UN Mission Security Council briefing on Colombian peace processes

Briefing by Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia

Security Council Meeting, 11 October 2023

Mr. President,

I am grateful for this opportunity to brief the Security Council as it takes up the latest report of the Secretary-General on the Verification Mission in Colombia.

As always, I am honored to be joined by Minister of Foreign Affairs Álvaro Leyva, and once again I thank him and the Government of Colombia for their continued trust in the work of the Mission in support of peace.

I also welcome today the participation of Rodrigo Botero in this meeting. He is a leading Colombian environmentalist and participant in current peace efforts, his work thus illustrates the important connections between conflict, peacebuilding and the environment.

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council,

We meet amid approaching milestones in the peace process, ahead of the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Final Peace Agreement and as the halfway point nears in the 15-year timetable for its implementation.

Those who have deeply studied Colombia’s armed conflict point to skewed land distribution and the failure to enact needed rural reforms as one of its root causes.  It is for this very reason that the parties to the Agreement placed comprehensive rural reform at its heart, making it the first chapter in the accord and the area requiring the most substantial long-term investments.  It is not surprising, therefore, that lagging progress in this area in the initial years of implementation has limited the extent to which the Agreement has been able to bring the expected transformations to long marginalized rural and conflict-affected areas.

Nevertheless, while a great distance still remains to attain the ambitious goals of the Agreement in this respect, I wanted to begin my briefing today with an acknowledgement of the increasing governmental efforts underway to bring about these reforms. I would say that   a commitment to this particular section of the Agreement, in addition to the new peace dialogue initiatives, were the outstanding features of the recently concluded first year of the Petro administration as it sought to further consolidate peace in the country.

Important policy actions in this regard are highlighted in the Secretary-General’s latest report, which recalls a year marked by substantial budget allocations for rural reform and its prioritization in the National Development Plan, increased dialogue with peasants and landholder organizations, and recent steps such as the establishment of the National Agrarian Reform system and the designation of four priority regions for comprehensive interventions in rural development.  The commitment is brought to life in human terms in scenes such as that witnessed this past weekend in the town of San Juan de Arama, in the southern Department of Meta, where land purchased by the Government was delivered to some 500 beneficiaries, among them former FARC-EP combatants, peasants and indigenous members of the communities where they have resettled. Hopeful moments such as these are an increasingly common occurrence today, as Colombia’s Government takes up with greater dynamism this crucial, overdue aspect of the Peace Agreement.

The most recent report of the Secretary-General also contains multiple examples that illustrate the interdependence between the implementation of the 2016 Final Peace Agreement and other efforts by the Government of President Petro to consolidate peace.

A few weeks ago, I visited the former Territorial Area for Training and Reintegration of Carrizal, in Antioquia department, where more than 50 former FARC-EP members and their families live alongside members of the local community.

There, as in similar locations around the countryside, one can see the admirable persistence of former combatants and communities joining efforts to improve their lives and realize the transformations foreseen in the Final Peace Agreement. In a project supported by the Mission, women former combatants who work in artisanal mines have augmented their incomes and that of the community by crafting and selling jewelry.  Former combatants and community members have also joined forces in planting trees to counter deforestation.  However, as I also heard in my conversations with ex-combatants and leaders of social organizations, these initiatives have been imperiled because of threats from illegal armed groups.

In fact, this reintegration area is, like several others before it, likely to be relocated in the near future owing to insecurity. As the relocation is planned, I reiterate my call on authorities to ensure dignified living conditions in the new location and to continue to look after the safety and well-being of communities who remain behind.

Allow me also to condemn, once more and in the strongest terms possible, the killings of former FARC-EP combatants, two since the report was issued. Nearly 400 former combatants have been killed since the signing of the Peace Agreement. This is simply unacceptable and calls for urgent and concrete measures from the authorities for their protection, as well as that of social leaders and human rights defenders.

Mr. President,

An important step in that direction is the recent adoption by the National Commission on Security Guarantees of the long overdue public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups and criminal organizations. This policy – a product of consultations between the Government and civil society – seeks to address the multiple causes favoring the creation and strengthening of criminal actors. Its implementation should help authorities to respond effectively to the ever-evolving threats in the territories.

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council,

The multiple expressions of violence that persist in several regions of Colombia should not continue to hinder implementation. The dialogue initiatives with armed actors promoted by the Government are undoubtedly a necessary additional effort to deactivate these threats and reverse their impact on communities by allowing the pending commitments of the Peace Agreement to materialize.

