Statement by Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General United Nations Security Council meeting on Colombia
Thank you also for the opportunity to present the Secretary-General’s latest report on Colombia, and to brief also the Council on developments since the issuance of the report. I welcome the participation of Foreign Minister Claudia Blum and once again thank her for her support to the Verification Mission.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council:
The past four years since the signing of the Final Peace Agreement have seen remarkable progress in Colombia’s path towards sustainable and lasting peace, even in the face of arduous challenges, including that of the COVID-19 pandemic. The opportunities for peace and development that Colombians enjoy today would have seemed unthinkable only a decade ago when the conflict between the FARC-EP guerrilla and the State was still raging. Colombians in rural areas, who suffered the brunt of the conflict, are beginning to see increased investments and State presence in their communities; Colombian society is coming to terms with its past through a transitional justice system centered on victims; and thousands of men and women who were in arms five years ago are now building better lives for themselves and their families, alongside local communities.
Credit for these strides forward goes to the two parties carrying out their commitments under the Peace Agreement, to the efforts alongside them of Colombian institutions and civil society, as well as the international community for its support.
2021 is year five of the 15-year timeframe envisioned for the implementation of the entirety of the Peace Agreement. It is incumbent to ensure 2021 is remembered as the year in which bold steps were taken to bring to fruition the full promise of sustainable peace enshrined in the Agreement. I urge both parties and all Colombian actors to work together to protect the achievements reached so far and to accelerate momentum on pending issues, especially the five priorities outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.
Violence against former combatants, social leaders, human rights defenders and communities remains the most serious threat to peacebuilding in Colombia. While multiple measures have been taken to try to address this violence, every killing is a tragic blow to peace, and a call to ensure that the security measures undertaken by authorities translate into effective improvements in the territories.
Since the publication of the Secretary-General’s report, 4 more former combatants have been killed, bringing to a total of 252 since the signing of the Peace Agreement. The victims include a 22 year-old female former combatant, Yolanda Zabala, who was shot and killed along with her 17-year-old sister in Antioquia department on January 1st.
Social leaders, human rights defenders and members of political parties also continue, unfortunately, to be victimized. On Christmas Eve, Alejandro Pérez, a municipal council member for the Conservative Party in Córdoba department, was killed, demonstrating once again the need for protection measures for members of all political parties. And on 11 January, Gonzalo Cardona, an advocate for the protection of endangered species was found dead in Tolima department. His killing underscores the danger facing environmental activists across the country.
Some welcome steps have been taken during the last few weeks. On 5 January, Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez announced measures to increase protection for the members of the Special Forum on Gender, following threats reported against ten of its sixteen members. On 12 January, the Government and the UN Country Team in Colombia jointly announced a USD $3.1 million investment from the UN Multipartner Trust Fund to support prevention and collective protection for former combatants, social leaders, human rights defenders and leaders of the illicit crop substitution programs in three priority regions: Chocó, the Pacific coast of Nariño and Catatumbo in Norte de Santander.
The Secretary-General has repeatedly warned in his reports about the implications of continued budget shortfalls for the Subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit, a Unit that provides collective and individual close protection schemes for former combatants. Over 550 vacancies remain for bodyguards and over 1,000 close protection requests are still pending review. This issue should be prioritized as it has direct implications for the safety of former combatants. It is also important to ensure that women former combatants have equal access to close protection.
Bringing to justice those responsible for these attacks is also critical. Support for the work of the Special Investigations Unit in investigating and prosecuting these crimes remains essential in this regard. It is also important to strengthen local judicial capacity, including through regional specialized judges focused on this type of crimes.
Two weeks ago, four of the seven individuals arrested for the killing of former FARC-EP leader Alexander Parra were released after they were not brought to trial within the deadlines set by the Colombian legislation. Mr. Parra’s killing in October 2019 was especially notorious due to his leadership in the reintegration process and because it is one of only two killings that have occurred within a former territorial area for training and reintegration. Although the trial remains open, the individuals’ release on procedural grounds has prompted concerns and calls for a thorough review of what occurred and how such circumstances may be prevented in the future.
