Nearly Five Years into Colombia’s Historic Peace Agreement, Unprecedented Strides in Justice Marked alongside Lingering Violence, Experts Tell Security Council
Vice President Emphasizes Accord’s 15-Year Timeframe, Vowing Bogotá Will Protect Those ‘Who Have Laid Down Their Weapons and Opted for Peace’
Colombia has notched unprecedented achievements in transitional justice as the fifth anniversary of its landmark peace agreement approaches, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, as delegates noted both strides and lingering challenges that led recently to large-scale protests across the country.
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/2021/603), noting that the peace process in Colombia stands at a critical juncture nearly five years after the signing of its Final Peace Agreement — which formally ended more than fifty years of civil conflict — in 2016. The reconciliation process achieved a new milestone in April, when former combatants from the now-defunct Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) armed group accepted responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes involving hostage-taking and other serious deprivations of liberty.
He also noted that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace indicted 11 former army officials and a civilian for crimes involving assassination and forced disappearances presented as deaths in combat. Further, hundreds of victims’ bodies have been found thanks to information provided by former guerrillas, paramilitary actors and State agents, which has given their families “tranquillity after years of painful uncertainty”. He said all of those developments — which were unthinkable in Colombia until recently — have been possible thanks to the Final Peace Agreement.
It will take time, he continued, to disarm the structure and identities inherited from the five-decades-long conflict and achieve reconciliation. Noting that the Verification Mission plays an important role in ensuring compliance with sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which is Colombia’s transitional justice mechanism, he voiced concern over continued violence against former FARC-EP members and members of the new FARC political party ahead of 2022 elections. In that context, he urged Colombian society and institutions to view the Final Peace Agreement as an opportunity to help tackle the longstanding issues facing the country.
Melissa Herrera, Founder and Director of the Latin-American civil society group Viva la Vida, also briefed the Council, describing the 2016 peace agreement as a symbol of hope for the young people of Colombia. While recent protests have amplified the challenges faced by youth, they stand ready to engage in dialogue and social change. She offered several recommendations for the Council, including considering the gender perspective on youth issues and conducting a visiting mission to her country to consult with this group in all its diversity. “Youth is the missing piece of the puzzle to build peace and we must protect young people,” she stressed.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members welcomed progress made in transitional justice on Colombia’s path towards truth, justice and reconciliation. Many voiced concern, however, over recent social unrest and the deteriorating security situation — including violence against former combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders — as well as a lack of progress on agricultural reform and land use. Members also underscored the need to fully implement the Final Peace Agreement, calling on all relevant parties to engage in constructive dialogue towards that end with the participation of women and youth.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, also speaking for Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, joined other Council members in calling on relevant parties to advance the full implementation of the Final Peace Agreement. Pointing out that no progress has been made on that agreement’s provisions guaranteeing the rights of ethnic communities, she urged the Government to take action to that end and called for enhanced measures to facilitate the proper reintegration of former combatants into Colombian society.
Mexico’s representative also urged the protection of former combatants, along with human rights defenders and indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities. The high number of persons displaced by the actions of illegal armed groups is concerning, he added, as are the challenges facing the illicit-crop-substitution programme, which requires greater financial efforts to support more than 100,000 families participating.
The representative of the Russian Federation echoed the need for progress on agrarian reform and measures to address the deteriorating security situation, noting that increased cocaine production has unavoidably led to rising levels of violence and corruption and territorial clashes have displaced some 7,500 people and claimed the lives of 64 others. Meanwhile, he said, no evidence has been given by Government representatives in the area of transitional justice, which raises the question of whether balance can be achieved in that process.
The representative of the United States also voiced concern over growing coca cultivation and production, stressing that the best way to sustainably address that problem is to combine law enforcement efforts with a robust rural development programme and the promotion of legal economic activity. He expressed hope that the Government, in the wake of disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, will be able to do more in 2021 to help rural farmers.
Also addressing the Council was Marta Lucía Ramírez, Vice President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, who stressed that drug trafficking remains a challenge in her country despite Government and societal efforts towards genuine, sustainable peace. Calling for shared international responsibility in addressing this issue — along with the related threats of deforestation and human trafficking — she also emphasized that the Final Peace Agreement was designed to be implemented over 15 years. It has only been five since its signing, and progress — including security measures the Government enacted to protect FARC political party candidates from assassination or kidnapping — must be acknowledged. The Government will not waver in its efforts to protect those “who have laid down their weapons and opted for peace”, she stressed.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Norway, India, Ireland, China, Estonia and France.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:01 p.m.
CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2021/603) and observed that, nearly five years after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement, the process stands at a critical juncture. Describing a new milestone highlighted in the report, he said that, in April, former combatants from the now-defunct Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) armed group accepted responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes involving hostage-taking and other serious deprivations of liberty. Further, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace indicted 11 former army officials and a civilian for crimes involving assassination and forced disappearances presented as deaths in combat. Hundreds of victims’ bodies have also been found thanks to information provided by former guerrillas, paramilitary actors and State agents, which has given their families “tranquillity after years of painful uncertainty”.
He said all of those events — “unthinkable” in Colombia until recently — have been possible thanks to the 2016 Final Peace Agreement. Noting that it will take time to disarm the structures and identities inherited from the five-decades-long conflict and achieve reconciliation, he underscored the importance of the United Nations Verification Mission’s work — endorsed by the Council — in ensuring compliance with sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. Recalling his recent visit to Montes de Maria, a region historically affected by recurrent violence, he said violence against former FARC-EP members, social leaders and communities persists there and elsewhere, mainly related to illegal armed groups and criminal organizations who thrive in areas characterized by limited State presence, poverty and illegal economies. He expressed concern over persistent violence against, and stigmatization of, former combatants and members of the FARC political party, especially ahead of 2022 elections.
He went on to note that, despite a challenging reintegration landscape, former combatants continue to demonstrate their commitment to building a new life. Parties must continue working together to provide greater certainty to former FARC-EP members and their families, especially by expanding access to housing and land. Underscoring that the Final Peace Agreement’s comprehensive implementation will provide a way to address the root causes of conflict, he urged Colombian society and institutions to view the accord as an opportunity to help tackle many of the longstanding issues facing the country.
MELISSA HERRERA, Founder and Director of the Latin-American foundation Viva la Vida, speaking via video-teleconference, shared that her sister, a university-educated dancer and cultural leader in Nariño department, was executed by an armed group. Describing the Final Peace Agreement as a symbol of hope for the young people of Colombia, she said they want an end to the conflict as well as their guaranteed participation in the peace process. The recent protests in Colombia amplified the voices of youth and the challenges they face, and young Colombians are ready to engage in dialogue and social change. Outlining her work among young women and girls in Nariño to advance the peace process — in line with Council resolution 2250 (2015) on youth, peace and security — she said she is convinced that the organ’s support for peace in her country has produced results.
Making several recommendations, she suggested that the United Nations Verification Mission’s mandate should include regular reporting on indicators related to the implementation of resolutions 2250 (2015), 2419 (2018) and 2535 (2020) on youth, peace and security. Council members should also consider the gender perspective on youth issues and conduct a visiting mission to Colombia to consult with young people in all their diversity.
She further requested the Government to step up the inclusive participation of young people and women in decision-making at all levels; protect the lives of women and youth, particularly from any form of sexual or gender-based violence; and implement security guarantees for youth who are active in politics. The Government must pursue its investigations into violence directed against women and young people during the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement, and it should roll out programmes to reintegrate young people who were involved in the conflict. “Youth is the missing piece of the puzzle to build peace and we must protect young people,” she stressed, adding that she looks forward to addressing the Council again and discussing the progress being made.
JAMES ROSCOE (United Kingdom) voiced concerns about human rights violations in Colombia and welcomed the Government’s investigation into the excessive use of violence during recent protests. While those events have been challenging, there is no reason to overlook the achievements made during the reporting period, including significant progress made on transitional justice. Painful truths emerged, but they vindicated the purpose of seeking truth and reconciliation. However, he warned that reconciliation will be impossible if insecurity persists. The Government should do more, including by implementing its policy of dismantling illegal armed groups and increasing the State’s presence in former conflict-affected areas. He also encouraged the Government to accelerate the purchase of land for the reintegration of former combatants.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) said Colombia is making significant progress along the path to truth, justice and reconciliation. He expressed concern, however, at the high number of persons displaced by the actions of illegal armed groups and called for the implementation of public policies aimed at protecting former combatants, human rights defenders and indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities. Agreeing with other speakers that the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement should be reassessed as its fifth anniversary approaches, he said strides towards implementing the women, peace and security agenda at the local level are positive steps. However, any peace and reconciliation process will be incomplete without the participation of young women. Meanwhile, the implementation of the illicit crop substitution programme faces challenges and greater financial efforts are needed to support its more than 100,000 participating families. He reiterated his calls for dialogue and full respect for human rights, welcoming the good offices efforts of the Verification Mission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of several decades of conflict, there are clear reasons to remain hopeful that Colombia will be a great example of peace and reconciliation, he said.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, called for greater impetus to strengthen the State’s security machinery, aimed at curbing the relentless violence in Colombia. The authorities must also investigate human rights violations and hold perpetrators accountable, she said, adding that transitional justice is a cornerstone of any peace process. Reiterating previous calls for enhanced measures to facilitate the proper reintegration of former combatants into Colombian society, including adequate access to basic services, she also urged the authorities to implement the Final Peace Agreement’s chapter guaranteeing the rights of ethnic communities, saying there has been no action on its provisions despite recommendations from the Special High Level Body for Ethnic Peoples. She acknowledged efforts by various stakeholders to encourage the Government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) to engage in dialogue, adding that as the peace process nears its fifth anniversary, the parties must advance its full implementation in order to reap peace dividends and ensure stability and prosperity.
