Peacebuilding ‘Irreversible’, Foreign Minister Says, Stressing Those Who Try to Tell Council Members Otherwise ‘Are Mistaken’
The United Nations envoy overseeing the implementation of Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement urged its signatories today to stay the course and build upon the progress they have made, even as continuing violence against former rebel fighters and community leaders threatens to derail the historic accord that ended Latin America’s longest-running civil war.
Briefing a videoconference meeting of the Security Council, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Mission (document S/2021/298). He said that a meeting on 10 March between President Iván Duque and Rodrigo Londoño, leader of the Comunes party, was undoubtedly encouraging and provided a solid basis for the two sides to keep working together despite their different visions.
[Comunes, formerly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), adopted its new name in January.]
The Special Representative went on to emphasize that, five years since the adoption of the Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace, the parties must remain committed to building on the achievements made, resolve pending challenges and move forward to resolving structural problems, with the participation of all actors in Colombian society.
Noting that protecting life is the primary purpose of any peace process, he reported that since publication of the Secretary-General’s report on 26 March, violence against social leaders and communities has continued, bringing to 266 the number of people killed since the peace agreement was signed. Steps taken by the State to counter the problem, including its recently adopted Strategic Security Plan, must generate better results, he stressed. Hopefully, by the end of 2021, the Verification Mission will be able to report a reversal of the trend of attacks on former FARC-EP combatants and social leaders, accompanied by a growing deployment of Government services to guarantee effective control of territory, protection of communities and consolidation of the rule of law and development opportunities.
Progress towards the reincorporation of former FARC-EP members into Colombia’s social, political and economic life has been remarkable, he said, adding that the Government’s acquisition of land for former Territorial Training and Reincorporation Sites is encouraging. He drew attention to the recent donation of land in western Colombia — by a businessman whose father had been kidnapped by an illegal armed group — saying it is enabling about 50 ex-combatants to launch projects and build homes. That is an example of the opportunities for reconciliation generated by the peace agreement, he said, adding that the National Reintegration Council recently approved two additional collective projects, bringing the total to 90.
Government efforts to respond to the needs of communities in conflict zones still need to be complemented with other aspects of the peace agreement, including rural reform, he continued. Firm steps must also be taken to give rural families more productive opportunities under the National Comprehensive Programme for Substitution of Illicit Crops and to strengthen confidence in the State. He stressed that the parties must also strengthen the participation of women’s organizations in peacebuilding.
He went on to say that the Government, local authorities and the public have made significant efforts to overcome COVID-19 and restore normality, adding that the work of the three components of the transitional justice system created by the peace agreement — the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the Truth Commission and the Unit for the Search of Persons Deemed as Missing — is encouraging.
In the ensuing debate, Council members welcomed the meeting between President Duque and Mr. Londoño while also expressing deep concern at the ongoing violence. They voiced support for the proposed expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate to include the monitoring of sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The 15-member Council expressed its readiness to consider that possibility when it extended the Verification Mission’s mandate until 25 September 2021, adopting resolution S/2020/2545.
The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed last month’s productive meeting between President Duque and Rodrigo Londoño, saying it is positive to see both parties committed to enhancing the comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement. He expressed deep concern, however, that social leaders, human rights defenders and former combatants still face deadly violence, emphasizing that more must be done to clear up the backlog of requests for protection and to strengthen the Interior Ministry’s capacity to respond to early warnings. The United Kingdom looks forward to the Government’s swift implementation of its guidelines for expanding security and the State’s presence in conflict-affected areas, he said. While calling upon all armed groups to release all minors from their ranks immediately, he welcomed the investigation into the tragic deaths of minors during Government operations against armed groups in Guaviare last month. He went on to urge the Government to ensure coordinated action in support of all former combatants, including those outside the former Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration. Hopefully, the Council will shortly be able to comply with Colombia’s request that the Verification Mission support the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in verifying compliance with sentences imposed on former FARC-EP leaders, he said.
The representative of China stated his delegation’s concern over the intensifying violence and expressed support for the Government’s efforts to build the capacity of its security forces to tackle violence and drug-related crimes, as well as protect the security of former combatants. Encouraging rural reforms with a view to reintegrating the ex-combatants, he also welcomed the meeting and agreement between President Duque and Mr. Londoño and expressed hope that the Tripartite Mechanism can strengthen their efforts. He went on to commend the progress of Colombia’s vaccination programme, and noted that China has provided it with three batches of vaccines and will continue to work with the international community and the United Nations to assist in the country’s fight against the pandemic.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking also on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, said peace in Colombia is key to preserving Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace and ensuring a more stable world. Urging the parties to stay the course and work with greater determination, in communion with the Colombian people, she emphasized that a robust and integrated approach remains crucial to resolving lingering security challenges, especially in the most marginalized and conflict-affected areas. She strongly condemned violence against vulnerable groups, including former FARC-EP combatants, and stressed the pivotal importance of progress on mechanisms to protect women leaders and human rights defenders. She echoed the Secretary-General’s call for accelerated approval of projects that would enable the majority of former combatants to engage in income-earning activities. Underlining the need for comprehensive rural reform, she also said that implementation of the recommendations of the High-Level Forum of Ethnic Peoples to address issues facing former combatants of indigenous and Afro-Colombian origin will facilitate their smooth reintegration into society. She went on to commend the progress within the Comprehensive System of Truth Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition, while warning that historical wrongs, if not corrected, will remain haunted scars in the souls of many Colombians.
