous people, women and other vulnerable populations. Encouraging the continuation of the valuable work by transitional justice mechanisms, which are key for sustainable peace and development, he said that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace is essential and its independence must be ensured. He commended the Government of Colombia for its many efforts. International support for Colombia remains crucial, he added.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), while noting positive developments in Colombia, nevertheless spotlighted significant encumbrances in implementing the country’s Final Agreement. In particular, she voiced concern about the pace of progress in accrediting former combatants and difficulties in ensuring the security guarantees for some communities. Permanent solutions for the 70 per cent of former FARC-EP combatants residing outside Territorial Areas for Training and Integration are key for the Agreement’s full implementation, as are agricultural reforms in line with the Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops. Expressing concern about reports of threats to participants in that programme — which is aimed at discouraging the illegitimate economy — she went on to voice concern about continued acts of violence against women and children, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and others. “There is no space for complacency nor selective implementation,” she stressed, noting that the process is at a very important stage.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that despite progress, Colombia continues to suffer from grave human rights violations. To change this trajectory, he called on all actors to redouble efforts to build on recent gains, including local elections. However, challenges remain, including insufficient financing to fully implement the peace accord, a spate of assassinations of activists, indigenous people, leaders and former combatants, and a reconfiguration of armed groups. Commending efforts by the Government to implement the accord and address these and other challenges, he urged Council members to continue their vital support for Colombian authorities.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, commending the Government and stakeholders in achieving peace and security in Colombia. However, challenges remain alongside difficulties. Security and development for all Colombians must be a priority for reconciliation, with the Security Council providing support. Further measures are also needed to promote development, providing equal opportunity to all, which is an important tool to prevent a recurrence of violence.
CLAUDIA BLUM DE BARBERI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said that the Government’s “peace with legality” policy aims to achieve the constitutional right of Colombians to peace within a rule of law framework. This policy is in line with implementation of the 2016 agreement between the Government and former FARC guerrillas, and contains crucial instruments for advancing the two fronts falling within the mandate of the United Nations Verification Mission: the reintegration of former combatants and security guarantees for communities most affected by violence. Turning first to the reintegration programmes, she pointed to significant progress on the political front, with FARC participating for the first time in regional elections in October, and the election of former combatants — or candidates supported by them. The Government removed restrictions for former combatants to both vote and stand as candidates and provided special protection measures for those candidates.
Regarding economic and social reintegration, she described 898 productive projects and 47 collective projects, along with job access that now allows former combatants to generate their own incomes; 98 per cent of former FARC combatants are affiliated to health care system, while 9,000 have participated in technical and job training. On 27 December, the Government approved the reintegration road map agreed with FARC, establishing a transitional process based on an institutional guarantee of rights for those reintegrating into their families. As for accreditation of former combatants, the Government created a work plan to analyse individual cases, under which 99 people have been accredited in addition to those referenced in the Secretary-General’s report. There are now 13,185 accredited persons. The activities of the gender technical working group are also relevant. The Government expectation of former FARC combatants to hand over their assets and offer reparations to victims are questions to which Colombians await responses, and she suggested that the Verification Mission pay closer attention to that topic.
On the second part of the Mission’s mandate, she cited Government protection measures for communities affected by violence, stressing that several remaining challenges are linked to the need to consolidate communities affected by poverty and violence. Peace with legality projects take on importance within this context. Colombia has launched 16 development programmes with a territorial focus, under which 309 projects have been approved and implemented by local authorities. At the national level, the Government concluded 641 additional works in which she underscored the private sector’s role. Other challenges are linked with the illegal economies and associated crime, namely drug trafficking and illegal mining, she said, stressing that the Government is working to tackle these threats affecting former combatants, social leaders, ethnic groups, rights defenders and other vulnerable communities alike.
Describing gains, she said that Colombia ended 2019 with the lowest kidnapping rate in recent history. But “there is no room for complacency”, she warned, adding: “We must continue this work.” The Government is working to expedite judicial investigations and develop public policies that tackle criminal organizations. The special unit of the prosecutor’s office responsible for investigating attacks against former combatants issued 51 arrest warrants and handed down 23 sentences, including for Alexander Parra Uribe, referenced in the Secretary-General’s report. On 8 January, the National Commission on Security Guarantees held a meeting in which participants stated that civil society considerations were reflected in policies to dismantle criminal groups. Citing other gains, she said that at the end of 2017, cocoa growers covered 200,000 hectares. Since 2018, this growth has been halted, and in 2019, 100,000 hectares were eradicated.
More broadly, she said that the Government will continue to tackle the criminal structures. On rural transformation, between 2020 and 2022, $900 million will be invested in tertiary roads connecting rural areas with more developed centres. The System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition continues to be strengthened, with resources approved in the 2020 budget for its three mechanisms to fulfil their missions. Turning to the demonstrations, she said that social and non-governmental organizations have addressed various petitions to the State. In response, the Government initiated a national dialogue and by 31 December, had held 12 meetings with social leaders, experts and others with a view to building a more just and equitable society. Stressing that the process of “building peace with legality” is unwavering, she nonetheless emphasized that it requires support by the Council and the international community.