By J Nastranis
Nearly six weeks after the Security Council on November 30, 2017 marked the one year anniversary of the signing and entry-into-force of the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP), peace efforts remain challenged by the task of reintegrating 14,000 former rebel combatants.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jean Arnault, told the Security Council on January 10 that the UN will ‘closely follow’ reports of a just-broken ceasefire between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian Government. He was presenting the first quarterly report on the activities of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, which he heads.
The mission, which started its operations on September 26, 2017, was established to verify the commitments of the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) on reintegrating former FARC-EP members into society, and on ensuring security in territories most affected by the decades-long conflict, which was ended with a peace deal between the two sides in November 2016.
Arnault said that the political reintegration of the former guerrilla organization is on course, noting that the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections this year and local and departmental elections in less than two years will be an opportunity for the new FARC party to gain seats.
“But we continue to view with concern the socioeconomic reintegration of the 14,000 former combatants,” he said, explaining that many of them are still in prison and are extremely frustrated with the reintegration process.
President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón has taken the important step of recognizing the need for access to landownership as a major incentive for reintegration.
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,” and make a fragile process more durable.
On a temporary ceasefire between the Government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), Arnault stressed that the clamour for the continued suspension of military action has been unanimous, and reiterated the need to preserve the lower level of violence as seen in the past three months, while also advocating for a clearer and more reliable ceasefire.
“Unfortunately, it was just announced that attacks against pipelines by the ELN have just resumed. We will follow closely developments and keep the Council informed,” Arnault said.
A Security Council press statement issued January 10 by Council President Kairat Umarov, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the UN, said: “The members of the Security Council reiterated their full support for the peace process in Colombia and shared the assessment of the Secretary-General set out in his first report on the work of the United Nations Verification Mission.”
The Council members welcomed the leadership and continued commitment of the parties and the positive developments over the past three months, including the transformation of the FARC from an armed group into a political party, and urged continued momentum towards full implementation of the peace agreement, including the full political, legal and socioeconomic reincorporation of FARC, the statement added.
“The members of the Security Council echoed the Secretary-General’s concern about increased insecurity in some of the areas affected by the conflict, welcomed the important efforts by the Government of Colombia to address these concerns, as well as steps to address other issues including access to land, and looked forward to their swift implementation,” according to the press statement.
The Security Council members welcomed the Secretary-General’s visit to Colombia planned for January 13 in support of the peace agreement.
In a statement after meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón of Colombia in Bogoá, the Secretary-General described his visit as “a mission […] clearly one of solidarity, with Colombia and the Colombian people, at a historic moment of enormous importance for the country, for Latin America and the world.”
Guterres said he had the opportunity to witness the courage with which laws were approved with regard to victims, land restitution, riddled, as they were the difficulties and complexities of the process. “For all these reasons, I feel great admiration for the determination with which the Colombian people, as well as President Santos, have always faced the difficult challenges of the county’s conflict,” he added
“[…] during my past visits here, when I went to several areas of the country, I saw the duality of the country, a developed Colombia as we see here in Bogota. Being in Bogota could be like being in New York, London or Paris. You see a developed country with a vibrant economy, an active civil society, a country with one of the longest democratic traditions in the world, a country that has seen tremendously successful development processes,” Guterres said.
On the other hand, he added, he recalled visiting Chocó [Department], where he saw an entirely different Colombia, where the State is nowhere to be seen. “Therefore, we must recognize that this is not only a peace-building process. I was deeply impressed with the commitment in the meeting we had. The Government made very clear, this is effort is not only to bring peace, but also to guarantee the presence of the State throughout Colombia, including administration, but also security and social services such as education and health, and support for the development of civil society and the private sector, which are huge challenges. All that does not happen by miracle alone, overnight.”
Guterres underscored the commitment of the United Nations in supporting the Colombian Government in this endeavour of enormous importance, building peace while building an inclusive democracy and bringing development to all corners of the country. “It is a huge challenge, but one that has our full support and commitment,” the Secretary-General said.
He assured that in all aspects, the UN is committed to peace in Colombia, and added: “There are no justifications for armed violence. Peace is the only answer, which can solve today’s problems of poverty, development, inequality and democracy. We are fully committed to peace in Colombia. We are fully at your disposal to support what constitutes the most meaningful experience in the world, demonstrating that fortunately not all the challenges that we face in the world go unanswered. Here we have a solution, a strong solution, and it has all our support.”