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01/21/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/22/2021 10:45

Special Representative Outlines Priority Areas for Progress in Colombia, as Security Council Members Share Concern over Continuing Deadly Attacks

Foreign Minister Cites Threat Posed by Armed Groups, Drug Traffickers, Highlighting Safety, Security Challenges

As Colombia enters the fifth year since signing its landmark Peace Agreement, the Head of the United Nations Verification Mission outlined five priority areas in which to make further gains, as Security Council members expressed concern about continuing deadly attacks against former combatants and vulnerable communities, during a videoconference today.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, who is also the Secretary-General's Special Representative, briefed members on recent developments, cited remarkable progress in the four years since the Peace Agreement was signed by the Government of Colombia and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). In the fifth year of the 15-year timeframe envisioned for implementing the entire Peace Agreement, 2021 must be remembered as the year in which bold steps were taken to bring to fruition the full promise of sustainable peace, he said, urging both parties and all Colombian actors to work together to protect the achievements made so far and to accelerate momentum on pending issues.

Presenting the Secretary-General's report on the situation (document S/2020/1301), he outlined achievements, recommendations and ongoing challenges, noting that violence against former combatants, social leaders, human rights defenders and communities remains the most serious threat to peacebuilding. Whereas multiple measures have been taken to address the violence, every killing is a tragic blow to peace, he emphasized, noting that four more former combatants have been killed since the report's publication, bringing the total death toll to 252 since the signing of the Peace Agreement.

In terms of gains, he cited, among others, the 5 January announcement by Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez of measures to increase protection for the Special Forum on Gender following threats reported against 10 of its 16 members. Additionally, the Government and the United Nations country team jointly announced on 12 January a $3.1 million investment from the Organization's Multipartner Trust Fund to support prevention and collective protection for former combatants, social leaders, human rights defenders and leaders of illicit crop-substitution programmes in three priority regions.

Summarizing the Secretary-General's five priority areas, he recalled his repeated warnings about the implications of continued budget shortfalls for the subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit, which provides collective and individual close-protection schemes for former combatants. More than 550 vacancies for bodyguards remain and over 1,000 requests for close protection are still pending review, he said, stressing the need to prioritize that issue in light of its direct implications for the safety of former combatants. Equally important is ensuring that former women combatants have equal access to close protection and to bring those responsible for attacks to justice, he added. He went on to underline the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the reintegration process, expressing hope for continued positive momentum following promising developments since the meeting between President Iván Duque Márquez in November 2020 with former combatants.

Highlighting other priority areas, he said they include consolidating the integrated presence of the State in conflict-affected areas, given the presence of illegal armed groups and criminal organizations that profit from a limited State presence. Additionally, strengthening local protection and conflict-resolution mechanisms and providing lawful economic opportunities for vulnerable populations constitute the strongest bulwark against illegal armed groups and criminal organizations, he said. Dialogue also remains a priority, he said, urging the parties to spare no efforts in working together - including through the tripartite mechanism with the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia - on issues related to former FARC-EP assets, bearing in mind that the ultimate aim of the process is to contribute to reparations for the conflict's victims.

The final priority is to continue laying the groundwork for reconciliation across the country, he said. Victims and Colombian society in general will be looking with great expectation at the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition in 2021, with the first sentences due to be handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. 'The firm backing of this Council and of the international community 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,' he emphasized, declaring: 'Your unanimous and unequivocal support will remain essential as Colombians continue persevering in the full implementation of their landmark Peace Agreement.'

Council members commended tenacious ongoing efforts to advance along the path of peace, encouraging the full implementation of the Peace Agreement. They also shared a range of concerns, including persistent reports of violence against former combatants, with many speakers calling for additional protection measures, particularly in terms of recent attacks targeting women, children and indigenous peoples around Colombia.

The representative of the United Kingdom said the first sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction of Peace will mark an important 'waypoint' for the reconciliation process and encouraged all parties to ensure 'as full a picture of the truth as possible'. Reconciliation will be more difficult for those social leaders and former combatants who continue to face deadly violence from armed groups, he predicted, emphasizing the urgent need to allocate sufficient resources to guarantee that they receive protection when they request it, and to ensure that women, indigenous peoples and members of the LGBTI community are not overlooked. The backlog of 1,000 protection requests is extremely concerning, he added. 'Those who endanger Colombia's peace by both arranging and carrying out these attacks must be brought to justice,' he stressed, calling for greater cooperation on the part of the security forces and improved judicial capacity in rural areas. He also called for a realistic plan for dismantling armed groups and criminal organizations.

