Colombia

Recent Elections in Colombia Saw Most Women Voted into Office, Special Representative Tells Security Council, Highlighting Value of Peace

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President Cites Reintegration of Former Combatants, Reparations Law for Victims among Gains, Calls on Armed Groups to End Violence

Colombia’s current election cycle is a testament to the progress made in the implementation of its landmark 2016 peace agreement, the top United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today, even as he underscored the serious challenges remaining on the path ahead.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2022/267), Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative and the Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, stressed that not only were the congressional elections — held 12 March — “mostly free” of violence due to the disbanding of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (FARC-EP), but women were voted into office at a rate not seen before.

In addition, he said 16 special transitional electoral districts for peace were established, fulfilling a requirement under the accord, known formally as the Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace. “Colombia’s democracy will no doubt be enriched by the increased voice of victims in Congress,” he said.

However, he cautioned against continued violence among armed groups, stressing that in 2022 alone, the department of Arauca has seen the killing of over 100 people and the forcible displacement of thousands. He drew attention to the disproportionate number of indigenous and Afro-Colombian community members killed or displaced.

He went on to highlight the importance of remembering the many voices of the past in order to envision a new future. The Truth Commission would release its final report in June, releasing the testimony of thousands of victims. “Peace in Colombia is invaluable,” he said. “We must continue building it.”

Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia, highlighted the progress made by his Government in the areas of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. His country “embraces the substantive principles of peace” and continues to implement the peace agreement, even as it faces the challenges posed by armed groups, including those linked to drug trafficking, he said.

In particular, he pointed to progress made in the areas of truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition. Those who committed crimes against humanity must be held to account, he said, noting that his Government also promoted the extension of a law on reparations for victims. In the meantime, the lives of former combatants must be protected. Over 12,800 of them are currently part of a social reintegration process that includes various livelihoods projects, which promote progressive land tenure, and housing and property rights. A rural development programme, meanwhile, includes illicit crop substitution and demining initiatives.

In the ensuing debate, delegates commended Colombia for the gains made in several areas, with Brazil’s representative underscoring that the Council’s success is reflected in that of the country. “If the Council is important to Colombia, so too is Colombia important to the Council,” he emphasized. He described Colombia as a success story in which the Verification Mission has played a key role in helping to improve the lives of a nation’s people.

In a similar vein, France’s delegate said that “in a world shaken by conflict”, Colombia’s historic 2016 peace accord can be held up as a beacon for the global community. She also recognized that challenges persist and that peacebuilding efforts must always acknowledge any obstacles on the road, such as the need to address gaping socioeconomic inequalities.

Kenya’s representative, also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, said Colombia is “a testament to inspired leadership in seeking and maintaining peace”. In the past, it was more commonly known for its civil war and drug cartels, he said, praising the Government for the recent arrest of “Otoniel”, a notorious drug lord, which could aid in the breakup of similar criminal networks.

The United Arab Emirates’ delegate sounded a note of caution for the incoming Administration, which will face great responsibilities and challenges, including the continued implementation of the Final Agreement.

Mexico’s delegate highlighted the importance of the legislative elections — and creation of the 16 new electoral constituencies — as a milestone on the road to lasting peace. Even so, there is room for improvement in women’s participation, especially among those from indigenous communities and of Afro-Colombian descent.

Echoing those sentiments, the United States delegate expressed concern that the peace agreement’s gender provisions are being achieved at a slower rate than its other elements. On a brighter note, there has been an increase in participation by indigenous and Afro-Colombian candidates, he said.

Also speaking were representatives of the Russian Federation, Albania, Ireland, India, Norway and China.

Tariq Ahmad, Minister of State for South and Central Asia, North Africa, the United Nations and the Commonwealth for the United Kingdom also spoke.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:15 p.m.

Briefing

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2022/267), emphasizing that the Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace is a reminder that even hostilities lasting for decades “can be resolved through dialogue, establishing the basis for reconciliation and non-repetition”. Peacebuilding is advancing, thanks to efforts by the Government and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (FARC-EP), as well as communities in all regions. It is essential to acknowledge what has been achieved through this process, he said, while cautioning that such recognition does not mean that the remaining risks can be minimized. Overcoming violence and fully implementing the agreement are pending responsibilities, he assured.

