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Peaceful Presidential Elections in Colombia, Truth Commission’s Compelling Final Report Provide ‘Good Reasons for Optimism’, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Colombian Vice-President Highlights ‘Irreversible Progress’ towards Transitional Justice, Historic Peace Agreement’s Implementation

For her part, Marta Lucía Ramírez, Colombia’s Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs, said her country has made “irreversible progress” in transitional justice and the peace agreement’s implementation.  “Colombia is nearer to peace today than ever before,” she stressed, showing the world that peace and reconciliation are possible with political will, the determination of an entire nation and the international community’s support. DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that, today, there is some reason for optimism in Colombia with the implementation of the peace agreement.  The recent elections show that a final peace solution is supported by millions of people throughout the country, he said, stressing that the peace agreement needs the international community’s support.  There are issues that still need to be addressed, such as agrarian reform and the safety of the civilian population.  Expressing hope the incoming Government leaders will create an inclusive, participatory environment and avoid stigmatizing any groups, he stressed the need to listen to all voices.  The Truth Commission report is another example of society’s desire for peace.  Agreeing with the conclusion of the Secretary-General’s report that the election gives the Colombian Government a new impetus to fulfil its final commitments on peace, he said the Russian Government is committed to help Colombia return to peace and will support the Colombian peace process as well as the United Nations Verification Mission.  He added that cross-border security with Venezuela would help reduce crime in Colombia. The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:25 p.m. Calling for an end to the war against narco-trafficking, he also urged correcting the faulty assumption that armed prohibition can halt this practice, when such efforts only serve to increase its profits.  Drug-consuming nations must share responsibility in capturing drug barons and subjecting them to transitional‑justice processes, and the international community must understand the connection between drug trafficking and corruption.  The solution to armed conflict, ultimately, involves respecting every person as an individual and loving each other as holders of the same dignity.  While Colombia has a long way to go, he said, it has begun its journey and “accepted fearlessly the historical truth of its own tragedy”.  He expressed hope that the international community will learn from Colombia’s lessons and reject war, everywhere and always.  “There is a future if there is truth,” he added. In presenting the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2022/513), he said the Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace has made a significant contribution to widening and deepening Colombian democracy.  More guarantees exist for exercising political opposition and 16 representatives of victims from conflict-affected regions will have their voices heard in Congress, which will include the largest-ever share of women — close to 30 per cent. __________ JEFFREY DE LAURENTIS (United States), stressing the essential role of the Verification Mission in promoting peace, congratulated the people of Colombia for a fair election process and welcomed the incoming administration’s efforts to promote a dialogue of national unity and usher in a Colombia at peace.  He also welcomed the greater participation of women in Congress, which will include 85 women representatives, an increase of 10 per cent.  He also welcomed the 16 representatives of victims from conflict-affected regions.  The Truth Commission’s final report is an important end to an important listening process, he said, noting that diverse voices are represented in the document.  He expressed hope that the national reconciliation in Colombia will be an enduring reality.  Concerns remain, however, including over security and forced disappearances, he said, also noting that the killings of human rights defenders are on the rise and illegal armed actors continue to operate in the country.  He encouraged the Colombian Government to fulfil its commitments in support of the country’s ethnic groups. DAI BING (China) welcomed the successful holding of the second presidential election in Colombia since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement and expressed hope that the new Government will build on achievements already made, actively promote the peace process, address challenges to implementing the peace agreement and consolidate hard-won peace gains.  Stressing that the spread of violence by armed groups in some areas of Colombia is seriously threatening the safety of civilians and disrupting the peace process, he welcomed the President-elect’s willingness to open dialogue with armed groups that have yet to join the peace process.  He went on to emphasize that development is fundamental to eradicating the root causes of violence and conflict, that the provisions of the peace agreement are closely linked and that security and development are inseparable.  Fully implementing the Agreement’s provisions concerning rural reform, the reintegration of former combatants and the substitution of illicit crops requires sustained Government investment in accelerating the distribution of land and housing to provide the necessary conditions to ensure balanced development in all regions.  He expressed hope that the Peacebuilding Commission and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will play an active role and provide support in this regard. In the ensuing debate, Council members voiced their respect for the Colombian people’s desire for democracy and the powerful work of the Truth Commission in healing the country, while warning of the serious obstacles to the consolidation of peace.  