The representative of Norway said it is a 'remarkable achievement' that the vast majority of former FARC combatants remain in the reintegration process. She encouraged the authorities - in cooperation with FARC - to ensure access to land for housing and productive projects; build trust among former combatants, State institutions and communities; increase institutional attention to the new reintegration areas; and ensure that women ex-combatants have equal access to reintegration projects. They must also cooperate fully with the Truth Commission and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, as 'the principles of justice, truth, reparation and non-repetition must remain above ideologies', she emphasized. Expressing concern about violence against women, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, among others, she said it is intolerable that more than 250 ex‑combatants - signatories to the peace accord - have been killed since its signing. Protection schemes must be strengthened, the National Commission on Security Guarantees enabled to finalize a policy for dismantling illegal armed groups, and the capacity of the Attorney General's Special Investigative Unit enhanced, she stressed.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking also for Kenya, Niger and Tunisia - known collectively as the 'A3+1' - expressed extreme concern over the dire security conditions confronting former combatants, women social leaders and human rights defenders, and indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders. She strongly condemned the killing of 25 former combatants while awaiting a response to their requests for protection, stressing that 'the greatest threat to implementation of the Final Agreement remains the incessant violence against those who laid down their arms in good faith'. The causes of conflict must be tackled and the perpetrators of violence held accountable, she said, reiterating the call for regular meetings of the National Commission on Security Guarantees and improved implementation of the Action Plan of the Comprehensive Programme for the Safeguard of Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders. She went on to advocate for a peace process that includes indigenous peoples and Afro‑Colombians, encouraging the Government to resolve the challenges facing 9,500 former combatants residing outside the former Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration. The 'A3+1' will continue to support all efforts to consolidate peace, she said, expressing hope that the Government and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) will engage in constructive dialogue for lasting peace.

The representative of Ireland, while citing the purchase of land for housing and productive projects for former combatants among significant gains, nonetheless expressed serious concern about ongoing violence, emphasizing the essential need to protect former combatants, those living in conflict-affected communities, social leaders and human rights defenders. She also expressed deep concern about reports of forced recruitment of children and threats against youth leaders by illegal armed groups and terrorist organizations. On transitional justice, she said verification of compliance with sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will help to build trust in the process, pointing out more broadly that Colombia's peace agreement is an exemplary model for gender-inclusive and -responsive peacebuilding. Sufficient resources - technical and financial - must be allocated to the National Reintegration Council's Working Group on Gender, and the Government's High-Level Forum on Gender, she stressed.

The representative of Mexico recommended additional psychosocial services to help overcome the psychological wounds of the past. Emphasizing the critical need to include young people and women in the peacebuilding process, he condemned attacks against former combatants and vulnerable communities, and the recruitment of children. Turning to the presence of armed groups and organized criminal organizations, he stressed that the international community must lend its assistance, including by helping to stem the flow of illegal weapons.

The representative of China, describing Colombia as a 'success story', said that ensuring stability is key. Expressing regret to note continuing 'chronic' attacks against individuals, he emphasized the need to enhance security and step up efforts to find armed groups. China also encourages the Government to increase investments with a view to laying a solid foundation of peace and security through development, he said, noting that Colombia's efforts to strengthen infrastructure and services are producing tangible results. Yet, implementing the Peace Agreement is a long process, he cautioned, pledging China's support for the Special Representative and the Verification Mission.

The representative of Estonia, said that continued engagement with all parties is crucial to further progress, especially given the great impact of COVID-19. While land reform initiatives and services for former combatants are laudable, security issues remain a concern amid the recent rash of killings, he noted, urging the Government to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and to address the threats facing indigenous peoples, women and other groups. Emphasizing that 2021 will be a crucial year, he said that he looks forward to the first decisions to be handed down by the Special Court for Peace and to the forthcoming report from the National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Coexistence.

The representative of France called for perpetrators of violence to be brought to justice and for a refocus on strengthening the rule of law. Whereas reintegration efforts are bearing fruit, additional attention is needed to reach former combatants living outside designated zones, she said, adding that land reform and efforts to boost opportunities for farmers must continue.