The representative of Mexico said political dialogue is the best way to achieve genuine stability in Colombia. Expressing support for the request by the Government and the Comunes party that the Verification Mission’s mandate be expanded to include review of decisions by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, he said that is consistent with the letter and spirit of the peace agreement. Ultimately, fulfilling those decisions will help to consolidate peace efforts, he said. Reiterating Mexico’s concern over the level of violence in some parts of Colombia and its implications for women, he said that grappling with the problem demands the inclusion of women in Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, among others, in decision-making processes. Preventing violence against women human rights defenders requires sufficient funding from relevant authorities, he added. Pointing to the number of casualties caused by explosive hazards, he emphasized the need for a more rigorous framework, and greater international cooperation, to manage — and prevent the trafficking of — small arms and light weapons. Mexico supports the Secretary-General’s recommendation to verify decisions by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, in accordance with the Government’s request, he reiterated.
The representative of India noted that overall progress in the last three months towards implementation of the Final Agreement has been positive, marked by the agreement between President Duque and Mr. Londoño to work jointly on strengthening reintegration and security guarantees for former combatants. Preparations by Comunes for the 2022 elections are also a positive step, he added. However, the concentration of violence in some regions, mainly due to limited State presence, is being exploited by illegal armed groups and criminal organizations fighting over illicit economies, he said. Whereas the recently approved national policy to dismantle illegal armed groups marks progress in augmenting the presence of State institutions, including deployment of security forces, the integrated and enhanced presence of State authorities throughout the country is fundamental to lasting and durable peace, he emphasized. Rural reform and reintegration of ex-combatants, as well as strengthening security in non-Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration across the country are also key to reducing violence. He went on to praise the Government’s vaccination drive as another positive step, while stressing the need to ensure that the people targeted for peace-related programming, including former combatants, have access to vaccines and medicines.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the report unfortunately confirms the insufficient progress towards implementation of key provisions of the peace agreement, which is especially concerning as the new electoral cycle approaches. Recalling that the Final Agreement ending half a century of conflict was widely supported internationally as a product of dialogue, he noted that the Mission is tasked with overseeing its implementation. It is not a unilateral declaration of intent, he emphasized. Calling upon all parties to continue regular contact in accordance with the spirit and letter of agreement, he said unilateralism cannot move the process further. Stressing that security is the primary concern, he expressed regret that killings continue, with little progress on investigating them. Security threats are so high that in January and February alone, 13,500 people were internally displaced. The report should include the number of so-called dissidents as an indicator of the efficacy of the peace process, he said, adding that he is perplexed by the mention of difficulties experienced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, which seems out of place in the context of the peace process. He went on to state that the report confirms that it is premature to consider the peace process irreversible.
The representative of Estonia said that whereas COVID-19 takes most of the attention, it is crucial to stay on course for implementation of the peace accord. Describing the Special Jurisdiction’s first indictment against eight former FARC-EP members for war crimes and crimes against humanity as an important step forward, he said it paves the way for ending impunity. A lot remains to be done, especially in relation to the participation of victims in the transitional justice system, he cautioned. Expressing support for expanding the Verification Mission’s mandate to include assistance to the Special Jurisdiction, he went on to condemn the continued killing of former combatants and social and indigenous leaders, as well as human rights defenders. The alarming number of murders must be curbed urgently by rebuilding trust and State authority, he emphasized.
The representative of Ireland expressed concern over the persistent violence, noting the worrying increase in the number of former combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders killed during the reporting period. While recognizing the Government’s efforts to protect those targeted, she emphasized that the urgent need to curb the violence, including that faced by indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, cannot be overstated. She said reports of child recruitment by illegal organizations and of children killed in crossfire are also of deep concern. She went on to stress that, despite progress on gender, more must be done to ensure full implementation of gender and ethnic provisions across all chapters of the peace agreement. Underlining that trust is the strongest element of peace, she said transitional justice, centred on victims, and with the full participation of women, is the bedrock of Colombia’s future. It is crucial now that former combatants, members of the public security forces and third parties to the conflict provide exhaustive and truthful accounts of crimes committed, recognize their own responsibilities and contribute to reparations, she said. She went on to commend the Government’s decision to grant temporary protection status to Venezuelan refugees and migrants, describing it as a response based on common humanity and deep respect for human rights.