Delegates also stressed the importance of building systems that let women and indigenous groups participate in the peace process. Mexico’s delegate, observing that the elections showed the maturity of the country’s institutions, agreed with the Secretary-General’s report that more work is needed to develop an inclusive peace process, with women having a greater say.  That requires more investment in training and services, such as childcare, that create the conditions conducive for their active participation in decision-making. Despite the many challenges, there are developments that inspire progress, he said.  One milestone is the Truth Commission’s final report, which includes a compendium of many voices.  The report has revealed painful findings and information about the thousands of lives cut short.  There are recommendations to move forward, including the full implementation of the peace agreement.  The unit searching for missing persons continues it works.  For example, two brothers separated for decades were united, he said, noting that a common goal is to ensure victims enjoy their rights. He stressed that Colombia’s security apparatus for decades functioned on the premise that security could be “guaranteed by weapons”, resulting in a system set up to protect structures and armed bureaucracy, not human beings.  That must change.  Urging the international community to give Colombia “nothing for war”, he said that the country wishes to be a “global paradigm of reconciliation” after so much pain and suffering. Francisco José De Roux Rengifo, President of the Truth Commission, detailing the suffering endured during more than 50 years of war, said that Colombia has demonstrated that those wounded by war can come together to build peace, happiness and “produce a tomorrow where there is hope”.  Over the last four years, the Commission has heard from more than 30,000 individuals and bodies and reviewed over 1,000 reports from victimized communities. He went on to stress that Colombia’s security system must change as — more than 60 years ago — it was established that security could be “guaranteed by weapons”.  However, armed security always calls for more arms and more justifications for using them, resulting in a system set up to protect structures and armed bureaucracy — but not human beings.  Urging the international community to give Colombia “nothing for war”, he said that the country wishes to be a “global paradigm of reconciliation” after so much pain and suffering.  Noting that the war was steeped in drug trafficking, he pointed out that Colombia gathered from other drug-consuming nations that drug trafficking is a matter of national security, and therefore, a matter of war.  Therefore, united efforts aimed to “destroy peasants who sought refuge in the coca leaf because we had left them stripped of land and capital”, he said. Briefings GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), stating that the Truth Commission’s final report presents a platform on which national reconciliation can and must be built, emphasized that victims’ continued, safe and meaningful participation in transitional-justice processes are essential for institutional legitimacy and ensuring dignity and non-repetition.  She stressed, however, that — while working to acknowledge past injustices — “we must also recognize and address those which still occur in the present”.  Violence remains an everyday reality for communities across Colombia — particularly those of indigenous and Afro-Colombian origin — and those who stand up in support of peace, human rights and dignity continue to be targeted.  Accountability for these crimes must be ensured, the peace agreement’s gender provisions must be fully implemented and public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups must be adopted.  Noting that Colombia “stands at an important juncture” at this moment of political transition, she added that the support of the Council and the international community “is as vital as ever”. Statements MOHAMED ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), welcoming successful presidential elections in June, stressed the need to prioritize the full implementation of the peace agreement, particularly its provisions relating to gender and protecting the most vulnerable.  On transitional justice, he supported the survivor-centred approach to reconciliation and said that the Truth Commission’s report provides an opportunity for the Colombian people to reflect on their past, also offering “a way to a future of hope for the generations to come”.  Further, the Commission’s efforts to include young people in these processes is critical, reinforcing the fundamental role of youth in peace efforts.  He went on to express concern over the security situation — including continued attacks against civilians, former combatants and security forces — and call for swift, decisive steps to address this violence and ensure it does not undermine implementation of the peace agreement.  He also encouraged the increased deployment of women officers and the provision of training on the particular challenges that women face, including sexual and gender-based violence. As the incoming administration prepares to take office, President-elect Petro has called for national unity, expressed his intention to deepen the comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement and intends to seek negotiated political and judicial solutions with the remaining illegal armed actors.  During a meeting with the President-elect two weeks ago, Mr. Massieu said the President‑elect strongly reaffirmed that peace would be a cornerstone of the Government and he was counting on United Nations support.  Mr. Massieu said he also met with Vice-President-elect Francia Marques, the first Afro-Colombian woman to hold this position.  She reiterated that peace, with a territorial and ethnic approach, will be a prominent feature of the Government’s agenda.  The incoming administration has a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to accelerate the peace agreement’s implementation.  “There are good reasons for optimism for peace, and I believe the United Nations and the international community should do all they can to lend support,” he said. Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Russian Federation, China, United States, Albania, France, United Arab Emirates, India, Ireland and Brazil. RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) welcomed the historic first hearings of truth and acknowledgement of responsibility held by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which demonstrates the significant progress made by Colombia’s transitional‑justice system.  While positive developments in that country must be recognized, so too must the remaining obstacles to the implementation of the peace agreement.  On this, he said that solutions to issues such as security, rural reforms, crop substitution and rehabilitation of ex-combatants are intrinsically linked to political reforms, decentralization, reconciliation and the extension of State authority.  Despite serious security challenges, the Colombian authorities are making progress in implementing the security, housing and land guarantees enshrined in the peace agreement, and he stressed that prioritizing rural reforms to increase employment opportunities is fundamental to sustaining peace.  He added that, while the peace process in Colombia “continues to be a source of inspiration”, the international community must continue supporting the Government and people of that country in their journey to consolidate and sustain peace. Also briefing the Council, Jineth Casso Piamba, Nasa indigenous woman, community leader and human rights defender, said negotiations on the peace agreement served as “an act of rebirth” that let people feel that wounds could be healed as “everyone sat calm around the fire listening to the wise words of their elders”.  She called for land‑reform policies and implementation of the accord’s provisions on gender and ethnicity, stressing the State must tackle gender inequality by supporting productive opportunities for women and economically empower them through education. MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, said that the Colombian peace process has valuable lessons to teach the world on how to end a protracted civil war and embark on the road to lasting peace and reconciliation, and that the Government’s positive, proactive engagement with the Council should be utilized by other countries in serious conflict.  Stressing that the full reintegration of former combatants into society remains key to the success of the peace process, he welcomed progress on territorially focused development programmes, comprehensive rural reform and the consolidation of former territorial areas for training and reintegration.  However, he noted that the slow progress in accessing land for those living outside of such areas — including former combatants of indigenous and Afro-Colombian origin — is an undermining factor and called on the authorities to fully implement these provisions. He went on to recognize the link between the illegal narcotics trade and armed conflict, reiterating the importance of resettling former combatants to keep them away from criminality and secure the gains that have been achieved.  Expressing concern over the persistent violence targeting former combatants and conflict-affected communities — including Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, social leaders, women peacebuilders and human rights activists — he called for stepping up the implementation of the peace agreement’s gender provisions.  He further supported all efforts to consolidate the peace process, including through the incorporation of groups that are not parties to the peace agreement, and called on the Government to creatively explore avenues for the normalization of relations with its neighbours, both for the continued security and prosperity of the Colombian people and for regional stability. WADID BENAABOU (France) welcomed the recent presidential election that occurred peacefully and without major disruption, pointing out that such election and resulting change in power demonstrate the maturity and solidity of Colombian democracy.  He also welcomed the publication of the Truth Commission’s report, which is “a remarkable piece of work” that is essential for reconciliation.  All parties to the conflict should commit to efforts aimed at truth and justice, which is a critical step in returning to lasting peace.  He went on to say that ongoing violence in Colombia threatens the peace agreement, calling on the Government to stop the murders of ex-combatants, human rights defenders and social leaders by reinforcing State presence in areas historically neglected by the Agreement.  Further, there must be viable socioeconomic opportunities for those populations that suffering during the conflict, and to definitively achieve peace, more must be done in the areas of rural reform and access to land and housing.  Adding that the Agreement’s provisions concerning inclusiveness for women and young people are essential, he called on Colombian authorities to accelerate the implementation of the peace agreement. JOSÉ DE JESÚS CISNEROS CHÁVEZ (Mexico) said this is a key moment in Colombia and the elections showed the maturity of the country’s institutions.  The turnout in the second round of the presidential election reached a historical level of participation, showing people rejected any attempt to hinder the democratic exercise through violence.  It was necessary for the Council to extend support to Colombian authorities during the transition process and resolve all outstanding issues.  He agreed with the Secretary-General’s report that more work is necessary to develop an inclusive peace process.  Recognizing the commitment of former combatants to work for peace, including in productive projects, he noted that 74 per cent of female former combatants are active in such projects, adding that strong political will and predictable, stable financing are essential to ensure that ex-combatants’ re‑integration into society is lasting.   