The representative of the United States, pointing to the magnitude of the peace accord and its profound impact on society, said 'Colombia has witnessed a significant nationwide decrease in violence', which is 'no small accomplishment'. Yet, since the signing of the accord, hundreds of human rights leaders, social leaders and former combatants have been killed, with indigenous, Afro-Colombians and LGBTI people among those most affected, he noted. The attacks have been concentrated in rural areas, marked by a limited State presence, illicit economies and armed actors. The violence has a direct impact on the reintegration process and implementation of the Peace Agreement, he said, emphasizing: 'It must end.' Applauding the President's meeting with former combatants, and strengthened security measures as vital steps forward, he urged the authorities to enhance the State's presence in rural areas and to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable. Transitional justice is at the heart of the peace process and will be central to success, he stressed, praising innovative efforts to guarantee the rights of victims and support the provision of reparations. He urged all parties to participate fully in truth and reconciliation efforts and to ensure accountability 'so that Colombia can heal'.

The representative of Viet Nam called upon the parties to engage in constructive dialogue to address their differences through the mechanisms established under the Peace Agreement, noting that every effort should be made to create favourable conditions for the 2022 elections. On the security front, she urged the National Commission on Security Guarantees to dismantle illegal armed groups and to strengthen the application of justice. The parties should also make full use of the security guarantees and mechanisms provided by the Peace Agreement, she said. Describing reintegration as a long-term process requiring patience, political will and practical steps, she called for measures to promote economic and inclusive development, social cohesion and rural development, among other actions.

The representative of India noted that implementation of the Peace Agreement has gained ground in the last four months, as the authorities have engaged with former FARC combatants to address reintegration problems, adding that the purchase of land for former combatants has gained momentum, and the National Reintegration Council has held sessions at the regional level. At the same time, the gap between urban and rural areas in State presence must be addressed, he said, emphasizing that the recent killing of former combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders requires strengthening of the Tripartite Protection and Security Mechanism. Enacting holistic rural reforms, creating enabling infrastructure, and reintegrating ex-combatants are among other efforts needed to discourage FARC-EP dissident groups, he said, adding that India looks forward to working with other Council members to renew the Verification Mission's mandate.

The representative of the Russian Federation, emphasizing that the importance of implementing the Colombia's road map unswervingly, said that the Secretary-General's five recommendations - covering all areas of the peace agreement - reflect shortcomings. He cited recent demonstrations by indigenous peoples, reports of attacks targeting civic leaders and claims that part of the population is returning to illegal armed groups, he stressed the need for progress on rural reform and dealing with the drug problem. In addition, financing has not been fully provided for the peace process, he noted. Whereas Council members are aware that direct dialogue is an integral part of any lasting settlement, delays in implementing the Peace Agreement are the result of attempts to revise the document, he said. Requesting additional information on disaggregated data, social issues and the security of families and children whose breadwinner has been involved in the conflict, he said information is also needed on overcoming discord among the parties, which should all be involved in the peace process. He went on to recall that the Russian Federation wished to provide support for hurricane‑affected countries, but Citibank of the United States refused to transfer the funds and simply returned them to Moscow. The situation is impeding assistance for those in need, he said, pointing out that sanctions and other such measures are having a negative impact on States trying to recover from COVID-19 or natural disasters.

Claudia Blum de Barberi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, spotlighted safety and security as her country's biggest remaining challenges, citing the threats posed by armed groups and drug traffickers. In 2020, the Government launched more than 200 schemes to protect former combatants, she recalled, noting that 24 sentences were handed down, 40 cases are under investigation and 48 arrest warrants were issued. Policies for dismantling criminal organizations have been adopted, she added.

However, it was not expected that public policies would be required to protect civilians against illicit organizations, she said, pointing out nonetheless that more than 400 drug traffickers have been detained. Detailing further progress, she said the territory-focused development plan has made gains covering one third of Colombia's territory, in which more than 7 million people live. A $52 million investment in housing has reached many communities and a 15‑year-long road map is being implemented, she said, emphasizing the essential need to sustain those and other efforts, especially amid the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Still, a comprehensive approach to development needs is also advancing, and the Government has set aside $4.2 million to purchase plots of land in recognition of related ownership issues among former combatants, she noted. Dialogue, strengthening reintegration, women and gender are among the Government's priorities, she continued. Reparations for victims have surpassed $498 million and further investments have been made in the justice system, she said. Recalling President Duque's request that the Security Council expand the Verification Mission's mandate to cover progress in those areas, she underlined her country's vital need for the international community's support as Colombia continues to forge ahead.