This is particularly true for Indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories, in regions such as the Pacific, where the actions of armed groups and the limited implementation of the ethnic chapter of the Agreement keep communities under intolerable levels of violence and lack of opportunities. 

Mr. President,

I would like to once again welcome progress at the negotiation table between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN). In particular, I would like to highlight the development of the bilateral ceasefire, which has resulted in a de-escalation of the conflict between the parties. I also underscore the importance of the Council’s support in allowing the Mission to contribute to this process through its participation in the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism. This mechanism is contributing to the prevention and resolution of incidents between the parties. I am also pleased to report, thanks to the contributing countries, about the recent arrival to the country of 31 of the 68 international observers authorized by this Council and deployed specifically for the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire.

The work of the National Participation Committee installed in August to promote the participation of all sectors of the Colombian society in the peace process with the ELN is also moving forward. Yesterday, the negotiation table met, for the first time, in Bogota, proof of how the process is taking root in Colombia.

Mr. President,

We view positively the dialogues between the Government and the group that identifies itself as Estado Mayor Central FARC-EP. The parties announced last weekend a suspension of offensive actions against each other, and their intention to establish peace talks along with the entry into force of a bilateral ceasefire as of 16 October.

I have been informed that the parties will soon request this Council that the Mission can be authorized to participate in the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire. I will make sure that this Council all the information necessary to consider this request.

The expectations generated by progress towards the construction of a peace process must be matched with the fulfillment of reached commitments, with the de-escalation of confrontations and, especially, with the respect for the rights of communities, social leaders and signatories of the 2016 Agreement.

The constant demonstration of the will of the parties requires, necessarily, avoiding the repetition of events such as the attacks in Cauca department last month, which resulted in the tragic death of civilians from communities that have been seeking peace for decades.

President, Distinguished Members,

As we meet in the month of October, which marks the anniversary of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, I salute the Government of Colombia and civil society organizations for their progress towards the finalization of the first national action plan for its implementation.

In this same context, another key milestone is the recent decision of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) to open Case 11, which will address gender-based, sexual and reproductive violence by the parties to the conflict. I acknowledge the leadership and tireless work of hundreds of civil society organizations across Colombia who advocated for the opening of the case.

This important development adds up to recent progress by the SJP on its way to issuing the first restorative sentences, including recent acknowledgements of responsibility made by all parties. Contributing to the truth and acknowledging responsibility are an obligation of all parties to the conflict and constitute fundamental pillars for the success of this process.

As the Secretary-General stated in his report, promptly reaching the stage in which the SJP issues its first restorative sentences is important for the peace process as a whole. Likewise, for restorative sentences to fulfill their objective and thus honour the principle of the centrality of victims, it will be definitive that the Government guarantees that conditions are in place for their prompt and effective implementation. To this end, the Mission continues to work closely with the SJP, individuals under its jurisdiction, as well as with Government and State entities.

Mr. President, Members of the Council,

From conducting a participatory process to develop the national action plan for Security Council resolution 1325 alongside women platforms, to consultations with peasants and landowners over rural reform, dialogue with grassroots organizations has been a prevalent practice of the current administration. I salute this inclusive approach, which provides opportunities for building consensus on public policy.

In that spirit, I encourage the Government, former FARC-EP combatants and all actors invested in the comprehensive implementation of the Final Peace Agreement to prioritize constructive dialogue. This will be essential for sustained progress in areas such as the ethnic chapter, the rural reform, reintegration as well as illicit crop substitution.

Also critical to moving forward is the definition, without further delay, of a clear institutional architecture to oversee implementation, including the appointment of the high-level official within the Presidency tasked to lead these efforts. The period ahead will be key for translating new plans and initiatives into actions.

Mr. President and Distinguished Members,

In over two weeks, Colombia will hold its second local elections since the Final Agreement. Unfortunately, violence has already impacted the electoral campaign in various regions, and has affected parties across the political spectrum, including former combatants and members of the Comunes party. I trust that authorities will do their utmost to guarantee that both candidates and voters can participate in the elections in the most inclusive and secure way possible throughout the national territory. This would deepen a tangible outcome of the Final Agreement.

Mr. President,

Colombia’s conflict was once considered intractable.  The peacebuilding efforts underway today with the crucial support of this Council, came about following frustrated attempts in previous decades.  But Colombians never gave up on peace, and nor did the international community.  In times of tensions around the world, Colombia’s case is a reminder that even the most entrenched of conflicts can be resolved through dialogue, and a call to never desist in the search for peace.

I thank you.

Download or read the UN Mission report