Noting that the current electoral cycle illustrates some of the dividends of peace, he said that for the second time since the signing of the Final Agreement, elections were mostly free of violence. The successful laydown of thousands of arms by the former FARC-EP also has significantly reduced conflict-related violence throughout the country. Recent elections also saw an increase in the number of women candidates and women elected to Congress, even in the face of gender-based political violence. And for the first time, Colombians were able to elect representatives of 16 new electoral districts established under the peace agreement, in conflict-affected regions. “Despite a range of difficulties that constrained campaigning, Colombia’s democracy will no doubt be enriched by the increased voice of victims in Congress,” he stressed. Former members of FARC-EP and members of the Comunes party were able to campaign and to vote in Congressional elections for the second time since the signing of the accord.

He stressed that many who laid down their arms are now building productive new lives through projects that also benefit communities and foster reconciliation. The vast majority of the more than 13,000 accredited former combatants remain engaged with the peace process, and almost two thirds of all former FARC-EP members are taking part in collective and individual income-generating initiatives. “Nevertheless, the sustainability of the process is still contingent upon additional efforts, including to halt the violence that still jeopardizes former plans to build a new life”, he cautioned.

Recounting his recent visit to Arauca, he said the region is facing a critical situation, with more than 100 people killed and thousands forcibly displaced in 2022 alone. He met with authorities, civil society organizations and community members, from whom he heard “a desperate plea for help”. He called on armed groups to immediately cease violence and respect international humanitarian law. The violence is exacting a particularly high toll on indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in the form of killings, displacement and the increasing recruitment of minors. Against that backdrop, he called for comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement, noting that it was created not only to end the conflict but to address the deep-rooted factors underpinning the violence.

He went on to note that in June, the Truth Commission will release its final report, which was built on the testimony of thousands of victims. The Commission’s legacy will then be more than a single narrative of the past. The Secretary-General has urged all stakeholders to make wise use of the report, he said, adding that his own Office stands ready to support the Commission in the crucial work of publicizing the document, once published. “Peace in Colombia is invaluable,” he said. “We must continue building it”.

Statements

IVÁN DUQUE MÁRQUEZ, President of Colombia, recalled that his country suffered the scourge of violence for many years. “That said, Colombia is a country that embraces the substantive principles of peace,” he asserted, describing peace as both a duty and a right that must be respected. In that context, the Government has pursued the path of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, in line with the evolving rules of international law. Noting that the 2016 Final Agreement brought both opportunities and challenges, he said Colombia continues to suffer from the illegal activities of armed groups — including the National Liberation Army (ELN) and terrorist groups linked to drug trafficking — even after the accord was signed. From the very first day of its peace process, Colombia called upon the United Nations for support through the establishment of the Verification Mission, and it remains grateful for that assistance. “The focus on peace with legality is comprehensive,” he stressed, adding that Colombia takes a critical view of its own progress, where necessary.

Turning to the reintegration of former combatants, he said over 12,800 former fighters are today part of a credible social reinsertion process. The Government supports them through the creation of productive livelihoods projects, access to social services and other assistance. Recounting his own visits to seven former territorial spaces that were turned into settlements for former combatants, he said the Government is helping the families of former fighters through the advent of progressive land tenure, housing and property rights. It also promoted the extension of a law on reparations for victims — thereby assisting the millions of Colombians affected by violence over the years — and it has invested at unprecedented levels in water infrastructure, roadway development and other public works. He went on to outline Colombia’s comprehensive rural development programme, noting that his Government has already developed more than 6 million hectares — more than any other in the country’s history — and drawing attention to its focus on illicit crop substitution and demining initiatives.

Describing other efforts, he outlined progress in the area of truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition, as well as in prosecuting those responsible for crimes against humanity, who must be held accountable. Multiple challenges still exist in that arena, as well as in protecting the lives of former combatants, social leaders and others who continue to be targeted by armed groups. Drug trafficking remains a problem, he said, spotlighting the important responsibility of consumer countries around the world in that regard. However, Colombia’s rates of homicide and kidnapping have recently dropped to their lowest rates in 40 years and significant progress is being made in the critical area of Government budgeting, with the adoption of the same accounting process used by the United Nations. “Peace in Colombia […] is not ideological,” he stressed, emphasizing that his Government does not attempt to hide its challenges but rather reports openly to the world.

