Briefing by Carlos Ruiz Massieu, SRSG and Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Security Council Meeting, 13 July 2021
Thank you for the opportunity to present to the Council the latest report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia and to inform you of important recent developments.
It is an honor to also share this session with Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez, and I also take this opportunity to thank her and the National Government for the support to the work of the Mission, as well as to acknowledge her leadership in advancing gender matters which are certainly central to the Peace Agreement.
I also welcome today the participation of Ms. Melissa Herrera, a young and active leader from Nariño department. It is certainly a privilege to share this space with her and to listen to her important voice, along with the members of the Security Council.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council,
The peace process in Colombia, almost five years after the signing of the Peace Agreement, is entering a crucial stage. It is increasingly evident, despite the many and persistent challenges, that the commitment and work of all the actors involved in this complex and noble task have borne fruit. Proof of this is the progress made by the entities of the transitional justice system created by the Agreement. The participation of all, including the victims of conflict, has been key to this progress.
In his report, the Secretary-General highlighted what is undoubtedly a milestone in the Colombian peace process and a benchmark for transitional justice worldwide: last April, seven former commanders of the highest decision-making body of the former FARC-EP officially accepted their responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes in case 01 of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), on hostage-taking and other serious deprivations of liberty. Also, last week, the SJP charged 11 people, including army officers and a civilian third party, with war crimes and crimes against humanity in case 03, on killings and disappearances presented as combat casualties by state agents.
Simultaneously, the work of the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing has made it possible to find hundreds of bodies of disappeared persons, including through information provided by former guerrillas, former paramilitaries, and state agents. This task helps give some peace of mind to the families of the victims after years of painful uncertainty.
At the same time, the Truth Commission continues to enable spaces for recognition, in which victims of different actors of the conflict have been able to stand face to face and talk to those who years ago caused them irreparable damage.
All these developments –unthinkable until recently in Colombia– are now possible thanks to the Peace Agreement.
In particular, I would like to highlight the recent dialogue between victims of kidnapping and former FARC-EP combatants hosted by the Truth Commission. Voices from different regions, positions and experiences during the conflict, and even with divergent perspectives on the peace process, agreed on the unjustifiable pain caused by war and on the imperative need to insist and persevere so that war never recurs.
These first fruits of the institutions created to guarantee justice, truth, reparation and non-repetition now require living up to the tenacity and generosity of the victims of the conflict and fulfilling their rights. This is, in essence, a necessary condition for the success of the Peace Agreement. And it is a task that requires constant efforts, humility and empathy. It will take time to dismantle the narratives, it will take time to dismantle structures and identities inherited from the conflict, and thus help the Colombian people, and especially those who experienced firsthand the worst of the war, to definitively close the chapter of the conflict and continue on their path to reconciliation.
In this regard, I would like to highlight the task entrusted to the Mission by the Security Council to verify compliance and implementation of restorative sentences to be issued by the SJP, which will contribute decisively to these reconciliation efforts.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council,
I recently had the chance to visit Montes de María, a region historically affected by recurring waves of violence, where I met with several victims and women social leaders. These courageous women recounted their communities’ peacebuilding efforts and spoke of their hope on the delivery of the Agreement’s promise of non-repetition. I was particularly moved by their testimonies of how illegal armed groups try to silence their voices, the voices of the communities, by using not just physical violence but also resorting to emotional violence, threats and personal attacks which prevent them and their families from fully exercising their rights and living a normal, peaceful life. This underscores the importance of joint initiatives between civil society and State entities to protect social leaders and human rights defenders, such as the pilot of the Comprehensive Programme for Safeguards for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders, currently under implementation in Montes de María.
Violence against former FARC-EP members, social leaders and communities at large persists in municipalities of this and other regions, including along the Pacific Coast, and in parts of the South and the Northeast of the country. This is mainly related to the actions of illegal armed groups and criminal organizations who thrive in areas characterized by a limited presence of the State, poverty and illegal economies. The persistent violence and stigmatization against former combatants and members of Comunes party is particularly concerning, especially ahead of the 2022 elections, when they expect to engage actively in political work across the country.
I also regret to inform you that authorities recently confirmed the killing of the four people reported missing by the Land Restitution Unit in May, in Meta department. Their disappearance had been reported in the latest report of the Secretary-General. I strongly condemn this vile act that affects victims and public institutions, and trust that those responsible will be held accountable.
The persistence of violence and insecurity highlight the urgent need for enhanced prevention and protection measures, as well as for additional more solid steps to dismantle illegal organizations, to bring perpetrators to justice, as well to extend state institutions, public services and development opportunities as quickly as possible to conflict-affected communities.
Despite a challenging reintegration landscape, former combatants continue to demonstrate their commitment to building a new life, participating actively in peacebuilding and development efforts alongside their communities. This is the case, for example, of a group of former combatants in Uribe, Meta department, where despite the killing of their leader last October, they continue to move forward with their reintegration process, working closely with local communities, including to improve schools, community centers, and internet connectivity in the area.
Previous reintegration experiences across the globe have proven the importance of linking this process to broader and complementary transformations. Drawing from this knowledge, the Peace Agreement links reintegration provisions to other areas across its different sections, including the comprehensive rural reform, whose implementation is essential to the overall success of the process.
Building on progress made thus far, it is crucial for the parties to continue working together to provide greater certainty to former FARC-EP members and their families, especially through expanding access to housing and land. In doing so, the Government should ensure equal access to those living outside former territorial areas for training and reintegration. It is also fundamental that the Government and former combatants’ representatives at the National Reintegration Council continue approving productive projects and adequately support and guarantee their sustainability. I also encourage the parties to reach an agreement regarding the National Reintegration System to provide for a coordinated approach to accomplish these goals.
Let me recall, once more, the possibilities that the comprehensive implementation of the Agreement offers to progressively tackle the root causes of conflict and invite the parties and State entities to persist with the coordinated implementation of all provisions of the Agreement. Recent meetings between Government and former combatants’ representatives to jointly assess the status of implementation, as agreed between President Iván Duque and the Comunes party president Rodrigo Londoño last March, are a step in the right direction. I trust that they will follow-up on this endeavour, which will be particularly useful as we approach the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Peace Agreement.
Mr. President, Members of the Council,
With a still ongoing third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, this remains a time of deep and prolonged hardship for many Colombians as reflected by recent protests throughout the country. We continue to reject violence from any quarter and urge peaceful dialogue. As I have stated previously, Colombian society and institutions should view the implementation of the Final Agreement as an opportunity to help address many of the longstanding issues facing the country. Given the urgency to resolve these and other pending challenges, bold steps are needed to accelerate implementation in the coming months.
With a new electoral cycle quickly approaching, I invite the parties and all relevant actors to remain committed to the Agreement and to continue prioritizing dialogue to resolve their differences. It is precisely with this goal that the peace process enabled widened democratic spaces and guarantees for participation. I am confident that the Colombian people will take advantage of a more robust democracy, and it will be incumbent upon institutions to protect those gains, as well as for political leaders from across the spectrum to commit to an environment of respect and non-stigmatization in order to ensure the upcoming elections will be peaceful and inclusive. The recent approval of the 16 seats intended to promote the participation in Congress of historically excluded populations in conflict-affected regions, is an encouraging development.
I am also certain that the drive displayed by young Colombian men and women as protagonists of recent mobilizations will translate into their active engagement in the democratic process in order to realize their hopes for a brighter future.
In closing, I once again would like to thank the Council for the unyielding support to peacebuilding efforts in Colombia and for the trust placed in the UN Mission in the country.
I thank you, Mr. President.