The Justice for Colombia Peace Monitor formed of British and Irish parliamentarians and trade union leaders, including STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith, visited Colombia between 26th and 31st May 2019 to observe the state of the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement and the broader human rights situation. The Peace Monitor previously visited Colombia in April and August 2018 and in November released its annual report in the British Parliament. The final conclusions of this visit will be presented in July to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Irish Parliament and to British Parliamentarians.
We visited different regions and in Bogota the delegation held meetings with:
- Representatives of the Colombian government and the attorney general’s office.
- Leaders of the FARC political party.
- The Head of the UN Verification Mission and the Deputy High Commissioner of the UNHCHR.
- Members of Congress from the Opposition political parties.
- The Ambassadors of the guarantor countries Norway and Cuba as well as the Ambassadors of both Britain and Ireland.
- The CUT, human rights organisations and civil society leaders.
The delegation travelled to the municipality of Cajibio in Cauca where we met with local peasant communities and heard about the horrific number of killings of social leaders and the death threats received on a regular basis from paramilitary successor groups. We also travelled to the ETCR Tierra Grata where we saw the worrying lack of advancement on numerous elements of the socioeconomic reincorporation program agreed in the final peace deal.
Throughout the visit it was clear that for many Colombians the Final Peace Agreement offered real hope for a new Colombia in which those who have been most disadvantaged and most affected by poverty and violence could begin to dream of living a life in peace and with their rights fulfilled.
The delegation acknowledges the expressions of commitment to the Colombian peace process of the current President and the government representatives with whom the delegation met. However the delegation recognises that these commitments will need to be seen in practice if the implementation of the peace agreement is to be a success. It was evident for those we met with this week that the hope which emerged after the signing of the deal is being seriously challenged. The Colombian peace agreement was an example for the international community, but it was clear there are several areas of concern requiring urgent attention.
The murder of social leaders including trade unionists has reached epidemic levels and whilst we recognise there have been efforts from Colombian authorities to bring to justice the material authors in some cases, there is still a worrying level of impunity for the intellectual authors of these crimes. According to the UN Human Rights Office in Colombia 116 social leaders were murdered in 2018 and many have already been killed this year. Similarly shocking is the continued killing of FARC former combatants, with reports of over 130 murdered since the peace deal was signed.
We witnessed first-hand the efforts being made by FARC former combatants to build sustainable productive communities which offer hope for them and future generations. We also heard of their frustration about the insufficient support from the government for reincorporation which is not advancing at anything near the required pace. It is also clear that their access to land is an urgent necessity to ensure the long-term stability of the reincorporation process. It is essential that all former FARC combatants are provided with guarantees to ensure they continue to receive state support including security beyond the current August deadline and we note the governments indicated that they intend to do so.
The advances of of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the creation of the Truth Commission are hugely important for peace in Colombia. It is essential however that the JEP is able to operate with autonomy and with full respect from all state officials.The case of Jesus Santrich was raised on numerous occasions during the visit and the delegation welcomed the fulfilment of the Supreme Court ruling which ordered his release. The delegation met with Jesus Santrich’s lawyers and we continue to call for a full respect for due process in the case being brought against him – the presumption of innocence is a fundamental tenet of a justice system in any democratic society.
We continue to believe in the huge potential of the peace process between the Colombian state and the FARC-EP, for the Colombian population, its neighbouring countries and the international community more broadly. Similarly, we continue to hope that the peace talks with the ELN will be reinitiated.
Everyone working for peace in Colombia will continue to receive our full and committed support.