TARIQ AHMAD, Minister for State for South and Central Asia, North Africa, United Nations and the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom, Council President for April, noting the investments the Government of Colombia has made to support the reintegration of former combatants into civilian life, said the country serves as an important example that the resolution of longstanding differences is only possible through peaceful dialogue. Agreeing that 2022 is a turning point for the transitional justice system, he looked forward to the final report from the Truth Commission in June, as well as the first sentences being handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. However, he voiced concern over the fate of groups that continue to be disproportionately affected by violence, displacement and confinement — as well as increases in violent incidents which have claimed the lives of former combatants, social leaders and those from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. He urged the Government to continue to expand its efforts to provide adequate protection and security, improve State presence in conflict-affected areas and strengthen the institutions that can investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) noted that members speaking after his statement will use “a lot of nice words” and try to avoid the thorny issues that abound in the Secretary-General’s report. “However, in Russia, we speak the truth to our friends”, he said. Colombia is not just a “normal” country for the Security Council, as the organ has been a sort of guarantor for peace in the country. His delegation is carefully following developments, and the grounds for concern are increasing each year. Colombia does have its achievements, including the Final Agreement, but the Russian Federation is focused on the problems with its implementation. President Duque’s Administration has consistently avoided mentioning the Final Agreement, and instead refers to the “programme of peace”. This was not approved by the Security Council or agreed to by the second party that Colombia’s President has called “former combatants”. Even the use of this term shows that genuine national conciliation still has not been achieved. This situation — eight years since the signing of the Final Agreement — risks undermining the basis of the peace process. The views of his delegation are based not on subjective considerations, but rather on the distressing conclusions in the Secretary-General’s report. The common thread running through the report is the concern over the pace of implementing the peace agreement. He pointed to drug trafficking and fighting over control of that enterprise, as well as the culling or shooting of participants in the peace process. In March, the second parliamentary elections were held, and 16 parliamentarians were elected. The elections were presented as a historic milestone — a far-fetched idea — as they are part of the Constitution and take place every four years. The 16 additional seats should have been filled in 2018, so there was a four-year delay, he added.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, known informally as the “A3”, said the conduct of electioneering in relative calm underlines the resilience of the Colombian people and their commitment to peace. More than five years into the Final Agreement, the peace process remains an inspiration to many countries seeking to end protracted civil war. For decades, Colombia was known for its civil war and the extensive violence of paramilitaries and drug cartels. “Today, the country is a testament to inspired leadership in seeking and maintaining peace”, he said, noting that “the people of Colombia are rightly proud of this hard-won peace”. He recognized progress made in adhering to the Final Agreement and called for its full implementation, welcoming the assurances made by various presidential candidates in this regard. He likewise welcomed plans by the Special High-Level Forum of Ethnic Peoples to develop a road map for 2022 to address issues facing former combatants of indigenous and Afro-Colombian descent. He applauded the Government for the arrest of renowned drug lord “Otoniel” and voiced hope that it will facilitate the dismantling of criminal organizations and their support networks.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania), welcoming progress achieved in the years since the signing of Colombia’s historic peace agreement, said that accord enjoys broad support among the country’s people. At the same time, many challenges persist, with a recent increase in violence, especially in rural areas. The biggest challenges remain attacks and violence by armed groups and criminal gangs against community and social leaders, indigenous and Afro-Colombian representatives, human rights defenders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists — especially women. Expressing horror over such violence, he said it is of utmost importance that the Government intensifies its efforts to ensure protection and security for those targeted and threatened and strengthens the institutions that can investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. Meanwhile, without comprehensive rural reforms that include the right to land for victims of the conflict, there will be no peace or development in Colombia. Implementation of the Final Agreement’s gender provisions and ethnic chapters is also essential, he added.

AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said the world should celebrate the achievements of Colombia’s Final Agreement and commit to building on them. “Although challenges remain, the Colombian Government and other stakeholders have shown determination to overcome such challenges,” she said, adding that the incoming Administration is faced with both a large responsibility and a great opportunity — to continue implementing the Final Agreement comprehensively. Noting the successful holding of congressional elections, she expressed hope that the benefits of the recent pact for non-violence signed by 13 political parties will represent a long-term commitment to promoting peace, tolerance and dialogue. Concerns remain about persistent violence, including in Arauca, Chocó and Putumayo. Addressing that issue must remain a priority and requires the continued implementation of security guarantees, as well as the reintegration processes laid out in the Final Agreement. She went on to voice her delegation’s support for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and its survivor-based approach.

CHRISTOPHER P. LU (United States) said that as the report indicates, Colombia continues to make progress in implementing the peace agreement. For the first time, 16 new seats in the House of Representatives were filled and the election saw greater participation by indigenous and Afro-Colombian candidates. He said the United States looks forward to the final report of the Truth Commission in June and calls on all parties to reflect on its findings. Noting that the Secretary-General’s latest report indicates intensified violence in several departments, as well as trafficking in persons and disproportionately impacted ethnic communities, he also pointed out that the Final Agreement’s gender provisions are being implemented at a slower rate than the rest of the accord. He described full implementation of rural community plans as a generational project, underscoring the importance of the Security Council’s continued support for the Verification Mission as it builds on Colombia’s achievements.

RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) welcomed Colombia’s commitment to its peace process, noting that the Final Agreement “has achieved what is most important” — namely, it has earned the trust of most political parties and the Colombian population more broadly. He expressed hope that the next Government will provide continuity to the strong efforts registered in recent years, noting that challenges remain and require strong action by the State. Spotlighting particular difficulties in eradicating violence in areas that were traditionally outside Government control, he also welcomed progress made in truth, justice and reconciliation, adding that Brazil is awaiting the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with interest. Council members must not lose sight of the fact that their role in Colombia is limited to oversight of the Verification Mission, he said, adding that — at the delicate current geopolitical moment — the situation in Colombia represents a specific success story in which the Council’s assistance has helped change the lives of millions of Colombians for the better. “If the Council is important to Colombia, so too is Colombia important to the Council,” he said.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), praising the work of Colombian civil society groups and stressing their importance in all United Nations spaces, said the legislative elections — including in the 16 special transitional electoral constituencies for peace — constitute a milestone in the peace process. However, there is still room to advance the participation of women, particularly those from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and it is important to make progress in all pending gender indicators in the Final Agreement. While isolated, the violence committed during the electoral process contravenes the pact for non-violence promoted by the National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Coexistence and civil society groups. Agreeing with the Secretary-General’s observations on the need to consolidate security measures, in accordance with the Final Agreement, he reiterated support for the United Nations Verification Mission, and in particular, the firm commitment of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace on disarmament and demining.

BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland) described the recent parliamentary elections in Colombia as largely positive, as the peace accord was not subject to debate and voters could fulfil their democratic right in peace and security. Welcoming the significant increase in representation for women in Parliament — rising from 19 to 30 per cent of representatives — he said the election saw the highest number of women candidates in Colombia’s electoral history. Also welcoming the agreement to extend the mandate of the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Final Agreement (CSIVI) until 2023 and encouraging the full use of that essential platform for dialogue, he nevertheless went on to voice concern over threats, intimidation and political violence against some electoral candidates — in particular, women and members of the Afro-Colombian community. He also condemned attempts by illegal armed groups to intimidate and interfere with the political process in some communities. “As we look forward to the presidential elections, it is essential that both candidates and voters can take part in the exercise of democracy without fear of intimidation or violence,” he said. Emphasizing that there can be no impunity for crimes against social leaders and human rights defenders, he said the security guarantees laid out in the peace agreement are fundamental and must be implemented.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) acknowledged the successful holding of congressional elections, including voting for the newly created special transitional electoral districts for peace. While welcoming the progress made in implementing the Final Agreement, including preparation of stabilization road maps for rural reforms, he said challenges remain, amid threats, killings, and subsequent displacement of cooperative members, which have disrupted reintegration initiatives. He also cited disputes among illegal armed groups, including various FARC-EP dissident factions, over territorial control and illegal trafficking routes. He called for prioritizing rural reforms aimed at increasing employment and livelihood opportunities, which are fundamental to sustaining peace. Recalling India’s expanding and deepening partnership with Columbia, he pointed to a steady increase in bilateral trade, which grew by 22 per cent between 2020 and 2021, despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said that, in a world shaken by conflict, Colombia is an example for the international community. Describing the 2016 peace accord as a historic achievement, she said building peace also means undertaking lucid assessments of its implementation and acknowledging challenges that persist. Welcoming the holding of congressional elections without major disruptions — as well as the election of representatives from the 16 constituencies for peace — she said that system should be further consolidated. Continued violence, particularly in the Arauca region, remains a source of concern. In that light, she welcomed the first meeting of the National Commission for Security Guarantees, adding that it should meet more regularly in order to implement a policy of dismantling armed groups. It is also crucial to strengthen the presence of the State in remote areas and to offer viable opportunities to counter vast socioeconomic inequality, she said, adding that more must be done to promote access to land and housing.