The representative of the United States commended Colombia for pursuing the path of peace despite COVID-related challenges and instability in Venezuela. Emphasizing that 2021 will be decisive for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, he said former combatants, members of the security forces and third parties must provide truthful accounts of crimes committed and acknowledge their own roles in such acts. He expressed his delegation’s concern over ongoing violence by non-State armed groups against vulnerable populations, stressing that with the killing of former FARC combatants continuing, the Government must implement the 2020 evacuation road map and put security guarantees in place to ensure that ex-combatants can serve the sentences imposed on them by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. Urging the Government to continue to expand the police and judicial presence in rural areas, he also encouraged it to speed up the rural reform provisions of the peace agreement. It should take a holistic approach to security, development and counter-narcotics efforts, he advised, including a robust crop-substitution programme based on community infrastructure instead of cash payments. He went on to state that progress on the peace agreement reflects the will of the Colombian people to put more than half a century of conflict behind them.
The representative of France, noting that implementation of several provisions of the peace agreement remains insufficient, emphasized that the violence must be ended and those responsible brought to justice. She acknowledged all efforts being made to reintegrate former combatants, while stressing the need to implement comprehensive rural reform in full and end the grip of drug traffickers. All parties must engage with the reconciliation process in good faith, she said, adding that France hopes the Council will act soon on the Secretary-General’s recommendations concerning the Verification Mission. She went on to say that France and the European Union will continue to support those in Colombia advancing the peace agreement.
The representative of Norway emphasized that the primary dangers to peace are targeted threats, violence, and the killing of former combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders, including women leaders and representatives of ethnic communities, noting with regret that 265 ex-combatants have been killed since the peace agreement entered into force, alongside 24 human rights defenders and social leaders. With some communities also suffering forced displacement, the deployment of anti-personnel mines, and increased recruitment of children by armed groups, the State’s presence throughout the country is essential, she stressed. Noting concerning reports that victims and alleged perpetrators do not feel they can contribute to the Integrated System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition without risking their lives, she pointed out that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace has ordered governmental agencies to ensure the protection of those appearing before the court. She urged all actors to contribute fully to the Integrated System, to “recognize their responsibilities and to tell the whole truth”.
The representative of Viet Nam, Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, saying peace is fragile and reintegration faces many challenges. Commending the meeting between President Duque and Mr. Londoño as constructive, he welcomed the Government’s commitment to the reintegration process and called upon on all parties to continue to engage in dialogue at political and technical levels. Describing 2021 as decisive in preparing for elections in 2022, he said the United Nations and the international community should support efforts to that end while respecting Colombia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Noting the report’s worrying information on unabated violence, illegal armed groups, criminal organizations and their support networks, he stressed that the National Commission on Security Guarantees must take concrete actions to dismantle all such groups and redouble their efforts to ensure security and development for conflict-affected communities. While applauding Government reintegration efforts across the socioeconomic and political fields, especially in the context of COVID-19, he cautioned that it is a long-term process requiring patience, political will and practical steps.
Claudia Blum de Barberi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, quoted President Duque as saying that peace emerges from a society’s determination to build a dignified future. Emphasizing that Colombians and the world cannot forget the violence of the 1980s and 1990, when criminals terrorized the population and threatened democratic institutions, she said that since 2018, Colombia has worked tirelessly to implement its Peace with Legality policy, which encompasses the 2016 peace agreement and continues to make headway. As the Secretary-General’s report recognizes, the trend towards less violence is being consolidated, she said, pointing out that crime is down, the rule of law is being upheld and human rights are being protected. Noting that the peace agreement was signed in the knowledge that FARC was not the only source of violence, she said that in some parts of Colombia, organized armed groups continue to challenge national stability as they attempt to control drug trafficking corridors. They attack social leaders and peasants, among others, while also clashing with law enforcement authorities, she added, declaring that such groups are devoted to transnational organized crime and are the enemies of all Colombians.
In discussing compliance with the peace agreement, the Secretary-General’s report cannot only address what the Government is doing, she said, stressing that it must also consider the role of FARC dissidents and other enemies of the peace accord. Some 80 per cent of former combatants who have been fatally attacked were killed by dissidents and drug traffickers, she added. While reiterating that security is the greatest challenge, she said the Government is sparing no effort to bolster capacity in that regard, noting that 2020 saw a 10.8 per cent drop in homicides compared to 2019, and in 2021, the number of victims is down by 51 per cent so far. A robust campaign to combat political violence has been rolled out, most projects for non-combatants and their communities have been approved, and access to social services is being made available, she said. Furthermore, the Government is buying land in former territorial zones, something that was not a part of the peace agreement.
She went on to say that the five priorities set out in the Secretary-General’s previous report (document S/2020/1301) must align with the programme approved by Colombia’s citizens when they elected their Government. [Those priorities include protection and security for former combatants, conflict-affected communities and social leaders; sustainability of the reintegration process; consolidating the State’s presence in conflict-affected areas; reinforcing constructive dialogue between the parties; and strengthening the conditions for reconciliation.] Responsibility for defining the exact focus of implementation lies with the State, with the President’s priorities set out in the Peace with Legality policy, and include the reintegration of former combatants, assistance to families affected by illicit crop-substitution programmes and rural development. With its long-term, comprehensive and holistic vision, Colombia is making progress and reducing the space for violence, she said, underlining that peacebuilding is irreversible and those who try to mislead the Council otherwise are mistaken. She concluded by inviting the Council, which visited Colombia in 2017 and 2019, to return when public health conditions permit.