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Colombia Reaping Gains of Peace Process Yet Reintegration of Ex-combatants Still Work in Progress, Special Representative Tells Security Council (SC/14325)

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Briefing the Security Council during a videoconference meeting today, the senior United Nations official in Colombia took stock of strides and challenges in implementing the country’s 2016 Peace Agreement, as members broadly hailed the parties’ commitment — and their own unity — towards turning the page on the five‑decades-long conflict.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, said remembering the Peace Agreement’s core objectives remains a crucial exercise nearly four years after the conclusion of the negotiations that led to its signing. Introducing the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2020/943), he said that, while some of the Agreement’s elements have been realized — such as the transformation of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) into a political party — others, including the reintegration of former fighters into society, remain “under construction”.

He said that, despite suffering from continued attacks and stigmatization, the majority of former FARC-EP combatants are committed to Colombia’s peace process. Many are working alongside their families and communities to withstand the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spotlighting one recent successful example, he cited an innovative agreement between indigenous leaders and 114 former fighters — mostly of indigenous origin — that allowed for the latter’s reintegration in accordance with their traditions. However, he noted that the issue of land tenure remains a source of concern and called on the parties to provide more support in new areas of reintegration.

Meanwhile, he said, the transitional justice process is building momentum as the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition process moves forward. Several former FARC-EP leaders recently admitted responsibility for their role in crimes committed during the conflict, “demonstrating powerfully that the peace process is beginning to deliver on its promise to shed light on the horrors of the past”. Emphasizing that continued commitment to that process remains crucial, he noted with regret that some parts of the country are still witnessing violence by armed actors who attack social leaders, human rights defenders and former combatants. To address such violence, it remains necessary to finalize and implement the public policy for dismantling illegal armed groups, criminal organizations and their support networks.

In a similar vein, he called for the prompt finalization of a crucial public policy on national security guarantees and — more importantly — its swift implementation. Recalling that the transformation of rural areas was yet another goal of the Peace Agreement, he stated: “The consequences of the pandemic have highlighted the urgency of […] bringing development, security and opportunities to rural areas in Colombia.” In that vein, he echoed the Secretary‑General’s call on actors to view the Peace Agreement’s implementation as an essential part of the COVID-19 recovery process, and to use its tools to address the challenges associated with recovery. For example, public health investments can be guided by the Agreement’s rural health provisions, and economic recovery can be enhanced by strengthening productive projects that benefit former combatants and communities.

“Few peace agreements in history have addressed gender issues as comprehensively as the Final Peace Agreement in Colombia,” he continued, noting that October marks the twentieth anniversary of the Council’s landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. However, challenges remain in improving security for women social leaders and human rights defenders, ensuring a more robust participation of women former combatants in reintegration efforts and addressing the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence, which has seen an upsurge during the pandemic. He encouraged all actors — including the Government and the FARC party — to take inspiration from the anniversary and redouble their efforts to fully implement the gender provisions of the peace agreement.

As delegates delivered remarks, many echoed the Special Representative in voicing concern about attacks against human rights defenders, social leaders and former combatants. Some welcomed as positive recent developments, including the FARC party’s recent apology for widespread kidnappings and its admission of responsibility for other past crimes. Several speakers sounded alarms that — as in other parts of the world — illegal armed groups may be taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen their presence in some areas. Many also praised the rare and continued unity among Council members on the matter of the deployment of the Verification Mission in Colombia.

The representative of China welcomed that, over the past four years, Colombia’s peace dividends are bringing more and more benefits to the Colombian people. “Sustainable peace is taking root,” he said. However, he echoed the Special Representative of the Secretary-General’s concern that many challenges remain, urging both the international community and the Council to step up their support. China stands firmly behind those goals, he said, calling for more work to improve Colombia’s security situation, push forward the reintegration of all former combatants, combat COVID-19 and promote inclusive development aimed at eradicating the root causes of conflict.

Germany’s representative said that, while the unity among Council members is encouraging, it remains alarming to see illegal armed groups and criminal organizations take advantage of COVID-19 to strengthen their presence and attack security forces. He stressed the importance of extending the presence of State institutions across remote parts of the country and bringing an end to impunity. Recalling the Council’s visit to Colombia in 2019, he said it is critical to implement the gender provisions of the Final Peace Agreement. While much has been done, the participation and leadership of women in reintegration activities can be further strengthened.

The Dominican Republic’s representative also voiced concern about continued attacks against human rights defenders and women leaders, urging the parties to redouble their commitment to the Peace Agreement’s gender elements. Stressing that they must also ensure that Colombians of indigenous and African origin are fully protected, he noted a marked increase in the recruitment and use of children by armed groups, as well as a broader resurgence of violence in some areas. “This should definitely be a wake-up call,” he said, urging the Government to prioritize efforts to hold perpetrators to account and place victims at the centre of all peacebuilding efforts. “We are deeply proud that Colombia has become an inspiration and an important reference for peace, not only in the region, but around the world,” he said.

