Vice-President Calls on Global Community to Shoulder Shared Responsibility in Combating Drug Trafficking
The imminent fifth anniversary of the historic peace accord between Colombia and former opposition armed groups offers an opportunity to acknowledge its successes and commit to overcoming challenges that stand in the way of realizing its transformative potential, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today.
Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2021/824). He described “unquestionable advances” made over the first third of the agreement’s 15-year time frame, including in reconciliation efforts and in the creation of transitional electoral districts to ensure the democratic representation of people from the most conflict-affected areas. However, he cautioned the Council that if all elements of the accord are not fully implemented, eradicating the factors that led to the protracted conflict will remain impossible.
As an illustration of the formidable challenges that remain to be addressed, he detailed his observations from a recent visit to Meta, a former stronghold of members of the former Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) group which is now home to more than 1 out of 10 of its former members. He noted that former combatants were engaged in activities such as growing coffee and avocado, which testified to their desire to be active members of the community and participate in local politics and decision-making, just as the agreement envisaged.
Even so, he said, roadblocks in accessing land, housing and sustainable income stand in the way of safe and lasting reintegration. He quoted a female leader from the department who told him: “So many efforts and so many investments are now in jeopardy.” Unless decisive actions are taken to address remaining challenges, former combatants will continue to be forced to relocate in search of better opportunities and to preserve their lives.
The Council also heard the perspectives of two women leaders, who provided a vivid account of the grave dangers that women and marginalized groups in Colombia continue to face. Bibiana Peñaranda, coordinator of the civil society organization Butterflies with New Wings, pointed out that a lack of security for signatories to the peace accord and social leaders has left them vulnerable to threats.
In a similar vein, Daniela Soto, a youth leader from the Nasa indigenous community in Cauca, painted a grim picture of the violence wreaked by armed groups, which conscript young children into drug trafficking and force women into sexual enslavement. Noting that nine indigenous women were killed in 2021 while defending their land in Cauca, she recounted an attempt made on her life earlier in 2021 in the presence of law enforcement, when she was exercising her right to peaceful protest.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members commended progress made in transitional justice efforts, which centred victims and have helped Colombia along the path towards truth, justice and reconciliation. However, many also expressed concern about the unabating violence — including fatal attacks on former combatants and human rights defenders — and the dire security situation, due to the spread of illegal armed groups. Many speakers emphasized the need to dismantle those groups and ensure elections can be safely held as planned in 2022.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, echoed other Council members’ calls to enhance security in marginalized and conflict-affected areas. She commended progress made by Colombia’s Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition, noting that “accepting transgressions is essential for forgiveness” and helps ease the reintegration of former combatants into society. However, she pointed out that more needs to be done to ensure former combatants access to land and housing, particularly when they reside in urban areas, outside the country’s official Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration.
The representative of the Russian Federation observed that the most problematic areas, which experienced high levels of crime and violence, are those where the Government is weakly represented. “This power and rule-of-law vacuum is being filled by various illegal armed groups,” he said, adding that the full implementation of the Final Peace Agreement is impossible without addressing drug trafficking, the source of violence in the country. Sustainable reconciliation cannot be brought about without involving all actors, he noted.
Meanwhile, the representative of Norway expressed concern over the high ongoing levels of violence, leading to the killing of a staggering number of human rights defenders, social leaders and former FARC-EP combatants, which poses the biggest threat to the peace agreement. Ahead of the elections scheduled for 2022, she called for strengthened efforts to avoid political violence, including against candidates for the 16 special seats in conflict-affected areas, who face heightened risks.
Mexico’s delegate underscored the need for all indigenous and Afro-descendant women to be present in decision-making processes. In that regard, he commended the Comprehensive Programme of Guarantees for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders, which he called a crucial pillar for peacebuilding, and expressed appreciation for ongoing training activities for 7,000 members of 300 municipal peace councils.
