Statements by UN Verification Mission and British government on Colombian peace process

In his latest statement to the United Nations Security Council, delivered on 8 January, the Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, said that ongoing violence against social activists and FARC former combatants represents the gravest risk to the peace process and urged the Colombian government to fully implement the 2016 agreement.

Mr Massieu said that there were a number of encouraging developments over recent months, such as enhanced participation in October’s regional and municipal elections, the approval of new collective projects for FARC members and the strong commitment to peacebuilding from diverse sectors of Colombian society.

However, Mr Massieu said that greater focus was required for 9,000 FARC members living outside of official reincorporation zones, particularly in light of security risks and limited access to essential services, while it is also necessary to increase women’s participation. He also highlighted ongoing violence against social activists and said that, as core factors driving the violence are addressed in the peace agreement, full implementation is essential to protecting vulnerable communities.

In response to Mr Massieu’s statement, the British ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, welcomed advances in the peace process while reiterating the need for improved security measures for FARC members and social activists. She echoed the UN view that full implementation of the agreement is the most effective means of tackling violence. The reincorporation of FARC members was also vital to establishing lasting peace in Colombia, she said.

Below, you can read both statements in full.

Statement to UN Security Council by Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council:

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce the latest report of the Secretary-General on Colombia and to update the Council on the most recent developments.  It is a pleasure to be here along with Foreign Minister Claudia Blum and Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation, Mr. Emilio Archila. 

Mr. President,

During the year that just ended, Colombia continued making significant strides in its peace process even in the face of serious challenges, particularly in terms of security for conflict-affected communities, social leaders and former combatants.  Enhanced participation and improved security in the October regional elections demonstrated the positive effect and the positive impact of the peace process on Colombian democracy.  The Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition continued its invaluable work, with the active participation of victims.  Thousands of former combatants who only a few years ago were armed with weapons of war continue to forge new lives through the opportunities provided by peace, despite many difficulties and security risks. 

These and many other achievements of the peace process have been possible because of the efforts of both the Colombian Government and the FARC, the support of the international community –including this Council– but because, also, Colombians around the country –social leaders, public officials, volunteers, members of the security forces, the private sector and many others– work every day to consolidate peace in their communities.

Just this past Saturday, in Southern Tolima, one of the regions where the conflict began a half century ago, former combatants, the Armed Forces and members of the community started building a bridge together in the benefit of surrounding communities. I cannot think of a more encouraging example to begin the new year than the image of former adversaries working with a local community to build a bridge together. 

These hard-won gains must be protected, preserved and built upon, and the best path – as the Secretary-General has stressed again in his report – is through the comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement.

I do encourage both parties to deepen their dialogue regarding any differences on the implementation of the Final Agreement, especially through the mechanisms designed by the Agreement itself, such as the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement, CSIVI. The social mobilizations that have taken place since last November have also opened an opportunity for constructive dialogue over peace implementation.

Mr. President,

On 27 December, in a welcome development, the “reintegration roadmap” was adopted. This roadmap establishes the framework for the long-term reintegration process.  Consultations between the Government, particularly the Agency for Reintegration and Normalization with FARC were key to the finalization of this document, and the Mission, certainly, is looking forward to supporting the parties in its implementation. 

Additionally, with the approval of twelve new collective productive projects, now close to 2,500 former combatants benefit from such projects.  Beyond the projects’ approval and funding, it is important to ensure their long-term viability and sustainability, including through access to land, access to technical assistance and access to markets. It is also important to increase the participation of women, and the involvement of communities so that the projects help encourage development and reconciliation. 

It remains necessary to continue devoting specific attention to the more than 9,000 former combatants living outside of the territorial areas. They face higher security risks and additional obstacles to access basic services and educational, employment and productive opportunities.  Former combatants with disabilities should also be given special attention.  Sustained measures are also needed to provide protective environments for over 2,000 children of former combatants.

I welcome the 128 additional accreditations for former combatants since the Secretary-General’s September report as a positive first step in moving forward with this important matter. I also call upon all relevant actors to intensify efforts to resolve the situation of former FARC-EP members whose accreditation remains pending.  Without proper accreditation, they are left in legal uncertainty and cannot access reintegration benefits. 

Mr. President,

The pervasive violence in conflict-affected areas continues to threaten the consolidation of peace, as illustrated by several profoundly worrying developments in the last few weeks.  In his report, the Secretary-General warned of the risk of more widespread violence in the department of Chocó due to the activities of illicit armed groups.  These past two weeks, communities in Bojayá, a municipality historically affected by the conflict, denounced that the illegal armed group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia had occupied territories and confined several communities, while other communities in the area remain affected by the activities of the National Liberation Army (ELN).  Last week, I met with Afro-Colombian leader Leyner Palacios from Bojayá and heard first-hand about the dire situation of these communities as well as communities across the Pacific Coast.  On 23 December, artist and social leader Lucy Villarreal was killed in the Nariño department after conducting an artistic workshop for children.  And the killings of former FARC-EP combatants resumed on the very first day of the year, with the death, in Cauca department of Benjamin Banguera Rosales. 

The perpetrators of attacks against social leaders and former combatants must be brought swiftly to justice, including both material and intellectual authors, and more effective measures are still imperative to protect these individuals and their communities. 