HAI ANH PHAM (Viet Nam) stressed the importance of political will and determination in pursuing the next steps of the Final Peace Agreement going forward. All relevant parties must keep engaging in constructive dialogue to bring about reconciliation, solidarity and progress for all. Underlining the need for the Government, political parties and other actors to address the root causes of instability — including challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic — he also voiced concern about ongoing violence and the killing of social leaders and former combatants, calling upon the relevant parties to make full use of the security guarantee mechanisms provided by the Final Peace Agreement to protect civilians. It is through the well-being of conflict-affected communities that the value of peace will be proven and maintained, he said.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said ending violence requires all human rights violations and abuses to be investigated and perpetrators to be held accountable, including those behind the attack on the helicopter of President Iván Duque Márquez on 25 June. The full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of women, ethnic minorities and youth in the peace process must be ensured and protection of human rights defenders strengthened. She welcomed the progress made by the Integrated System for Transitional Justice and urged all actors to make full use of the Truth Commission. Describing as historic the assumption of responsibility by former FARC-EP leaders in the case of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace dealing with hostage-taking and severe deprivation of liberties, she declared: “It is unprecedented that leaders of a former guerrilla group assume responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes.” Such a development should serve as an example for future cases and a step towards accountability and justice.
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India) welcomed Colombia’s approval of a national policy to dismantle illegal armed groups and expressed his hope that a road map for its implementation will be formulated soon. “Integrated and enhanced presence of State authorities throughout the country is fundamental to lasting and durable peace,” he said, adding that the pace of rural reforms, the reintegration of ex-combatants and the implementation of the illicit crop substitution programme must also be kept up. More steps should be taken to ensure the security of social leaders and human rights defenders, and the Special Investigations Unit of the Attorney-General’s Office should be provided with the resources it needs to combat impunity. Voluntary testimonies before the Truth Commission acknowledging past crimes and seeking forgiveness are a welcome development that will contribute positively to national reconciliation, he added.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) expressed regret that the Council is, once again, witnessing a worsening situation in Colombia due to a deteriorating security environment and a lack of progress in implementing the Final Peace Agreement. Large-scale protests have been occurring, driven by the slow realization of the peace agreement’s provisions pertaining to education and agrarian-sector reform. He pointed out that as 2022 elections near, civilian safety and security remains a serious challenge with territorial clashes having displaced some 7,500 people. Meanwhile, 15 peace process participants and 49 human rights defenders have lost their lives, and there is little forward progress on agrarian reform and crop substitution efforts. Local communities have only received 3.5 per cent of land promised for agricultural use, and no more than 7 per cent of families who agreed to destroy drug crops have received compensation. Noting that cocaine production is increasing annually — unavoidably leading to violence and corruption — he also pointed out that, in the area of transitional justice, no evidence has been given by Government representatives. That raises the question of whether balance can be achieved in the process, which is critical because it involves the killing of civilians. He emphasized that peace is “not a voluntary declaration by one side”, but rather a painstaking process based on constant dialogue.
BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland) said the months since the Council last met on Colombia have witnessed a “truly transformative period for peace and reconciliation” in that country, citing a genuine engagement by former FARC-EP members with conflict victims through the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, information provided by such members to the Unit for the Search of Persons Deemed as Missing and the acknowledgement to the Truth Commission of Government responsibility for extra-judicial killings. He nevertheless voiced concern over the threats faced by those engaging with the transitional justice system and the risks of violence against members of political parties ahead of the electoral period. Recent social unrest has also demonstrated the significant structural challenges still facing Colombian society, he said, stressing that full implementation of the Final Peace Agreement relies on dialogue at the local, municipal and national level, particularly on provisions relating to gender and ethnicity.