Also addressing the Council was Marta Lucía Ramírez, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, who said drug trafficking remains a challenge despite many measures taken to implement the peace agreement, including the establishment of crop-substitution programmes. While emphasizing that the agreement was designed to occur over a 15-year period, she called on the international community to shoulder its shared responsibility to combat drug trafficking, noting that groups engaged in that heinous trade are attacking civilians and killing social leaders. Despite the formidable cost of implementing the agreement, which few countries would be able to afford, Colombia has spent as much as $8.4 billion over the past three years, including $263 million, which it provided for victims and the reintegration of former combatants.
Also speaking were representatives of United Kingdom, India, Estonia, Viet Nam, United States, Ireland, China and France.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:08 p.m.
CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation (document S/2021/824), observed that the fifth anniversary of the country’s Final Peace Agreement offers a chance to reflect on all that has been accomplished and the challenges that need to be overcome. While acknowledging “unquestionable advances” made, including in reconciliation efforts and the creation of seats in Congress that will allow the democratic participation of people from areas hardest-hit by conflict, he warned that, if all elements of the accord are not fully implemented, its transformative potential will remain unfulfilled, and eradicating the challenges that led to the protracted conflict will remain impossible.
He described his observations from a recent visit to Meta, a department visited by the Council in 2017 and a former FARC-EP stronghold which is home to more than 1 out of 10 of the group’s former members. Recalling his meeting with former combatants who are now engaged in growing coffee and avocados, he said they confirmed their desire to be active members of the community and participate in local politics and decision-making, in line with the peace agreement. However, as one female leader put it: “So many efforts and so many investments are now in jeopardy.” She said that unless decisive actions are taken on land, housing, sustainable income generation and security, she feared that former combatants will continue to be forced to relocate in search of better opportunities and to preserve their lives.
He went on to underscore the need for a gender approach to consolidate peace. Moreover, given the central role played by land in anchoring the peace process, the Government could redouble its investment in purchasing land for Territorial Areas for Training Reintegration. The long-term success of the peace agreement depends on reshaping rural Colombia by offering sustainable development opportunities and institutions for communities whose expectations remain unfulfilled.
Turning to security issues, he said it is “particularly grave” that the areas prioritized for the peace agreement’s implementation — Meta, Antioquia and the area between the Pacific Coast and Catatumbo — face dire situations. Some 296 men and women former combatants have lost their lives at the hands of illegal armed actors taking advantage of poverty and limited State presence, a situation which disproportionately affects Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. In that context, he called for the urgent implementation of all security guarantees contained in the peace agreement. The Government and State entities must better use mechanisms such as the National Commission on Security Guarantees to help stem the violence.
He said the elections planned for 2022 present an important opportunity in the 16 conflict-affected regions, where local populations will have the chance to elect their candidates for the special electoral districts for peace. The success of that process requires a genuine commitment by all actors to foster an electoral campaign free of stigmatization. Noting that the Constitutional Court extended the Truth Commission’s mandate last week, he said the decision recognized the pandemic’s impact on its work, as well as the need to continue to listen to voices of those most affected by the war.
BIBIANA PEÑARANDA, Coordinator of the civil society organization Butterflies with New Wings Network and representative of Afro-Colombian women in Colombia’s Special Forum on Gender, said that over the decades, no single day has gone by without news of war and deaths in her country. The 2016 Final Peace Agreement was critically important and marked a great stride, as it was inclusive of women, young and other marginalized groups. However, the Government’s compliance remains absent. People continue to need food, drinking water, access to education and health services. Transnational crimes persist, with the Government offering limited responses.
Outlining another critical issue, she drew attention to the lack of security for the signatories to the peace accord and social leaders, who continue to receive threats. She noted the long-standing promise to assign land titles to indigenous peoples, describing the State’s racist approach which fails to meet the needs of Afro-descendants and indigenous groups. Indeed, she stressed, Afro-Colombians opt for peace and identify themselves as teachers of peace. Their territorial autonomy must be recognized, she said, urging the Council to continue to support Colombia’s path to peace.
