Statement by head UN official in Colombia on peace process and human rights

On 12 April, the head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, gave the following statement on the 2016 peace agreement and other issues of human rights and security in the country.

Mr. President, Distinguished members of the Council:

It is an honor to present to you the latest report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia and to update the Council on its latest developments since its publication.  It is a pleasure to do so in the presence of Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation, Emilio Archila, who both are vital partners of the Verification Mission. 

I also welcome the participation in today’s meeting of Rosa Emilia Salamanca.  Colombian civil society plays a critical role in the peace process. 

Mr. President,

As this Council has acknowledged, Colombia’s Peace Agreement is a historic achievement.  It has helped to end decades of armed conflict and provides an example to countries around the world that negotiated solutions are possible.  At the same time, we know that it is during the long and often difficult process of implementing such agreements that peace is truly forged.   Today, a diverse array of Colombian institutions, as well as community leaders, rural families, former combatants and civil society remain actively engaged in this process and count on the international community for its continuing support and engagement.

Colombia’s Final Peace Agreement is a broad agreement that includes interconnected commitments to end the conflict as well as to foster rural reform, political participation, reintegration of former combatants, security for conflict-affected communities, illicit crop substitution, and transitional justice.  It is key therefore to implement the Agreement in a comprehensive, integrated manner and to ensure that all areas of its implementation are adequately resourced.

Mr. President,

Many of the connections across these areas of the Peace Agreement were evident last week during a visit in which I had the honor of joining President Duque to Icononzo, to a Territorial Area for Training and Reintegration in the mountains of central Colombia where 200 former combatants and their families live.  This was his third visit to a Territorial Area. The former combatants conveyed a range of concerns, including Government support for their productive projects, security, and their uncertainty regarding their legal guarantees and with respect to the status of the 24 Territorial Areas after their current legal status expires on 15 of August.  President Duque’s message during these visits has been to reassure the former combatants about his Government’s commitment to their reintegration.

These are valuable opportunities to sustain dialogue and address the continuing insecurity and uncertainty that was highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report.  Additional visits by members of the Peace Commissions of both houses of Congress to the Territorial Areas have also helped to convey the commitment to and engagement of Colombian institutions in the peace process.  

Mr. President,

With respect to reintegration, individual and collective projects for 1.774 former FARC-EP members, including 520 women, have now been approved.   A recent census completed by the Agency for Reintegration and Normalization identified more than 10,500 former FARC-EP members within the reintegration process.  Nearly two years after they laid down their arms, a critical challenge is to maintain their optimism in the face of the continued uncertainties about their future. In this respect, I respectfully encourage the Government to accelerate the approval of more projects and the prompt disbursement of funds, as well as the implementation of a gender-sensitive approach and timely decisions on access to land. 

Former combatants are undertaking productive initiatives as diverse as establishing bakeries and restaurants, producing clothing, shoes and agricultural products, and opening tourism projects in areas of the country that were previously inaccessible due to the conflict.  For most of these projects, a key challenge remains access to markets.  The Government along with the FARC, regional authorities, the private sector, the UN Country Team and certainly the Mission, continue to facilitate opportunities to connect to markets the products and services being offered by former combatants, in partnership with local communities.

Mr. President,

In its last press statement on Colombia, the Council encouraged timely decisions regarding the future of the Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration once their current legal status expires, to help provide greater certainty to and reinforce the confidence of former FARC-EP members in the peace process.  I do welcome recent efforts by the Government to formulate proposals for each of these Territorial Areas.  Adequate resources should be provided for these proposals.  It is also important to ensure an inclusive discussion on these proposals that involves former combatants as well as local authorities.  These decisions should be taken and communicated to the former combatants as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition.  The Mission as ever stands ready to support the Government and FARC in the transition process.

Mr. President,

Turning to security guarantees, the killings of community leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC-EP combatants continue and remain a grave concern.  The deployment of Colombian military and police near the Territorial Areas has been and is critical but violent competition among illegal armed groups for territorial control in areas outside of these security perimeters continues to threaten the security of former combatants and communities, as well as to undercut the overall peace implementation efforts.   