He called for solutions to enable women to assume greater responsibility in project management the process of implementing the peace agreement — including greater investment in training and services, such as childcare that create the conditions conducive for their active participation in decision-making processes.  It is unacceptable that indigenous communities and Afro-Colombian communities have been side-lined from political participation, he said, while hailing the fact that an Afro-Colombian woman would hold the Vice‑President post.  Welcoming the report of the Truth Commission, he urged the Colombian authorities to implement its recommendations, which reaffirm the need to place victims at the heart of the peace agreement. Mr. Massieu reiterated the Secretary-General’s encouragement with these mostly peaceful elections.  He said the Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace has made a significant contribution to widening and deepening Colombian democracy.  Electoral outcomes increasingly reflect the diversity of the country’s vibrant society.  More guarantees exist for exercising political opposition and 16 representatives of victims from conflict‑affected regions will have their voices heard in Congress.  This unprecedented Congress will include the largest-ever share of women, close to 30 per cent.  He said he is hopeful the new Congress will make considerable progress to pass the more than 30 peace-related norms still pending approval.  These include key matters such as the comprehensive rural reform and guarantees for political participation. CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, said he was pleased to present the report in the presence of the Truth Commission’s president.  The report’s main message is “only with truth that a better future for Colombia will be built”.  Over the past few months, Colombians took part in a hard-fought political campaign that led to the election of President Gustavo Petro and Vice‑President Francia Márquez, who will be sworn in on 7 August, and of a new Congress that will be installed on 20 July. The representative of Norway, a guarantor country of the peace agreement, said President-elect Petro’s call for national unity is reassuring.  She praised the way the top commanders of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia‑People’s Army (FARC-EP) assumed personal responsibility during public hearings, and pointed to the Truth Commission’s “titanic task” of hearing and documenting thousands of testimonies in its final report.  In placing victims at its centre, Colombia’s Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non‑Repetition is perhaps the most sophisticated system of its kind globally, she said, adding that it serves as an inspiration and a model for transitional justice systems elsewhere. Noting that, for the second time since the signing of the accord in 2016, Colombia has elected a president through a transparent, free process, she said the Government works to facilitate the reintegration of ex-combatants through investments in socioeconomic projects, housing subsidies, access to education and social and health services.  “This model is unprecedented at the global level,” she emphasized, adding that the safety and security of former combatants and their families will remain a priority for the State. JINETH CASSO PIAMBA, Nasa indigenous woman, community leader and human rights defender, detailed her work as an indigenous leader over the last 11 years to create spaces devoted to protecting human rights, advancing the economic empowerment of women and promoting the political participation of such individuals.  She said that negotiations on the peace agreement served as “an act of rebirth” that allowed the population to feel that wounds could be healed as “everyone sat calm around the fire listening to the wise words of their elders”.  Following the signing of the peace agreement, fora were created so that people could be re-integrated and the bonds of friendship and trust could be rebuilt.  However, for 40 years, her community was stigmatized, isolated and excluded from institutional frameworks, ignoring the richness of its culture and traditions and the capacity it possesses.  Against that backdrop, she stressed the need to strategically plan policies that allow for land reform — including territorially focused development plans — along with a road map for territorial development. MONA JUUL (Norway) said that, as a guarantor country, Norway finds President-elect Petro’s call for national unity, which underscores that peace will be a central goal of his administration, reassuring.  Norway will stand by its commitments as a guarantor country if a dialogue with ELN materializes.  The Truth Commission, which released its final report on 28 June, has carried out a titanic task, hearing thousands of testimonies and scrutinizing countless reports and documents.  “While healing will certainly take time, it is our hope that the report will be instrumental in trying to mend the wounds after more than 50 years of violent conflict,” she said.  She commended members of the last secretariat of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) for their testimonies during the public hearings in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, regarding Case 01.  The way the top commanders of the FARC-EP assumed personal responsibility, asked for forgiveness and provided further details on the crimes committed, serves as an example to all other actors and entities having their cases examined by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.  In placing victims at its centre, the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition is perhaps the most sophisticated system of its kind globally, she said, adding that it serves as an inspiration and a model for transitional justice systems elsewhere. She went on to say that, for families to survive and thrive, women must have decent homes.  Women are directly affected by violence because they lead communities, and because they work most directly towards building human rights and peace, they feel the effects of conflict most closely.  