DANIELA SOTO, Youth Leader with the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, noting that she is a member of the Nasa indigenous community in Cauca, said the sense of hope that pervaded the country after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement only lasted for a few months. In territories such as Cauca, compliance with the peace agreement’s rural reforms — including crop substitution — and ethnic and gender provisions has been minimal, which has led to an increase in illicit crops and armed groups fighting for territorial control. Recalling a childhood memory of collecting coca leaves with her grandmother, she said her community feels helpless as something so sacred is now used to generate violence and conflict. Young people have been forcibly co-opted into the drug trafficking business, with more than 600 children and young people in Cauca recruited in just the last two months.
She said that women have also been co-opted to work as cooks or — most degradingly — have been forced into sexual enslavement. The presence of armed groups threatens indigenous women, who must choose to either stay in their homes despite the danger or be displaced to cities where other kinds of violence and vulnerability await. Those who oppose that system continue to be killed, she said, noting that nine indigenous women leaders have been killed in 2021 while defending their territory in Cauca. She recounted that she herself was almost killed on 9 May while exercising her right to social protest when an armed civilian shot her in the abdomen in the presence of law enforcement.
In spite of all that, she emphasized that women and indigenous communities have been working towards peace, seeking peaceful conflict resolution, strengthening their own mechanisms for self-protection and territorial control, working with educational institutions to create a culture of peace in primary and secondary education and promoting respect for diversity through intercultural dialogue. She called upon the Government to comply fully with the Final Peace Agreement and guarantee the fundamental right to life for all and expressed hope that the Council and the international community will support indigenous women and youth to that end. “We do not want to continue giving birth to children for war,” she stressed.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) commended progress achieved to date in implementing the Final Peace Agreement, including the success of the transitional justice system, which puts victims at its heart. However, he pointed out that those gains cannot be taken for granted. He expressed concern over ongoing violence which has claimed many lives, including those of human rights defenders, and called on the Government to strengthen institutions to investigate those crimes. Noting that the National Commission for Security Guarantees has not met in the reporting period, he called on the Government to take steps to dismantle illegal armed groups and heed early warnings from the Ombudsman’s Office. Turning to the 2022 elections, he called on all parties to ensure safe elections and minimize the risk of pre-election violence.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said the present moment is opportune to acknowledge progress and remaining tasks, but, above all, to renew the Council’s commitment to the implementation of Colombia’s Final Peace Agreement. The Comprehensive Programme of Guarantees for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders is a crucial pillar for peacebuilding, he said, also underlining the need for all indigenous and Afro-descendant women to be present in decision-making processes, as they disproportionately suffer the impacts of violence and shoulder the major burden of the challenges to sustainable development. Praising ongoing training activities for 7,000 members of 300 municipal peace councils, he recalled that in 2016 Colombia showed the world that “the path of weapons is a dead end”, and that dialogue and mutual understanding can triumph. The United Nations Verification Mission’s mandate must be renewed in order to support the Government and all actors in building a stable and lasting peace.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) detailed reassuring progress made in implementing the Final Peace Agreement over the last three months, including the enactment of a law designed to provide historically excluded populations the opportunity to participate in upcoming elections, renewed activism in the legislature, progress in transitional justice, ongoing election preparations and Government reforms on taxation and the national police. Key aspects of the peace agreement, however, remain unimplemented, and disputes between illegal armed groups have intensified over territorial control and strategic illegal trafficking routes. He called for the cessation of that cycle of violence, as threats, killings and subsequent displacements are disrupting reintegration initiatives. He added that, while Colombia’s peace process continues to be a source of inspiration to the world, the international community must support the country’s Government and its people in their journey to consolidate and sustain peace.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, said the success of the Final Peace Agreement epitomizes the centrality of dialogue to resolve conflict, and encouraged parties to consolidate the gains made so far. She strongly condemned the incessant killing of vulnerable groups, including former FARC-EP combatants and others, and said armed groups causing the deteriorating security situation in the south-west must be dismantled. It is critical to enhance security in marginalized and conflict-areas, she said, calling for the regular convocation of the National Commission on Security Guarantees. Welcoming efforts to reintegrate former combatants into Colombian society, she nevertheless voiced concern over persistent challenges around the allocation of lands and housing, particularly for former combatants residing outside Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration. She went on to commend progress made by the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition, noting that “accepting transgressions is essential for forgiveness” and aids the full integration of former combatants into society.