Statement to the Security Council from Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia
Distinguished members of the Council,
Thank you for the opportunity to present to you the first quarterly report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, which began its operations on 26 September of last year following the completion of the Agreement on the Ceasefire, the Cessation of Hostilities and the Laydown of Weapons.
Before going any further, let me say that it is a great pleasure to share the floor with Vice-President Naranjo. Vice-President Naranjo was a key actor during the protracted negotiations that brought the conflict between the FARC-EP and the state to an end a little over a year ago. Since then he has been key to the implementation of the peace agreement. The Mission has been privileged to have him as an interlocutor since the beginning, and he, together with President Santos, as well as the FARC of course, are to be credited for many of the achievements recorded in the Secretary-General´s report against the difficult background in which the implementation process unfolds.
The Secretary-General´s report was issued a couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the holiday season, but I am glad to report early in the new year follow-up on some of the measures adopted late last year.
Yesterday 8 January, the Interior Minister convened the first meeting of the inter-agency body responsible for ensuring that early warnings by the Ombudsman Office of impending violence against individuals or communities are quickly acted upon, in accordance with an important decree issued on 18 December.
On 5 January, the National Protection Unit that, among other tasks, looks after the security of FARC members outside the Training and Reintegration Areas decided to establish additional protection teams in those Areas so more ex-combatants can travel safely outside these Areas. You will recall that while no serious incident took place in those Training and Reintegration Areas as a result of protection measures by the Security Forces, the number of killings outside those Areas has been a matter of growing concern in recent months. And while there is no clear pattern behind those incidents, this increase in protection measures is appropriate.
Finally, you should also know that with President Santos´ instructions, the disposal of FARC-EP arms caches has resumed under the responsibility of the military and with the cooperation of former FARC combatants. The outcome is still modest - approximately 60 caches – and it will be important that it continues in order to keep weapons out of the reach of illegal groups.
I stress developments relating to security in the zones of conflict because, as you are aware, an upsurge in violence in these areas in recent months, widely acknowledged and condemned by the Government, civil society and the international community alike, has brought about several of the more significant developments noted in the Secretary-General´s report.
Among those, first and foremost we stress the decision to proceed with the long-term deployment of security forces in about 600 of the more vulnerable rural districts in the areas most affected by the conflict, including the districts where community leaders, human rights defenders, promoters of crop substitution and land restitution advocates were assassinated.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of that decision in our view. Control of the territory by the State is inseparable from permanent physical presence of state institutions in those areas. An occasional presence is bound to leave the old or new illegal power structures intact.
Of course, the deployment of security forces is not a panacea. One of the specific objectives of this deployment is precisely to pave the way quickly for more proactive social and economic support by civilian state institutions. The demands from the communities that have borne the burden of the war are simple, few and well-known: tertiary roads to break their isolation, health and education services, and the titling of their land – without which integration into the legal economy is seriously hampered.
This is the objective. And, we, along with the President and the Vice President, are convinced that the recovery of the zones of conflict, the reduction of violence against communities and their leaders, and the long-term success of counter-narcotics efforts starts with the stabilization programme undertaken last month. As provided in this new plan, the Mission will regularly and carefully assess progress together with the Government and the Security Forces, and as mentioned in the report, we are making slight adjustments to our deployment to that effect
While the building blocks of stabilization are being put in place, we cannot lose sight of the challenges of reintegration.
The political reintegration of the former guerrilla organization is on course in the context of the parliamentary and presidential elections this year. Local and departmental elections in less than two years from now will hopefully be the opportunity to consolidate further the political integration of the new FARC political party.
But we continue to view with concern the socioeconomic reintegration of the 14,000 former combatants. We are fully aware of the challenges, and we praise the efforts that have been made by Government agencies – the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace and the Agency for Reintegration - in relation to several reintegration measures referred to in the report.
But we must not forget that we are dealing with a large group of former fighters whose level of accumulated frustration with the reintegration process – illustrated by the number of members still in jail - is not easy to overcome. All of us – Government, UN agencies, international community, and civil society – will have to be diligent and thorough in our support to their reintegration and the development of the communities in which they are inserted.
The President has taken the important step of recognizing the need for access to landownership as a major incentive for reintegration – and a staple of many reintegration processes. For their part, many FARC members have demonstrated on the ground that they are willing and able to engage in agriculture, environmental protection and crop substitution. These are promising developments, but only that. The next few months must be the opportunity to “turn the corner”, as it were, and establish what is still a fragile process on a more durable base.
Distinguished members of the Council,
Let me turn briefly to the temporary ceasefire between the Government of Colombia and the ELN. A few weeks ago, and more so today, we would have liked to be in a position to make recommendations with regard to the Mission´s involvement in the supervision of the ceasefire beyond 9th January. We are not yet in that position. The ELN had voiced very strong reservations on the implementation of the temporary ceasefire and the humanitarian commitments attached to it. And while the ELN leadership has proposed the negotiation of a stronger ceasefire, they have remained, until recently, silent on their posture after the end of the temporary ceasefire, yesterday. Hardly 24 hours have elapsed since the two delegations have resumed their discussions in Quito and it is therefore perhaps a little too early to venture a sense of what the long-term future holds in terms of the the negotiats.
In the country, the clamor for the continued suspension of military action has been unanimous, notwithstanding the many imperfections of the ceasefire. Social organizations, members of academia, the private sector and local authorities hailing from different regions have called upon both parties to maintain the ceasefire. In a statement issued the day before yesterday, and in line with the appeal contained in the Secretary-General´s report, the Mission and the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church, who were invited members of the ceasefire monitoring mechanism, stressed the need to preserve the reduction of violence that prevailed during the past three months.
We hoped that the talks in Quito would deliver an outcome consistent with these aspirations, and we would have suggested allowing some time – not too much time obviously – for the Secretary-General to make his recommendations to the Council on the basis of these discussions. Unfortunately, it was just announced a few minutes ago that attacks against pipelines by the ELN have resumed. We will follow closely developments and keep the Council informed in this respect.
Distinguished members of the Council,
In concluding, let me convey to you the following,
First the conviction that at the highest level of the Colombian government and within the leadership of the FARC the commitment remains to move forward with the peace process regardless of the many difficulties that have been in evidence, and sometimes dramatically so, in the past few months. Much is still needed to keep the process on track and make it stronger. But with this political will, the appropriate resources and a sustained effort, much can still be accomplished.
Second, while the outcome of the peace negotiations has generated controversy, divisions and continues to do so to an extent, building peace is a project whose constituency goes beyond the signatories. We see this in the efforts of many, from local authorities to universities, private sector and civil society who are eager to partake in the opportunities offered by the peace process. The recent meetings held by the Truth Commission, under the inspiring leadership of Father Francisco de Roux, with prominent representatives of the private sector, victims, civil society and the High Command of the Army, are one of many examples of the broader ownership the process of peacebuilding is developing.
And finally, let me reiterate the conviction that in these both promising and trying times the unanimous support from this Council, and through you from the international community remains a great source of encouragement, resilience and strength.