MONA JUUL (Norway), congratulating Colombia for carrying out inclusive and peaceful elections, called for follow-up on recommendations by the Truth Commission as a necessary step in the national healing process. Victims must also remain in focus. Pointing to reported attacks and threats against human rights defenders, she said more must be done to ensure that children, rights defenders and indigenous leaders are protected and that perpetrators are brought to justice. She also called for full implementation of security guarantees in the Final Agreement, stressing: “We expect expedient implementation of the orders issued to the Government after the Constitutional Court declared an ‘unconstitutional state of affairs’ regarding the guarantee of former combatants’ rights to life, physical integrity, and peace.” As competition over land and access to natural resources has fuelled grievances, while deforestation and land degradation has increased Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change, she called for continued attention to environmental issues as part of the peacebuilding process and full implementation of land use and rural reforms. She also stressed the importance of ensuring that institutions for dialogue and conflict resolution are well-functioning.

ZHANG JUN (China), commending the Government for its progress in implementing the 2016 Final Agreement, described the recent elections as a “milestone of great significance”. More than 10,000 former combatants have been reintegrated into society and strides are being made in implementing crop substitution programmes. Noting that a presidential election will be held in May, he expressed hope that the new Government will continue the current efforts to consolidate peace. Several challenges remain, he said, noting that the activities of armed groups threaten safety and security in several parts of the country. As such, he called for the accelerated dismantling of illegal criminal organizations, combating the recruitment of children by armed groups and giving full play to the role of women and youth. He expressed hope that the Government will be able to overcome the global food and supply chain crisis — as well as the COVID‑19 pandemic — while expanding basic social services and promoting balanced development. He also voiced hope that regional countries will play an active role as Colombia works to address the root causes of conflict.

President DUQUE of Colombia, taking the floor for a second time, expressed gratitude for the support expressed for his country’s comprehensive peacebuilding policies and for the practically unanimous message of the Security Council, acknowledging as well that many of the concerns expressed are shared by his Government. On gender, he said Colombia has taken historic steps. For the first time in its history, it has a woman Vice-President. Forty-six per cent of all State hierarchical administrative positions are occupied by women and the armed forces boast the largest number of women ever. Women make up over 50 per cent of those who benefit from the land programmmes.

On other issues, he said the country took a step forward by guaranteeing that the Government will create a development plan that includes a budget for indigenous communities and communities of African descent. Security challenges persist, notably activities by dissident FARC-EP groups, as well as the Clan del Golfo, which has already seen the capture of its leader, who will soon be extradited to the United States. He will then return to Colombia to serve his sentence for crimes committed against Colombian society. The aggregate indices for homicide meanwhile have decreased to a low level, but there are still areas of the country that are impacted by such violence, he acknowledged.

He recognized that all remarks made in the Council today seek to be constructive. However, there were also comments that “should be viewed from the perspective not only of consistency but also of moral authority”, he said, explaining that he is before the Council voluntarily expressing the will to build his country. Nonetheless, it is important that those who attack a defenceless country “should not be broadcasting messages of peace to the world while they are conducting fratricidal acts, which we all reject”. He underscored that “the sorrow we see in Ukraine today is that of humanity calling for this genocide to come to an end, to stop”. Indeed, “we should not see those who are sowing war and destruction speaking of peace,” he added. In that context, Colombia will receive the report of the Truth Commission as an opportunity “to bring us together, to build, not to destroy”.