Defendamos la Paz International Peace Conference
“The World Demands Peace”
EU Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process, Eamon Gilmore
26 September 2020
It is an honour to join you today at this important event.
I would like to start by expressing my sincere condolences to all those who have lost loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would also like to extend my sincere condolences to the families and friends of all those who were killed or injured in the recent violence, following the death of Javier Ordóñez earlier this month, as well as those that have lost their lives in the latest criminal attacks in the regions.
Four years ago, I was in Cartagena with many of you and I remember the incredible, infectious hope and optimism of that day. Of course, that was not the end of the story, or even the chapter, but nonetheless, it was an important milestone towards the final agreement.
On that day, there were many members of the international community present, including the UN Secretary General. The support of the international community has been consistent throughout the peace process. In Europe we have suffered the pain and tragedy of conflict, including two world wars, and we know that in order to achieve peace, we must, as former President Obama once said: “narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.” We know that peacebuilding is a huge challenge and hard work. That hard work must be done by all Colombians and international support is vital. That is why the European Union stands with Colombia and will support peacebuilding in the country, for as long as it takes.
Any peace agreement is the product of many authors and builds on the efforts of those gone before. Some are well-known and many have worked without recognition or reward, but equally share in this historic achievement. So too to the communities in the regions affected by conflict who hunger and hope for peace. Historic is a word that has become synonymous with the Colombian peace agreement, because bringing to an end over fifty years of conflict with 9 million victims merits such a description. But the agreement was just the beginning. As we have seen in other peace processes around the world, the real work starts after the signature.
The Colombian peace agreement is often cited internationally as a model, because of its ambition, its innovation and its determination to resolve the specific causes of the conflict. In order to implement such a complex agreement, two things are necessary. Firstly, all parts of the agreement need to be implemented, as they are interdependent in addressing the causes of the conflict. Secondly, the institutions set up under the agreement need to function well, in particular the implementation commission, the CSIVI. Dialogue is crucial. To ensure the effective functioning of the peace institutions from the agreement, dialogue is key, particularly with FARC as party to the agreement, in order to strengthen the functioning of those institutions.
I welcome the participation here today of the Truth Commission, the Search Unit and the JEP. Transitional justice is a central part of the peace agreement, which puts the needs of victims at the heart of implementation. To do that, it must ask some very hard questions. But that is vital because to forgive what seems unforgivable, there must be truth.
It is important that all who have submitted to the transitional justice system give a full account of what happened during the conflict. And we have seen some important steps in recent weeks – the military report on violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights during the conflict; the testimony of Ingrid Betancourt and the public apology from FARC leaders for kidnapping.
The FARC leadership has consistently reiterated to me their commitment to the implementation of the peace agreement. So too has President Duque and his Administration and I want to especially thank Presidential Advisor Archila for his remarks here today and his considerable work and personal commitment in driving forward implementation of the agreement. We have seen good progress in the reincorporation process and on the PDETs and know there is considerable work being done in the regions. The European Union is supporting many productive projects and will continue to do so through the EU Fund for Peace in Colombia.
Sustainable development, including through addressing illegal economies and illicit drugs, must go hand in hand with security. The comprehensive presence of the State in rural areas needs to become a reality, not just a security presence, but also an effective civilian presence with social services.
I have been constantly struck by the vibrancy and strength of civil society in Colombia and its fearless advocacy on behalf of their communities, the marginalised and the vulnerable. The contribution of civil society to the peace process is invaluable and for implementation of the agreement to be truly successful, it needs the full participation of civil society.
One of my primary concerns in relation to the peace process is the killings of social leaders, human rights defenders and ex-combatants since the agreement was signed. I have been shocked by recent massacres of civilians and the deterioration in the humanitarian situation of local communities, which has created considerable fear. 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.
While the violence we have seen over the last month was not specifically about the peace process, it clearly shows a level of mistrust, anger and frustration among Colombians. This can only be resolved with dialogue. Now is the moment to ensure any necessary institutional reforms, so that there is trust between the population and those who protect it. To ensure that trust, any excessive use of force must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
The right to peaceful protest is essential in any healthy democracy, but it should never be accompanied by violence. As the late great John Lewis once said, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
The EU strongly supports the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire to bring relief to the most vulnerable. The hardship and uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the need to focus efforts on combating the virus, makes this call even more urgent. That call has particular relevance for Colombia and so, 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. The EU will continue to support all possibilities for dialogue to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable peace.
I am always inspired by the time I spend in Colombia. I have had the privilege of travelling all over that beautiful country and meeting Colombians from all walks of life; from Government, FARC, political leaders, civil society, media, social leaders and human rights defenders. I have become convinced that in order to make peace a reality in Colombia, it must be inclusive.
Peace belongs to all Colombians, but all Colombians must also take ownership, to participate and invest in a more equal and inclusive society. A culture of peace needs to take hold and it can only do that driven by all actors. Polarisation can often affect politics, but it should never affect peace.
The future does not have to re-inforce or repeat the mistakes of the past. Creating a culture of peace means supporting dialogue with those who are different or with those who disagree. Respect, empathy and the protection of human rights must be our guide, even in the most difficult circumstances. Martin Luther King once said: “one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but that is a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
Peace should always be an action, not just an aspiration.