Remarks of Carlos Ruiz Massieu, SRSG and Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Security Council Meeting, 14 October 2021
Thank you, Mr. President,
Thank you for the opportunity to present the latest report of the Secretary-General on Colombia and to update you on important developments since the issuance of the report.
It is a pleasure, Mr. President, to be here today in the company of Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez. I am also very pleased to be accompanied by indigenous leader Daniela Soto and Afro-Colombian leader Bibiana Peñaranda. Women whose voices speak of the challenges facing ethnic groups in conflict-affected regions, as well as of their daily struggle to build peace.
Mr. President, distinguished Members of the Council,
We are nearing the fifth anniversary of the landmark Final Peace Agreement between the Colombian State and the former FARC-EP. And as stated by the Secretary General, this is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in this first third of the timeframe envisioned for its implementation, and on how much remains to be achieved. It is also, certainly, an opportunity to renew the commitment to persevere, every day, towards the consolidation of peace.
Recent events show us the potential of the implementation of an Agreement that places victims at the center.
I speak, for example, of the creation of seats in Congress that will allow Colombians from the regions most affected by the conflict to actively participate in the democratic debate, as well as the unquestionable progress made by the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition. This progress allows for the System to continue working to uphold the rights of millions of victims and promote national reconciliation.
What we see today is the result of the commitment and cumulative efforts of the parties, civil society, the international community, different State entities, and, of course, this Council, who have insisted on making the fulfilment of what was agreed a reality. I emphasize the word cumulative because it is precisely the steps taken during these five years what allow us, even amid enormous challenges, to continue on the path of peacebuilding.
Preserving what has been achieved, making progress on pending tasks and overcoming implementation challenges will depend, to a large extent, on the parties’ ability to set in motion the elements of the Agreement; their isolated implementation would be insufficient to deactivate the factors that underpinned decades of armed conflict and to achieve the Agreement’s transformative potential.
Mr. President, Members of the Council,
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Meta, a department that the Council visited in 2017. Meta was an important FARC-EP stronghold and today hosts more than one out of ten of its former members. Their experiences illustrate what has gone right, what needs improvement, and the challenges facing the reintegration process and the implementation of the Agreement more broadly.
I spoke there to former combatants who are growing coffee and had mounted a bakery in one reintegration area. In another area, they had planted avocados. It became clear to me that collective efforts to boost reintegration in the early years of the process had been crucial to instill hope amongst thousands of men and women who, until this day, continue to bet on peace. Their determination to further their productive initiatives remains palpable, and so is their desire to be active members of their communities to participate in local politics and decision-making, as envisioned in the Peace Agreement.
Nevertheless, as one female leader of the former combatants in Meta put it: “so many efforts and so many investments may be now in jeopardy”. To protect hard-fought gains, she added, decisive actions are required on matters such as land, housing, sustainable income generation and security. Otherwise, she fears, former combatants will continue to be forced to relocate in search for better opportunities and/or to preserve their lives. The leadership qualities displayed by women former combatants, as well as those of women social leaders like Bibiana and Daniela, remind us that their full involvement and the implementation of the Agreement’s gender approach are a necessary condition for the consolidation of peace.
Five years into implementation, there is broad consensus on the essential role that land plays to anchor the reintegration process, especially with regards to housing and productive initiatives. During my visit, I witnessed the challenges facing projects that are heavily dependent on land, the anxiety facing former combatants due to the lack of certainty to invest additional resources, and their frustration due to cost overruns, given that they operate on rented land. The important efforts made by the Government to acquire land for former TATRs are worth in this case redoubling so that the endeavors of more former combatants across the country can, literally, take root.
As time passes, it is increasingly evident that deeper transformations are required to consolidate the reintegration process and other elements that have been put in motion in these five years, including within the territorial development programmes and the programme for the substitution of illicit crops. However fruitful the early stages may have been, the long-term success of initial investments is contingent upon the Agreement’s promise of reshaping rural Colombia by establishing sustainable development opportunities and State services and institutions for communities whose expectations remain unfulfilled. To that end, further progress in the implementation of the comprehensive rural reform and the solution to the problem of illicit drugs will be instrumental.
