Colombia - 8749th Meeting of Security Council

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14-Jul-2020 01:46:05
Increased attacks against community leaders, human rights defenders pose gravest threat to Colombia peace process, Special Representative warns Security Council.

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Attacks against community leaders, human rights defenders, former combatants and women — along with the COVID-19 pandemic that is exacerbating them — are the gravest threats now facing Colombia’s five-year-old peace process, the United Nations senior official in the country told the Security Council today.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, briefed the Council via videoconference as its 15 members convened in person for the first time since the pandemic’s onset in March. Spotlighting the perseverance of the Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) political party in pressing forward with peacebuilding despite challenges posed by COVID-19, he said ex-combatants once associated with the latter’s now-defunct militia — known as the FARC-EP, or People’s Army — face particular threats, especially in Colombia’s remote rural areas.

“As the Secretary-General has noted repeatedly, the consolidated and integrated presence of State institutions is the long-term solution to the violence plaguing Colombia’s rural regions,” he said. He highlighted recent progress, noting that arrests of those responsible for attacks have increased. Urging the Government to execute all pending arrest warrants, he also called for more development projects with a territorial focus. Meanwhile, many of the country’s crop substitution programmes — which provide communities, including ex-combatants, with a path towards legal livelihoods — have been negatively affected by COVID-19. More must be done to ensure their sustainability.

Turning to Colombia’s transitional justice process, he recalled that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace recently issued guidelines on sanctions it plans to impose on individuals who acknowledge responsibility for crimes committed during the conflict. Attacks against human rights defenders and local community leaders are on the rise, as are cases of gender-based violence and domestic violence in the context of the pandemic. The Comprehensive Programme for Safeguards for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders — whose implementation was delayed due to COVID-19 — must be promptly set in motion. “There is no justification for continuing to inflict violence upon vulnerable Colombians who are already under tremendous hardship,” he stressed.

Also briefing via videoconference was Clemencia Carabalí Rodallega, an ethnic and territorial rights defender with the non-governmental organization Municipal Association of Women. Noting that she is a survivor of a recent attack, she described the situation as part of a long history of ethnocide committed in Colombia since the first Spanish invasion more than 500 years ago. Every day, Colombians wake up to the news that another black or indigenous person has been threatened, attacked or killed. Emphasizing that those conditions have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, she cited recent examples of assassinations of female political candidates and indigenous leaders.

Describing those murders as a humanitarian crisis, she said many territories across Colombia are seeing a reconfiguration of illegal armed groups previously controlled by the FARC-EP. Tensions are also rising as elites seek to extract more natural resources, and those who suffer most are ethnic communities, youth, women and girls. Underlining the importance of the international community’s support — and inviting the Council to visit and “put yourselves in our shoes” — she also issued a list of protection-related demands to the national Government. “Despite the peace agreement signed in 2016, there is still no real stable and durable peace for the people of Colombia,” she said.

As Council members took the floor, many praised Colombia’s unwavering efforts to advance its peace process — even against the backdrop of a major international health crisis. However, some expressed grave concern about continued violence, including increasing cases of sexual and gender-based violence being committed amid the pandemic, and echoed the Secretary-General’s 23 March call for a global ceasefire. Several speakers spotlighted the sanctions soon to be imposed by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, noting that such elements of the advancing peace process should be weighed as the Council considers the mandate renewal of the United Nations Verification Mission on 25 September.

The representative of the United Kingdom was among those speakers who welcomed significant progress made since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement. Critically, transitional justice institutions have adapted to COVID-19 by moving to the virtual space, and the Government has put in place measures to prevent virus outbreaks. However, he joined other speakers in voicing concern about the high number of killings and threats against ex-combatants, human rights defenders, women leaders and those from indigenous and African communities. The Government must devote additional resources to protection requests and respond to such “early warning” signs, he emphasized.

China’s representative pointed out that the follow-up mechanisms to Colombia’s peace agreement are functioning effectively and progress is being made. Calling for an approach that ensures a proper balance between security and development — including efforts to tackle the root causes of conflict — he cited recent security challenges as well as attacks on community leaders and the continued recruitment of children. In that context, the international community should help the Government “curb the breeding ground for crime” in Colombia, he said.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, also speaking for Niger, South Africa and Tunisia, said that, as COVID-19 tests the tenacity of Governments and peoples, countries emerging from conflict face additional challenges. The United Nations must continue to provide support. Colombians in particular should remain “enterprising and prudent” in overcoming new challenges, she said, welcoming the inclusion of FARC-EP in processes to devise regional and local development plans. She agreed that the “senseless” killings of former combatants, human rights defenders and Afro-Colombian leaders must end, calling on the National Commission on Security Guarantees to convene regularly and on the Government to better address violent killings.

France’s delegate underscored the importance of reintegrating former combatants into the health system. COVID-19 did not slow the pace of killings of human rights defenders and social leaders, which demonstrates that criminals are using the pandemic to expand their territorial control. He drew attention to the many refugees fleeing neighbouring Venezuela as another critical issue facing Colombia, while welcoming progress on rural reforms and illicit crop substitution. In addition, he said the United Nations Verification Mission should contribute to the legitimacy of the country’s transitional justice process.

Striking a similar tone, the Dominican Republic joined several other speakers in advocating for the addition of a Mission mandate related to monitoring and verifying compliance with the soon-to-be-imposed transitional justice sanctions. Demanding an end to violence by armed groups and the investigation and prosecution of all attacks, he went on to call for more services that support the victims of violence. All of Colombia’s stakeholders should actively contribute to the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, he added.

Claudia Blum, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, underlined her country’s commitment to the 2016 peace agreement as well as a range of measures to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. More broadly, the Government continues to approve and implement projects in the municipalities most affected by poverty and violence, with 186 projects — worth $423 million — funded by oil and mining royalties. Agreeing that the safety and protection of former combatants, human rights defenders and social leaders and communities remains the greatest challenge, she outlined her Government’s efforts to strengthen prevention, individual and collective protection and support for both investigations and prosecutions.

Also participating were the representatives of the United States, Indonesia, Belgium, Viet Nam, the Russian Federation, Estonia and Germany.

The meeting began at 10:36 a.m. and ended at 12:21 p.m.

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