UN statement on impact of coronvirus on peace process and human rights

The Head of the United Nations Verifiation Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, has said that the coronavirus crisis poses major challenges to the peace process and has called on a mass coordinated effort to ensure its continued effectiveness involving the government, state institutions, the FARC, civil society and the international community. He also said the public response to the crisis was ‘encouraging’.

Among the challenges to the peace process presented by the coronavirus, Ruiz Massieu highlighted the closed access to reincorporation zones where FARC former guerrillas are based during their transition to civil society, as well as the broader quarantine measures. He was speaking on 14 April while presenting the UN Mission’s latest quarterly report on the peace process to the UN Security Council.

In response to the coronavirus, the UN, the government and the FARC have formed a tripartite working group to develop a coordinated response to health issues, including protecting former guerrillas from the disease. FARC members recently said they had received very little direction from the government about what to do in the case of a coronavirus outbreak in severely underequipped reincorporation zones.

Ruiz Massieu also said that coronavirus must not detract resources and focus away from the human rights crisis in Colombia, with widespread killings of social activists and former guerrillas continuing despite lockdown measures. He said there remain issues over the reincorporation of thousands of former guerrillas, many of whom have still not received sufficient resources, funding or technical support to develop productive projects to build lives away from conflict. Confronting endemic violence and advancing the reincorporation process are the two priorities in implementating the peace process, Ruiz Massieu said.

Below, you can read the full statement by Carlos Ruiz Massieu for the UN Security Council briefing.

Statement by Special Representative of the Secretary-General Mr. Carlos Ruiz Massieu for United Nations Security Council Briefing on Colombia

14 April 2020

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council:

Thank you for the opportunity to present the latest report of the Secretary-General on Colombia, in the company of Foreign Minister Claudia Blum and Presidential Counsellor Emilio Archila, whose continued support to the work of the UN Verification Mission is greatly appreciated. I also welcome Mr. Santiago Cano’s participation in this meeting, as a show of the Council’s interest in and support for the role that Colombian youth are playing in the implementation of the Peace Agreement.

Mr. President,

As in every other country, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact upon Colombia, and the peace process will undoubtedly feel its effects. However, it is encouraging to see Colombians finding creative responses to this crisis and responding positively to calls for unity as authorities at all levels take measures to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Implementation of the Peace Agreement depends on constant engagement between the parties, as well as key state institutions, civil society organizations, partners from the international community and others. This engagement is no doubt more challenging in the context of the nationwide quarantine in place since 24 March, and targeted actions such as the restrictions on access to the former territorial areas for reintegration. Nevertheless, the parties and other actors are adapting to this changing scenario to continue implementing the Peace Agreement and ensure follow-up on peace-related matters.

On 8 April, for instance, the Commission for the Follow-Up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Peace Agreement met by videoconference to discuss the status of peace implementation, including positive results of the work of the tripartite working group on accreditations, which is a mechanism that is constituted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, FARC and the Mission. Importantly, the CSIVI agreed to institutionalize periodic meetings with the Special Forum on Gender and the Special High-Level Forum of Ethnic Peoples.

The working groups of the National Reintegration Council have continued to work through virtual sessions, and a dedicated working group on COVID-19 was recently created. The Working Group on Health –which includes FARC, the Agency for Reintegration and Normalization, the Ministry of Health and the Mission– has taken measures at the national level to prevent the spread of the virus from affecting former combatants, and defined a protocol to respond to eventual cases.

Yesterday 13 April, the Senate resumed its official sessions virtually, and the Chamber of Representatives is scheduled to do so later today. On 2 April I participated in the first session of the Senate’s Peace Commission’s high-level mechanism to follow-up on attacks against former FARC-EP members and social leaders, and monitor prevention measures. This virtual session brought together senators from parties across the political spectrum –including FARC–, as well as Ministers of Government, the Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization, and other high-level Government officials and representatives of State institutions, that in order to analyze the violence affecting social leaders and former combatants, and measures to stop it.

Also on that date, during a virtual session, the National Reintegration Council approved three additional collective productive projects, bringing the total to 52. One of the approved projects is a textiles cooperative led by eleven men and eleven women former combatants, which has begun to produce protective facemasks for the coronavirus response. Eight additional former combatants’ cooperatives in other departments have also initiated efforts to produce facemasks.

As for the Mission, we have also taken measures in line with our business continuity and contingency plans, and maintaining our verification tasks in the field in line with the decisions from national authorities. The Country Team is also developing programmatic support to the Government in its response to the pandemic.

Mr. President:

On this we have to be clear: COVID-19 is and will continue affecting the implementation of the Peace Agreement and the Mission’s verification activities. However, we have a collective obligation to continue to ensure progress in its implementation. Peace in Colombia cannot be, should not be, a casualty of this pandemic. In this sense, it is important to continue moving forward with the full implementation of the Peace Agreement, including on the three priorities that the Secretary-General highlighted in his latest report.

