EU Special Envoy Gilmore remarks
Oidhaco’s 25th Anniversary Campaign Closing Event
Europe and the UN: a strategic alliance for human rights and peace in Colombia
24 March 2021
Thank you Madame President of Oidhaco, distinguished speakers and panellists. I want to thank you for the invitation to join you today. My warm congratulations to Oidhaco on the celebration of your 25th anniversary. Your work throughout the last 25 years has been invaluable in promoting peace and human rights in Colombia. You have been a very important reference point for civil society in Europe and more importantly, in Colombia itself.
I have been the EU Special Envoy for the peace process in Colombia since November 2015 and so I have seen many milestones along the way, including the signature of the agreement. It was and is an astonishing achievement. But it was both an ending and a beginning; the ending of more than 50 years of conflict with 9 million victims and the beginning of a new chapter in Colombia.
The peace agreement is not a standalone project to be fulfilled in a finite timespan. It is a continuous process of rebuilding, renewal, restoration and reconciliation. This is why the support of the international community has been unwavering and united throughout the peace process and indeed for many years before the agreement. In Europe, we too have suffered the devastation of conflict and we know that what comes next can also be difficult.
This is the fifth year of the Colombian peace agreement and it will take many more years to bridge the gap between the promise of the accords and the daily reality for many Colombians. But valuable work has already been undertaken and there have been many achievements in advancing human rights and peace in the country. We know this is hard work and a huge challenge. As the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once said, “Peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous.” So, I can assure you the European Union will support peacebuilding in Colombia, for as long as it takes.
The European Union established the EU Trust Fund for Colombia and is named as a supporting actor in the peace agreement, notably in the context of rural development, reincorporation and the establishment of a Special Investigation Unit in the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. However, we are not just focused on these elements, but on the agreement in its entirety.
This is because the peace agreement in Colombia is not just about the ending of a conflict. It is about addressing the specific causes that led to the conflict. This is why the Colombian peace agreement is often cited internationally as a model. It has created instruments and mechanisms to provide opportunities for development, security and peace, especially for communities most affected by conflict and poverty, and of course now by the pandemic.
To translate its vision into reality, it is crucial to simultaneously advance and implement all parts of the agreement, as they are interdependent. Future cycles of conflict can only be prevented by sowing the seeds of peace and that is not done by disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration alone. The comprehensive presence of the State needs to take root in rural areas. This cannot be just a security or military presence. An effective civilian presence with social services is also vital, as violence since the agreement was signed has mainly occurred in areas where limited State presence, illicit economies and illegal armed groups all converge.
The guarantor countries, Norway and Cuba, continue to play an important role in shepherding and safeguarding the process. Both the Government and FARC have consistently demonstrated their commitment to the agreement. This is highly valued by the whole international community. Dialogue between the parties is as important as ever and that is why the institutions set up under the agreement, such as the CSIVI and the Reincorporation Council, need to function well.
The United Nations has been our partner throughout the peace process, especially the Verification Mission, with its tireless work in ensuring that the agreement translates from the page to the ground, but also the various UN agencies and offices in Colombia, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have worked closely with UN Special Representative Carlos Ruiz and his predecessor, Jean Arnault. And I welcome the Government’s decision to extend the mandate of the UN Mission and the role it will play in restorative sanctions from the transitional justice system.
The tripartite work led by the UN with the Government and FARC has been innovative and effective in implementing some of the most complex part of the agreements. This mechanism could also be a very useful tool in addressing other issues in the agreement.
The attention of the UN Security Council has also played an important role throughout the peace process, showing consistent commitment and consensus. The presentation to the Council of the Secretary General’s reports on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia are valuable occasions to demonstrate that unity, as well as to debate positive developments and remaining challenges.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights plays a critical role in the peace process. We work closely together across a number of areas, particularly the protection of human rights defenders and social leaders. We collaborate closely in supporting the work of the Special Investigations Unit in the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. This Unit was set up to investigate crimes committed against human rights defenders, social leaders and ex-combatants, as well as for the dismantling of criminal networks.
Since the peace agreement was signed, countless lives have been saved. There has been a reduction in violence; FARC have transitioned to a political party and today, more than 4 years after the signing of the agreement, more than 13,000 ex-combatants continue to be committed to the reincorporation process. The elections in 2018 and 2019 were the most peaceful and participatory in decades. That standard must be maintained for next year’s elections.
It remains, however, a fragile peace process and one of my biggest worries in relation to the peace process is the killings of social leaders, human rights defenders and ex-combatants since the agreement was signed. This was a key item for discussion at the last EU-Colombia Human Rights Dialogue in July and the potential for further violence remains a threat. This is a big priority for the European Union.
I encourage work to advance in the National Commission for Security Guarantees. This is an important mechanism for dialogue and finding practical solutions to an extremely serious and complex situation. Enhanced efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure crime prevention and protection of those at risk, including collective protection, are essential. And that is why the contributions of civil society to this Commission are critical.
Indeed the contribution of civil society to the peace process as a whole has been invaluable and for implementation of the agreement to be truly successful, it needs the full participation of civil society. I have been continually impressed by the vibrancy and strength of civil society in Colombia and its fearless advocacy on behalf of their communities and the most vulnerable.
For the past year and a half, the European Union and its Member States have been working together on the #Defendamoslavida campaign, which promotes and highlights the work and courage of human rights defenders in Colombia. This is a unique campaign, which is premised on the belief that, the more people understand what human rights defenders do, the more they will demand their protection.
We have also worked closely with the Ombudsman’s office to improve its regional presence in rural areas affected by the conflict. This has included project support for mobile attention groups, as well as an early warning system to identify and prevent threats and problems. We have recently started a strategic project with the Ombudsman and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to support the work of human rights defenders and foster a more comprehensive State response to early warnings. The Ombudsman plays a critical role in monitoring the human rights situation in the country and in improving the State’s response.
Transitional justice is a central part of the peace agreement and the Colombian transitional justice system is viewed as a model worldwide. Its central commitment is to the victims. It is essential that all actors who participated in the conflict meaningfully and fully contribute to the truth and acknowledge their responsibilities. This year will be a significant year for the work of the 3 institutions and we have seen some positive steps and important advances in their work in recent months.
In addition to addressing residual conflict issues since the agreement was signed, an agreement needs to be reach with the ELN for peace to be comprehensive in Colombia. The EU will continue to support all possibilities for dialogue to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable peace. The ELN must also play its part and I again call on the ELN and on all armed groups to stop their campaign of violence, to release all kidnap victims and stop the recruitment of minors.
One of the architects of the Irish peace process, the late, great John Hume once said: Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.
Creating a culture of peace means supporting dialogue with those who are different or with those who disagree. This is something all need to believe and invest in it. It is vital not only for the victims of the conflict, but for future generations.
Respect, empathy and the protection of human rights must always be our guide, even in the most difficult circumstances. As Indira Gandhi once said: “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.”
Thank you once again for the invitation and I wish you well in the discussion today.