As such, the peace agreement’s provisions relating to gender and ethnicity must be implemented with particular attention, and to do this, the State must support productive opportunities for, and the economic empowerment of, women by providing education to reduce gender inequality and advancing the rights of rural women.  Women must also be given the opportunity to participate in politics so they can shape the country’s future, but, to do this, women social leaders must be protected.  While many components will determine progress on implementing the peace agreement, she emphasized that the necessary technical and financial resources must be allocated to decentralized authorities for such implementation.  She added that efforts must also consider the needs of unique communities “so that peace can be guaranteed for future generations”. * The 9093rd Meeting was closed. Yet, serious obstacles exist, including persisting violence against communities, leaders and former combatants in several departments, the Special Representative said.  “Their security must be guaranteed.  A priority for any peace agreement must be to safeguard the lives of those who laid down their arms in good faith, with the assurance that they would be protected,” he said.  Illegal armed actors keep targeting local leaders in conflict-affected areas marked by poverty.  The high-level Forum of Ethnic People, created by the peace agreement, has called for dedicated follow-up on these and other ethnic matters by international actors. While Colombian society has been dealt a heavy blow by terrorist violence, abductions, recruitment of children in armed conflict and sexual crimes against women, she underscored that her country is “determined to forge ahead” in strengthening institutions and improving conditions for economic growth, education and employment that will allow young people to enjoy a prosperous future.  For the second time since the signing of the peace agreement in 2016, Colombia has elected a president through a transparent, free process that showcases the mature nature of the country’s democratic institutions.  Further, the Government works to facilitate the reintegration of former combatants through investments in socioeconomic projects, housing subsidies, access to education and social and health services.  “This model is unprecedented at the global level,” she emphasized. BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) commended President-elect Petro’s commitment to a comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement and addressing the remaining challenges.  The foremost is ensuring security for vulnerable communities affected by violence, displacement and confinement.  She welcomed the incoming administration’s commitment to creating conditions for a sustained and durable peace and hoped a resumption of talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) would contribute to Colombia’s peace.  She also welcomed the publication of the Truth Commission’s final report, a vital milestone in Colombia’s reconciliation process and recognized the Commissioner’s hard work in this vast undertaking, as well as the courage of thousands of victims who gave evidence. She encouraged the acceleration of rural reform.  Expedited progress on the Territorially Focused Development Plans and the multi-purpose cadastre should help build confidence in the commitment to peace and advance rural development to support the transformation of conflict-affected regions, she said. “There are good reasons for optimism for peace, and I believe the United Nations and the international community should do all they can to lend support,” said Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia. MARTA LUCÍA RAMÍREZ, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, underlining that all countries face the challenge of peaceful coexistence, said that Colombia has made “irreversible progress” in transitional justice and the implementation of the peace agreement.  The Government’s “peace with legality” policy has required meticulous planning and budgeting, she said, pointing out that these budgets will need to be increased in coming years to reflect that the Colombian economy has grown in “an outstanding fashion”.  She expressed hope that the new Government will continue to witness similar economic growth, create new jobs and provide more budgetary resources to implement the peace agreement.  “Colombia is nearer to peace today than ever before,” she stressed, and the country can be proud of its success, saying to the world that peace and reconciliation are possible given the political will and determination of an entire nation with support from the international community. FRANCISCO JOSÉ DE ROUX RENGIFO, President of the Truth Commission, said that Colombia has shown that those wounded by war can come together to build peace, happiness and “produce a tomorrow where there is hope”.  For the last four years, the Commission has heard of the suffering resulting from a war lasting over 50 years from more than 30,000 individuals and bodies and from more than 1,000 reports from victimized communities.  The Commission has walked alongside peasants stripped of land, indigenous communities that were dealt the heaviest blow by the armed conflict and women whose bodies became battlegrounds.  However, it did not just simply listen; rather, the Commission sought to comprehend why the conflict occurred, who caused it and how to prevent its recurrence.  This search for answers allows an understanding of why so much damage was done to life and culture, and why the conflict seems intent on continuing.  “We learned that war is never simple,” he said, spotlighting the “moral vacuum” at the heart of war as the reason it continues. He noted that, in recent meetings, President-elect Gustavo Petro has strongly reaffirmed that peace would be a cornerstone of the Government and he was counting on United Nations support.  