Given the numerous killings of former combatants being reported at or near new reintegration areas, it is key to develop a focused strategy to provide security around these areas as well as the surrounding communities.
Regarding the second priority –the sustainability of the reintegration process– promising developments have occurred since President Duque’s meeting in November with former combatants who marched to Bogotá from around the country in the Pilgrimage for Life and Peace. In addition to the land purchased for the former territorial area for training and reintegration in Dabeiba, announced by President Duque in December, the Government has informed that plots for five additional former TATRs will be purchased by mid-February. Recently, through a joint effort of institutions at all levels, a plot of land was granted to 300 former combatants in Huila department to undertake cattle grazing and other productive projects. I trust that this momentum will continue, including through effective use of different avenues for granting land to former combatants, and progress on formalizing land arrangements for the remaining former TATRs, in close consultation with former combatants.
I also hope that the forthcoming sessions of the National Reintegration Council in various departments agreed by President Duque and former combatants at their meeting, will lead to progress in ensuring the same level of institutional support and productive opportunities for former combatants within and outside the former TATRs.
As reported by the Secretary-General, several former TATRs, new reintegration areas and former combatants’ productive projects have had to relocate or are pending relocation due to threats by illegal armed groups. It is crucial for these relocations to proceed in an orderly manner to ensure that conditions in the new locations are apt for former combatants to resettle. Moreover, I urge the national and local governments to ensure that communities left behind in the former locations continue to receive institutional support.
That brings me to the third priority outlined by the Secretary-General: consolidating the integrated presence of the state in conflict-affected areas. For illegal armed groups and criminal organizations that profit from limited State presence, the implementation of the Peace Agreement represents a threat to their criminal activities. They are determined to drive out State institutions and stamp out the voices of social leaders through violence and intimidation. They cannot be allowed to succeed. Authorities must remain firm in the continued implementation of instruments such as the development programmes with a territorial focus, the National Comprehensive Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops and the Comprehensive Security and Protection Programme for Communities and Organizations in the Territories. Consolidating institutional presence, strengthening local protection and conflict resolution mechanisms, and providing lawful economic opportunities for vulnerable populations are the strongest bulwark against illegal armed groups and criminal organizations.
Sustained dialogue between the parties is fundamental for the implementation of all aspects of the Peace Agreement, which is why strengthening dialogue is the fourth priority mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report. I welcome the parties’ decision to extend the mandate of the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement, and I urge them to make increased use of the Commission this year, including with the support of the guarantor countries, to resolve their differences and find mutually agreeable solutions to implementation challenges. In addition, I urge the parties to spare no efforts in working together, including through the tripartite mechanism with the UN Mission, on issues such as those related to the former FARC-EP’s assets, bearing in mind that the ultimate aim in this process is to contribute to reparations for victims of the conflict.
The final priority set out by the Secretary-General is to continue laying the groundwork for reconciliation across the country. Victims and Colombian society in general will be looking with great expectation this year at the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition, with the first sentences set to be issued by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the continued work by the Truth Commission in supporting reconciliation efforts and advancing in its final report, and sustained progress by the Special Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing. A few weeks ago, thanks to the testimonies of parties to the conflict, the participation of victims and strong interinstitutional coordination, the Special Unit found alive, and then reunited, a mother and daughter who were both declared missing 17 years ago. This inspiring story is one of many examples of the results of the work of the Comprehensive System and illustrates why it is so important for all actors to lend their full support to the System’s three entities, and for all those who took part in the conflict to contribute fully to the truth and to undertake reparatory actions for victims.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council:
In closing, the firm backing of this Council and of the international community at large remains one of the key factors allowing Colombia to continue to be a source of hope and inspiration for peaceful conflict resolution around the world. Your unanimous and unequivocal support will remain essential as Colombians continue persevering in the full implementation of their landmark Peace Agreement.
I Thank you, Mr. President.