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), acknowledging positive developments towards sustainable peace nearly five years after the Final Peace Agreement was signed, emphasized that violence remains the main challenge hindering its implementation. He pointed to 158 killings reported to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2021, adding that almost 300 former combatants have been killed since the signing of the peace agreement. He went on to stress that fighting impunity is critical and called on the Government to increase its presence in rural areas. Welcoming the progress made during the last reporting period with regards to transitional justice, including the processing of cases of forced recruitment and use of children in conflict, he stressed that victims must be at the centre of the process and their participation in the peace process — with the inclusion of different gender and ethnic groups — is essential.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) said the uneven implementation of the Final Peace Agreement, as described in the Secretary-General’s report, has led to fragile reintegration and posed challenges to reconciliation. All relevant parties should continue engaging in constructive dialogue, at political and technical levels, to address differences through the mechanisms devised by the Agreement. On preparations for the 2022 elections, which will be decisive for Colombia, he said efforts must be made for safe and inclusive elections, ensuring protection for women and children. He went on to condemn worrisome reports of attacks against Colombians, including former combatants, social leaders and security forces, and of illegal armed groups strengthening their control over electoral districts. He urged the National Commission on Security Guarantees to take concrete actions to dismantle these organizations and bring them to justice. Moreover, steps are needed to strengthen inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development, taking into account communities’ needs.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) agreed that there has been some progress in the implementation of Colombia’s Final Peace Agreement but said significantly more work is required. Citing estimates that the implementation at its current pace would take 26 years to complete, he said the most problematic areas are those where the Government is weakly represented. “This power and rule-of-law vacuum is being filled by various illegal armed groups,” he said, noting an increase in crime and a high level of violence. It is time to finally admit that the full implementation of the peace accord is impossible without addressing drug trafficking — the main cause and source of violence in the country. It is also important to note that sustainable reconciliation cannot be achieved without the involvement of all actors, including the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) group. Moscow is convinced that the establishment of relations with the neighbouring State of Venezuela could contribute to achieving sustainable peace and stability in Colombia, warning that substituting the peace agreement with unilateral programmes not agreed with all participants risks rolling back gains made.
JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States), said the Truth Commission’s role is essential, as only by clarifying the past and elevating the voices of victims can the cycle of abuse and conflict be broken. He encouraged all institutions and sectors to accept the Commission’s invitation to dialogue and consider its recommendations with an open mind, while urging the Commission to take full advantage of its extended mandate to reach victims in remote areas of the country. He also pointed out that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes implementing the Final Peace Agreement more difficult. In that context, the United States has provided 6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Colombia. While progress has been made in implementing the peace agreement, he expressed concern over continued violence and human rights violations, which make it difficult for former combatants to reintegrate into society and threaten the entire peace process.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said while the signatories to the peace agreement put pen to paper, the accord and its dividends belong to every Colombian. The inclusion of victims’ voices from conflict-affected regions in Parliament is a powerful moment for political reintegration efforts. However, threats and intimidation of candidates across the political spectrum are worrying, she said, also drawing attention to the continued targeting of ex-combatants, as well as reports of violence against human rights defenders. Truth and reconciliation processes have the power to unlock grievances and place all citizens on a shared path to progress. Noting that Colombia’s peace accord has been truly innovative, including its victim-centred approach, she welcomed the extension of the Truth Commission’s mandate and voiced support for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. “At a time when so many conflicts around the world appear intractable, the Colombian accord stands as an example of what we can achieve,” she said.