Moreover, Vice-President-elect Francia Marques, the first Afro-Colombian woman to hold this position, has reiterated that peace, with a territorial and ethnic approach, will be a prominent feature of the Government’s agenda. Likewise, Kenya’s representative, also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, said the Colombian peace process has valuable lessons about ending a protracted civil war and embarking on the road to lasting peace and reconciliation.  Stressing that the full reintegration of former combatants into society remains key to the peace process’ success, he welcomed progress on territorially focused development programmes, comprehensive rural reform and the consolidation of former territorial areas for training and reintegration.  Echoing other speakers, he expressed concern over the persistent violence targeting ex-combatants and conflict-affected communities — including Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, social leaders, women peacebuilders and human rights activists — stressing the need to lend them more support. Encouraged by the recent peaceful presidential elections and the release of the compelling, final report of Colombia’s Truth Commission, the top United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today he is confident that Colombia is moving towards a vibrant, diverse democracy. She went on to stress that the safety and security of former combatants and their families will remain a priority for the State, pointing out that it is impossible to claim that all sources of violence result from the Government’s indifference or failure to implement the peace agreement.  Drug trafficking continues to cause suffering throughout the country, and she urged the international community to cooperate to prevent this activity by targeting drug traffickers’ financial assets.  She also pointed out that Colombia’s territory is large and geographically diverse, which renders a State presence throughout its entirety impossible.  As such, like it is unfair to assume that deaths occurring in the schools and streets of other countries’ cities are due to Government indolence, it is unfair to assume that violence in Colombia is the result of deliberate State absence in some parts of the country.  Noting that, on 7 August, the Government will hand over a solid, stable democracy and economy, she called on the Council to support the next Government so that these remain, which will allow Colombia to make progress towards lasting peace with legality. RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to welcome Colombia’s June elections, which constitute proof of the strength of the country’s democracy and institutional maturity.  He also welcomed the President-elect’s commitment to fully implement the peace agreement, enhance efforts to guarantee the safety of ex-combatants and strengthen policies regarding women, indigenous populations and Afro-descendants.  Underlining that a smooth transition of power is key to accelerating progress, he expressed hope that the new Government will know how to build on the current administration’s work and strengthen policies where needed.  Peace in Colombia is an achievement of that country’s society, and its voluntary decision to involve the United Nations in monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement is a testament to Colombia’s commitment to peace, as well as an opportunity for the Council to perform an innovative role in maintaining peace and security.  To this end, he emphasized that the Council must strictly adhere to the role asked of it by Colombia in order to foster trust between the international community and national parties. FERIT HOXHA (Albania) commended the outgoing Colombian Government’s efforts to ensure a free and fair electoral process by creating peaceful and conducive conditions.  Reassured the transitional period will be conducted in a similar constructive manner, he welcomed the President-elect’s commitment to initiate a national dialogue with all political forces, marginalized ethnic groups, civil society and other stakeholders.  This would include a strong focus on the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.  It is very encouraging that, for the first time in the country’s history, a woman representing the Afro-Colombian community, who is an environmentalist and human rights activist and herself a victim of the conflict, was elected Vice-President. He expected the new administration will keep working closely with the Mission and the United Nations country team and all stakeholders and partners to implement the peace agreement.  The Government needs to establish its authority and consolidate its presence in areas historically affected by the conflict, he said, stressing that criminal gangs and armed groups need to be dismantled once and for all.  The progress achieved in Colombia is strong and promising.  “The presidential election opens a new chapter for Colombia, which we want to see as a continuation of consolidation of peace, democracy and social justice,” he said, adding that inclusive dialogue, genuine reconciliation and justice are the key words defining Colombia’s future. There are also serious obstacles to the consolidation of peace, including persisting violence against communities, leaders and former combatants in several departments, he said.  Four more ex-combatants were killed since the Secretary‑General´s report was published two weeks ago.  Among them was Ronald Rojas, known also as Ramiro Durán, a prominent leader of former combatants in Huila department.  The Mission has registered the killings of 331 former combatants since the signing of the peace agreement. “Their security must be guaranteed.  A priority for any peace agreement must be to safeguard the lives of those who laid down their arms in good faith, with the assurance that they would be protected,” he said.  Illegal armed actors keep targeting local leaders in conflict-affected areas marked by poverty.  The high-level Forum of Ethnic People, created by the peace agreement, has called for dedicated follow-up on the ethnic matters by international actors.

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