Mr. President,

Peace will not be fully achieved if the brave voices of social leaders continue to be silenced through violence and if former combatants who laid down their weapons and are committed to their reintegration continue to be killed.  The announcement yesterday by authorities that they had thwarted a planned attempt against the life of the FARC party’s President, Rodrigo Londono, alias “Timochenko”, underscored the risks facing former FARC-EP members and the peace process itself, and how crucially important it is to guarantee their security.

Cauca, Chocó, Nariño.  The epicentres of the violence remain the same as the Secretary-General has reported repeatedly, and the underlying conditions are consistent: rural areas affected by a limited State presence and persistent poverty, and where illegal armed groups and criminal structures continue victimizing populations, especially ethnic communities, to control illicit economies.

Each of these underlying causes of violence is addressed in different parts of the Peace Agreement.  This is yet another reason to advance urgently with its full implementation.  For instance, the development programmes with a territorial focus, one of the tools envisioned in Section 1 of the Peace Agreement on comprehensive rural reform, are helping bring much-needed investments for conflict-affected populations.  Regarding illicit economies, the Peace Agreement created a crop substitution programme to support families in transitioning away from coca cultivation to other productive endeavours.  Continued support for this Programme and security measures for its participants is essential.  Additionally, the Peace Agreement provided for the development of a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups, criminal structures and their support networks, this, through the National Commission on Security Guarantees. This Commission met, just this past Wednesday.  It is urgent for this policy to be established and implemented, and that the Government can intensify efforts to address the security situation in former conflict areas.

Mr. President, to conclude

As Council members are aware, the Peace Agreement contains far-sighted provisions to address a multitude of challenges that have afflicted Colombia for decades.  For this reason, we remain convinced that the full implementation of the Peace Agreement, in all its interconnected aspects, provides the best possible hope for Colombia to lay the foundations for a more peaceful and prosperous future.  The Verification Mission and the United Nations System in Colombia will continue to support the parties to move forward. The support of the international community, and of this Security Council, in particular, will remain key.

Thank you.

Statement by British Ambassador to the United Nations, Karen Pierce

Thank you very much, Mr President. Before I start on Colombia, let me thank you for arranging the two moments of silence and also use this occasion to pay tribute to His late Majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman.

Turning to Colombia, I’d like to welcome the Foreign Minister. We’re very pleased to have you here, ma’am and we wish you all the best in your new role. And thank you to the Special Representative for his report and for the briefing to the Council today. We very much share your analysis of events in Colombia over the past three months. This reflects both the achievements and the challenges of implementation of the peace agreement.

I’d also like, Mr President, to welcome the announcement by President Duque that he’d like the verification mission to stay in Colombia for the duration of his government. This is an important indication of the government’s commitment to peace.

Mr President, October saw the first local elections since the accords were reached and the first in which the FARC political party took part. Despite the concerning levels of violence during the campaign, election day showed the strength and inclusivity of Colombian democracy, with more candidates from across the political spectrum competing than ever before and the highest turnout in modern times. We were encouraged, too by the overwhelming commitment of those elected to continue along the path to peace. The newly-elected local authorities have a key role in implementation of the peace agreement, especially through the development programmes with a territorial focus. We welcome the government’s support for these programmes, including through expanded financing, and encourage coordination between national, departmental and local authorities to ensure effective implementation.

However, there are some areas in which urgent efforts are necessary to preserve the gains of the past three years. Fortunately, the mechanisms to address these already exist; the challenge is to make more effective use of them.

Firstly, we’re deeply concerned about the persistent level of violence and threats towards human rights defenders, community leaders, including women and former FARC-EP combatants. We have highlighted this point on previous occasions, but we’re concerned that the situation isn’t improving despite the government’s stated commitment to tackling the issue. To this end, we welcome last week’s meeting of the National Commission on Security Guarantees, and we encourage full and ongoing use of this mechanism, including engagement with civil society to further implementation.

We encourage prioritisation of the Action Plan of the Intersectoral Commission on Security for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders, which has the potential to transform departmental security conditions for the better. We also welcome recent steps to strengthen protection of former FARC-EP combatants, and note yesterday’s announcement of an operation to thwart a plan to attack FARC political party leader Rodrigo Londoño. We encourage the government to ensure the extension of protection measures to territorial areas for training and reintegration and informal settlement of former FARC-EP combatants.

Secondly, we urge the Colombian government to accelerate reintegration programmes. These are crucial to maintain combatants and communities’ faith in the process. Efforts should be made to ensure legal accreditation and access to income generating projects for former FARC-EP combatants living both inside and outside the former territorial areas for training and reintegration. More widely, we encourage the government to work with all stakeholders to resolve outstanding questions about the long-term status of these areas, particularly concerning the land on which they are located.

Finally, in his report, Special Representative emphasises the interconnected nature of all elements of the peace process. Implementing individual components of the agreement may produce limited outputs, but the outcome of inclusive, stable and lasting peace in Colombia will not be possible unless all components progress simultaneously and in a coherent fashion. In this regard, we encourage the Colombian government to take advantage of the national dialogue process it’s begun following the recent protests, to build consensus with diverse sectors and ensure implementation continues in an effective and comprehensive manner.

Mr President, the United Kingdom recognises the important progress that has been achieved so far in Colombia and we look forward to continuing to support the Colombian government to ensure a lasting peace enjoyed by all.

Thank you.