MONA JUUL (Norway) echoed concerns over the peace agreement’s slow implementation, citing indications by the Comptroller-General’s Office that at the current pace, it will take 26 years to fully implement the accord, not 15 years, as agreed upon. The high ongoing levels of violence, leading to the killing of a staggering number of human rights defenders, social leaders and former FARC-EP combatants, poses the biggest threat. Turning to the 2022 elections, she called for efforts to avoid political violence, including against candidates for the 16 special seats who face heightened risks. The agreement’s Comprehensive Security System for the Exercise of Politics must be implemented, and the parties should rally around non-violence. Moreover, she encouraged more resources to be allocated to strengthen security guarantees for women — human rights defenders, ex-combatants, and social leaders — in order to strengthen their meaningful participation and ensure an inclusive political dialogue.
GENG SHUANG (China) commended “remarkable progress” made in the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement, including in the creation of special electoral districts for peace. However, he noted a gap in advancing the goals outlined in the peace agreement in some parts of the country, calling for renewed measures to ensure the safe reintegration of former combatants and for land to be allocated to them. Expanded land reforms — including facilitating the replacement of illicit crops that are depended on as livelihoods — need to be carried out to create a foundation for lasting peace. He also expressed appreciation for the United Nations Verification Mission’s work, expressing China’s support for the extension of its mandate.
SHERAZ GASRI (France) said Colombia’s establishment of 16 special peace districts has allowed historically marginalized regions to play their full part in the country’s political process. The authorities must do everything possible to ensure that the upcoming elections are held in good conditions, with the safety of candidates a priority, she said, emphasizing that the continued violence is unacceptable as each assassination weakens the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement. The solution is well known, she said, highlighting the need to strengthen State presence in the most remote areas. The role of the National Commission for Security Guarantees must also be strengthened in order to dismantle armed groups. To achieve peace, it is also imperative to provide viable and just socioeconomic opportunities for all, including through the substitution of illicit crops and access to land and housing.
MARTA LUCÍA RAMÍREZ, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, noting the Final Peace Agreement’s five-year anniversary, said the country is now rolling out its “peace with legality” policy, which has created space for communities to work with the Government in drafting development plans and alternatives for illicit economies. Much progress has already been made towards implementing the peace agreement — which was designed to occur over a 15-year period — including the reintegration of former combatants, the establishment of crop-substitution programmes and the provision of comprehensive rural development. While major challenges remain, what has been achieved so far has required immense political will and budgetary resources to be expended. She questioned what country in the world would be able to resolve all those problems, involving so many people, in three — or even five — years.
Noting that the Government will extend the time frame for reintegration for as long as necessary, she detailed her country’s provision of $118 million in economic aid to over 13,200 former combatants. Furthermore, it has spent more than $2 million in directly purchasing plots of land to support 3,350 individual projects that provide former combatants and their families with a source of stable income. Turning to the upcoming elections, she emphasized that they are crucial to building peace and ensuring stability, and the Government is working to ensure the safety of political candidates. It is also striving to reduce violence against former combatants, she said, pointing out that the country has seen a reduction in homicides against such individuals and against human rights defenders.
She underscored, however, that drug trafficking remains a challenge, and expressed hope that transitional justice can shed light on trafficking routes and cartels operating in other countries. Drug trafficking groups are attacking civilians, killing social leaders and fostering illicit economies. In that light, she called on the international community to shoulder its shared responsibility for combating that heinous trade. Turning to budgetary concerns, she noted that the cost of implementing the Final Peace Agreement equates to two full years of Colombia’s gross domestic product (GDP). Few countries would be able to afford such an amount, she said, noting that Government nevertheless invested $8.4 billion over the last three years and, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, has disbursed $263 million for victims and the reintegration of former combatants.