GENG SHUANG (China), while welcoming positive progress in implementing the Final Peace Agreement, said its full implementation is a long-term process in which “twists and turns” are inevitable, as evidenced by recent protests. He detailed a broad array of goals towards whose achievement China supports the Colombian Government’s efforts, including strengthening national governance, promoting social reconciliation, creating conditions conducive to holding peaceful elections in 2022, hastening land reform, addressing poverty, promoting sustainable development and strengthening security in high-risk areas. He also expressed appreciation for the Verification Mission’s work, along with the hope that it will coordinate with the United Nations country team to assist the Government in its pandemic response, implementation of the Final Peace Agreement and maintenance of social stability.
JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States) said his country’s donation of 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Colombia will allow the Government to immunize people in some of the most vulnerable and remote communities. He welcomed the start of a national dialogue to address the recent protests, adding that law enforcement in Colombia must be held to the highest standards of accountability. The acknowledgement in April by former FARC-EP commanders of a policy of kidnapping, and their acknowledgment of responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes, is a vital step for truth, justice and reconciliation. It also shows that former FARC-EP members are committed to the Final Peace Agreement. Voicing concern over growing coca cultivation and production, as reported in a recent study by the United States Government, he said the best way to sustainably address that problem is to combine law enforcement efforts with a robust rural development programme and the promotion of legal economic activity. He expressed his hope that, in the wake of pandemic-related disruptions, the Government will be able to do more in 2021 to help rural farmers.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) described recent social unrest in Colombia and the polarization of its society as worrying and urged the parties to put aside their differences and seek a resolution through a peaceful dialogue. Security guarantees and structural reforms must also be enhanced, he said, adding that fighting impunity is the key to stopping the violence being committed against former combatants, social and indigenous leaders as well as human rights defenders. Emphasizing the need to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure the security of vulnerable social groups across the country, he stated: “Limited State presence, poverty and illegal armed groups are the main causes of violence and need to be addressed.” He went on to encourage the Government to continue its vaccination strategy as a third wave of COVID-19 reaches Colombia.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, commending the efforts of the Colombian Government and people to implement the Final Peace Agreement. He noted, however, that recent weeks have seen social unrest “on an exceptional scale” and called for dialogue. Colombia is being tested by a new wave of COVID-19, a deteriorating security situation and crimes against human rights defenders, social leaders and former combatants, he said, stressing that State presence must be strengthened in rural areas. Turning to transitional justice, he welcomed the acceptance of responsibility by former FARC-EP leaders and urged all parties to engage with the Truth Commission. Progress must also be made in implementing peace agreement provisions concerning rural reform, land access, crop substitution and political participation, he said.
MARTA LUCIA RAMIREZ, Vice President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said that, despite efforts by the Colombian Government and people towards genuine, sustainable peace, drug trafficking remains a challenge in her country. Pointing out that this important issue did not feature heavily in the Council’s discussion, she expressed hope that former FARC-EP members will commit to addressing it, including by identifying drug trafficking routes, allies and resource distribution. She also called for shared international responsibility in combating the related threats of deforestation, drug trafficking and human trafficking.
Recalling that the implementation of the 2016 Final Peace Agreement — which costs the equivalent of two years of Colombia’s entire gross domestic product (GDP) — was contemplated over a 15-year time frame, she noted that only five years have passed since its signing. Progress should be acknowledged, she said, expressing surprise that the 15-year period was not mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report. Recent violence does not result from a breach of the peace agreement, but rather from criminal activity that existed before it was signed. Citing “undeniable” evidence of strides towards political, economic and social reintegration, she said that, of those reintegrated, 85.7 per cent received Government economic support and 90 per cent received vocational training. Some 1,373 hectares have been authorized for guaranteed housing and land access and $4.2 million has been allocated for the purchase of plots for agricultural development projects in the Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration. Security measures enacted to ensure that no FARC political party candidate was assassinated or kidnapped during the 2019 elections remain in place for 2022.
Emphasizing that the Government will not waver in its efforts to protect those “who have laid down their weapons and opted for peace”, she said the recent protests were primarily linked to suffering experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and were exacerbated by extreme poverty. For that reason, the Government has been prioritizing the concerns of young people by establishing programmes for free education. The deaths that occurred during the protests — while regrettable — are the result of fringe elements who infiltrated the demonstrations, sometimes armed, to commit vandalism. Noting that police intervention was only necessary in about 11 per cent of the 15,000 demonstrations, she said such action was required in response to the systematic destruction planned by some actors to undermine social stability.