During a recent visit to Tumaco on the Pacific coast, I had a sobering discussion with a group of courageous afro-Colombian social and community leaders, several of whom are under direct threat from armed groups and criminal organizations.  All of them have friends, family members or colleagues who have been assassinated, displaced or threatened by criminal elements, including groups involved in illicit economies.   They shared with me specific proposals and ideas for their safety, which should be taken into account in devising local protection strategies.  In this regard, I welcome the Government’s efforts to hold sessions of the National Commission on Security Guarantees in the territories – actually, one such session is being held today in Cúcuta — and I encourage the Government to ensure that these sessions will translate in prompt decisions and concrete actions tailored to local dynamics. 

The leaders I talked to in Tumaco were also emphatic that security in the territories demands an integrated and coordinated presence of state authorities, both civilian institutions and security forces.  This is a message I have heard consistently across the country.  In this sense, I welcome the approval of the 16 Development Plans with a Territorial Focus (PDETs), which will benefit 170 municipalities affected by the armed conflict, and I encourage the Government to devote the necessary resources to ensure implementation of these plans.  More than 200,000 community members contributed to the formulation of these plans, a positive example of effective dialogue between communities and State institutions. 

Mr. President,

Recent weeks have been dominated by divisive debates regarding transitional justice, a contentious issue in most peace processes.  Last month, President Duque objected to six articles of the draft Statutory Law of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.  Following a vote against these objections in the Chamber of Representatives earlier this week, consideration of the objections is still pending in the Senate. 

The Secretary-General has called for prompt action by all concerned to ensure that a Statutory Law consistent with the Peace Agreement is put in place as soon as possible.  This Statutory Law is the last missing element of the legal framework for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and a necessary one to ensure that this institution can operate with the necessary independence and autonomy.  The Special Jurisdiction for Peace, under the leadership of its President, Patricia Linares, continues to advance its work with impressive results.   It has now initiated seven large cases that are examining significant violations affecting 820,000 victims.  Moreover, close to 9,700 former FARC-EP members and almost 2,000 individuals from the Armed Forces have subjected themselves to its authority. 

President Duque has also announced his intention to propose three constitutional reforms to articles underpinning the transitional justice framework of the Peace Agreement.  In introducing the first of these proposals, the Government assured that they would be applicable for the future.  Indeed, any such initiatives should not be applied in a retroactive manner to those who laid down their arms in good faith and on the strength of commitments made under the Agreement.  As the Secretary-General has stated, the principle of non-retroactivity is critical in preserving the confidence in the process going forward.

In a climate of uncertainty –for victims, for those subject to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, for FARC members awaiting funding for social and economic reintegration and for communities who have suffered from the conflict– the greatest uncertainty would be to reopen core elements of the underlying Peace Agreement itself. 

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council,

As the peace process continues, it is fundamental to bring Colombians together and to heal divisions, just as President Duque signaled on the day of his inauguration.   The path to consolidating peace requires consensus, and consensus can only be achieved through dialogue.  I strongly encourage all such efforts in this regard.  I am encouraged that at the local level Colombians throughout the country are engaging with one another across ideological lines to embrace the opportunities provided by the peace process.  In the Territorial Areas I have visited, I have seen soldiers and former combatants playing football and living and working together, when only a few years ago they were fighting against each other. 

A few weeks ago, in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, the Mission participated in the launch of the Municipal Pact for Peace, Life and Reconciliation, which was signed by all political forces in the city as well as civil society.  And in the Mission’s ongoing work on youth, peace and security, we have been inspired by young Colombian men and women coming together across political, geographic and class divides to embrace reconciliation and support former combatants in their reintegration into society.

In these and all of their efforts to consolidate peace, Colombians as always can count on the unwavering support of the United Nations.  The Security Council’s firm and unified support to the peace process remains as crucial as ever.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Taken from the UN website.