The first priority is to adopt all necessary measures to protect social leaders, human rights defenders and former combatants. Violence against them continues unabated despite the national quarantine. Since the issuance of the report, three more social leaders and three more former combatants have been killed, for a total of 195 former combatants since the signing of this final Peace Agreement. 

I am particularly concerned by the situation in Putumayo department, including that of women social leaders, crop substitution leaders and former combatants. On 19 March, prominent social leader Marco Rivadeneira was killed after he was taken from a meeting he was leading regarding coca substitution efforts in Puerto Asís municipality. Two weeks later, on 8 April, social leader Yuri Quintero was threatened, presumably by the same illegal armed group that killed Rivadeneira, and another female social leader, Jani Silva, whom I met last October, continues to be the victim of continues threats. On 27 March, former combatant Juan Carlos Castillo, who lived in the former territorial area for training and reintegration in that same municipality, was found killed. In a welcome development in the midst of this worrisome situation, on 9 April, the Police captured Abel Antonio Loaiza Quiñonez, alias “Azul”, whom the Attorney-General’s Office holds responsible for the killing and forced displacement of 11 social leaders and former combatants in this area. 

I am also particularly concerned that over the past two days, illegal armed groups in Argelia, Cauca department, which the Council visited last year, are threatening the population, including former combatants.

Just as Colombian actors are uniting to confront the pandemic, it is imperative for all actors to unite to end the epidemic of violence against social leaders, human rights defenders and former combatants. In particular, it is fundamental to enhance the effectiveness of the mechanisms created by the Peace Agreement itself, including the National Commission on Security Guarantees, which should make substantial advances in the design and implementation of a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups, the National Protection Unit, which should advance in reviewing over 400 pending requests for close protection schemes, and the Special Investigations Unit, which requires increased support from all entities in order to fulfil its mandate of bringing the perpetrators of these attacks to justice. It is also key to improve security for close to 9,500 former combatants residing outside of former TATRs, including those living in collective reintegration areas. The prompt implementation of the action plan of the Comprehensive Programme for the Safeguards of Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders is key to ensure protection for women leaders.

The second priority is to strengthen the foundations for the longer-term reintegration process and ensure that the benefits of reintegration reach all former combatants, regardless of where they live. The consequences of the pandemic make it even more crucial to pay particular attention to former combatants living outside former TATRs, as they have more precarious access to basic services like clean water and sanitation. I also encourage the parties to work within the National Reintegration Council to specifically support collective productive projects that are more vulnerable to the economic consequences of the pandemic. These projects can help reactivate local economies, especially in remote rural areas which may be particularly affected. 

It is also important to ensure that the “reintegration roadmap” is implemented in a collaborative manner between both parties, including the design of specific individual and collective roadmaps.

Finally, a third priority should be to ensure that communities, especially victims, remain at the center of peacebuilding efforts. In particular, the current context is an opportunity to undertake planning and consultations to operationalize the Comprehensive Programme for Security and Protection of Communities and Organizations in the Territories, an important part of Section 3.4 of the Peace Agreement that, if implemented, can make an important difference on the ground.

As the Secretary-General highlighted in his report, “the sustained and integrated presence of State institutions remains the most effective and necessary means to ensure peace and stability in the territories.” In this sense, I am encouraged that Presidential Counsellor Archila has continued to coordinate arrangements so that the implementation in the development programmes with a territorial focus is not affected by the current crisis. I hope that similar measures are being taken in other aspects of the implementation of the comprehensive rural reform and the Peace Agreement more broadly.

Mr. President,

Echoing the Secretary-General’s appeal for a worldwide ceasefire in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, and joining numerous voices from Colombian civil society, in recent weeks I called upon all armed actors in the country to put life above any other consideration and focus on preventing the spread of the virus. The National Liberation Army (ELN) responded by declaring a one-month unilateral ceasefire during the month of April. However, armed clashes continue between illegal armed groups in several departments, including Cauca, Chocó and Norte de Santander. At a time when all efforts must be focused on fighting the pandemic, we urge all illegal armed actors in Colombia to desist from continuing to perpetrate violence upon vulnerable communities, including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.

Mr. President,

In his Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez said, “Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.” The resilience he invoked with those words has been seen in the way Colombians continue forging peace in their country after decades of conflict, and in the way they have come together during the last few weeks in the face of the pandemic. 

I trust that this commitment will continue beyond the pandemic so that the efforts to bring peace and development in conflict-affected communities is strengthened and reinvigorated as a result of this crisis. I am certain that, through the constructive dialogue and dedicated efforts of the parties, public institutions, leaders at all levels, and of Colombian society more broadly, we can celebrate in the end the triumph of hope over fear, unity over division, and, as García Márquez said, of life over death.

Thank you.

Download the full UN report