The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed President Iván Duque Márquez’s commitment to combating COVID-19, adding that overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic will be impossible without simultaneously working to implement Colombia’s Peace Agreement. Welcoming the FARC party’s recent apology and admission of past crimes — which represent a vindication of Colombia’s post‑conflict truth, justice and reconciliation mechanisms — he said that, while such truths are painful, they will go a long way towards allowing the country to heal and move forward. Among other things, he looked forward to hearing from the Foreign Minister of Colombia on the future role to be played by the Verification Mission, including in monitoring the sanctions which may be imposed by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

The representative of Viet Nam, also speaking on behalf of Indonesia, joined other speakers in describing the 2016 Peace Agreement as a remarkable achievement while noting with regret that some of its elements remain unimplemented. Underlining the importance of national unity, he said reconciliation and solidarity should be priorities as the peace process continues. Stressing that attacks on social and other leaders must be stopped, he urged the international community to support Colombia in protecting civilians, especially women and children.

Estonia’s representative described FARC’s public apology as an important step forward. However, lasting peace cannot be achieved without justice. Ongoing killings must end, vulnerable individuals and groups must be protected and those responsible for violations should be prosecuted. He encouraged the National Commission on Security Guarantees to pursue its efforts to dismantle criminal organizations and their support networks, adding that protection for children must also be strengthened. With rural Colombia suffering from the absence of State authority, wider structural issues must be addressed, he said, adding that the sustainability of the reintegration process must be ensured, with all parties working in a constructive spirit for lasting peace.

The representative of the United States said her Government has provided more than $23.6 million in assistance for Colombia’s response to COVID-19, while also expressing solidarity with the 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country, who are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic. Condemning the killings that have taken place in Colombia in recent months — including of children and young people — she underlined the urgent need to protect Colombian human rights defenders, including those who work on land and environmental issues, social leaders, former combatants, individuals in rural communities and members of indigenous, Afro-Colombian, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and other vulnerable populations. The United States also remains fully engaged with the Government to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production, extend State presence and promote rural development.

Belgium’s representative, while welcoming the commitment of the parties to fully implement the Peace Agreement, expressed deep concern over the ongoing violence against human rights defenders, community leaders and ex-combatants, especially women. Stronger measures to combat sexual and gender-based violence are needed and perpetrators must be brought to justice. She also called on the parties to come to an agreement on the location of anti-personnel mines and underscored the need for a greater focus on children, as well as the urgent need to ensure access to land for former combatants.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking also for Niger, Tunisia and South Africa, underscored the Council’s commitment to accompanying Colombia along its path to peace and prosperity. Security conditions must be improved in order to consolidate gains and overcome lingering impediments, she said, while condemning killings and stressing the need to dismantle criminal organizations and armed groups. The continued implementation of agricultural reforms — such as the substitution of illicit crops — will help prevent former combatants from re-entering the informal economy. “When dialogue is constructive and results-oriented, impossible becomes possible,” she said.

France’s representative agreed with other speakers that there remains a need to strengthen State presence throughout Colombia. Despite the pandemic, efforts to reintegrate former combatants must continue, with a focus on ex-combatants who live outside the former territorial training and reintegration zones. The long‑standing issue of access to land also needs to be addressed. Emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive system for truth, justice, reparations and non‑repetition, she recommended that the Verification Mission contribute to the sanctions work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, should the Colombians request it.

The representative of the Russian Federation, Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity, said ensuring the security of civilians must be the first priority in Colombia. The vacuum of State authority in rural areas must be addressed, he said, adding that the country’s social and economic reintegration will not be possible without land reform. Pointing to the number of people injured during recent protests in Colombia, he urged the Secretary-General and Council members to adhere to the same standard when addressing similar situations elsewhere in the world. He also called for better financing for the implementation of the Peace Agreement.

Claudia Blum de Barberi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, thanked Council members for their consistent support for her country and reaffirmed Colombia’s support for the work of the Verification Mission. She recalled that, on 16 September, the Government convened a meeting to assess what has been accomplished towards implementing the 2016 Peace Agreement and what challenges remain. President Duque provided a detailed report on both counts, while also noting that Colombia for decades has been a victim to drug trafficking, illegal economic activities and terrorism. Based on those experiences, the country has learned that building and consolidating peace requires the application of the principles of truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition.

While the Government is working to press forward with those processes, she said the contribution of some other actors remains insufficient. In particular, members of the FARC political party must tell the truth and recognize their responsibility for the commission of such crimes as enforced disappearances, sexual violence, child recruitment and the planting of anti-personnel mines. Urging the Verification Mission to address FARC’s lack of cooperation, she called for truth to be revealed so that proportional penalties can be imposed in line with victims’ expectations. In addition, she recalled that, in resolution 2545 (2020), the Council voiced its willingness to consider the possible addition of a new mandate for the Verification Mission related to the sanctions imposed by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, while pledging to continue to support the reintegration of former combatants who remain committed to the peace process.

Noting that the safety and protection of human rights defenders and social leaders remains the country’s greatest challenge, she said the Government is working on measures to dismantle armed groups that still operate in some areas, as well as the implementation of additional protection measures. The fight against impunity also remains a top State priority, as does the inclusive process by which development plans with a territorial focus are being developed and implemented across the country — even during the pandemic. While the Secretary-General’s report cited limited women’s participation as a significant challenge, she said thousands of women have benefitted from such programmes, and reiterated the Government’s continued commitment to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

For information media. Not an official record.