Mr. President, Members of the Council,
We continue to follow security issues in various regions with utmost concern. It is particularly grave that the very areas prioritized for the Agreement’s implementation –from Meta to Antioquia, from the Pacific Coast to Catatumbo– are the ones facing the direst situations.
To date, 296 men and women who laid down their arms in good faith have lost their lives, mostly to actions of illegal armed actors and criminal organizations. Conflict-affected communities, former combatants and social leaders still bear the brunt of the actions of illegal armed actors taking advantage of limited State presence, poverty and illicit economies. Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities are being disproportionately affected by all kinds of violence, from killings of their leaders to displacements and confinements. This situation demands the urgent and simultaneous implementation of all security guarantees provisions of the Agreement.
In light of the formidable threats facing these regions, the Government and State entities should make better use of the mechanisms created by the Agreement –including the National Commission on Security Guarantees– to devise effective measures to stem the violence. The progress made by the National Protection Unit in the approval of hundreds of pending protection requests by former combatants is clearly a welcome development. The swift provision of the approved security measures is now crucial.
The end of the conflict with the FARC-EP led in 2018 to the least violent and most participatory elections in Colombia in decades. This milestone is testament to the undeniable relationship between a strengthened democracy and a lasting peace, and Colombians deserve to be able once again to massively and safely take part in the upcoming elections.
This time, thanks to the Peace Agreement, an important new opportunity presents itself in the 16 conflict-affected regions where local populations will have the chance to elect their candidates for the special electoral districts for peace. This will require not only State-provided guarantees for equal political participation, but a genuine commitment by all actors to foster a responsible and respectful electoral campaign free of stigmatization.
Beyond the approaching elections, we should all remember that there remain many ways in which the peace process can continue to strengthen and deepen Colombian democracy, especially through the implementation of key pending provisions of the Agreement’s section on political participation.
Even in the midst of great challenges, the Colombian peace process continues to demonstrate, with eloquent examples, the benefits of putting an end to the conflict through a negotiated agreement and keeping victims’ rights at the center.
Last week, the parties established a working group on ethnic matters within the National Reintegration Council, which I am sure will be key to advancing the reintegration of indigenous and Afro-Colombian former combatants in line with their specific needs.
Likewise, owing to the Final Agreement, we continue to witness gestures of profound practical and symbolic significance that reflect the commitment of those who once took up arms. A few days ago, as a result of the collective effort of the Government and former combatants, and the support of the international community, Humanicemos DH –the humanitarian demining organization of former FARC-EP members– handed over its first mine-free area in Caquetá, which will now be returned to an indigenous community.
I am also pleased to report that the Constitutional Court extended the mandate of the Truth Commission. This decision acknowledges the impact of the pandemic on the Commission’s work and the importance of the Commission having the time and resources to continue to hear the voices of those who experienced war most directly. I trust that the broad support for this decision will contribute to building consensus on the importance of the recommendations that the Commission will provide in its report to ensure that the horrors of the past are never repeated.
As the 2022 budget is being discussed, the Government and Congress have in their hands the possibility of reaffirming their commitment to peace by guaranteeing the resources to ensure the continuity and strengthening of the Commission and all other components of the Agreement.
To conclude, Mr. President, distinguished Members of the Council,
From the ceasefire and the laydown of arms to the current work on the design of the mechanism to verify the restorative sentences of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, I am proud of the work of each member of the Mission to support the parties in the fulfilment of their commitments. During these five years, we have also been constantly inspired by the tenacity of Colombian society in its transition to peace. As we embark on a key stage in the consolidation of the process. I therefore thank the Council for its unwavering trust, which will undoubtedly continue to be an essential source of support for Colombia.
I thank you, Mr. President.