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Monday, 05 June 2017 00:00

Interview with European Union envoy to the Colombian Peace Process

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In the first five months of this year, 32 human rights defenders and social leaders have been murdered. These crimes have set alarm bells in the international community and have put a huge challenge on the table for the State: to protect not only these people, but also the guerrillas and their families in the transit towards the decommissioning of weapons process.

The State has not found the formula to stop or investigate these murders. Its urgencies are -in the midst of a polarized electoral landscape- to finish the FARC's arms-lay down schedule and to implement other aspects of the Final Agreement. While some political sectors say they want to "shred the peace agreement," others are calling for a full and rapid implementation. They point to the delay in the construction of the Transitional Zones as an example of the inability of the Government to comply with the agreement.

Eamon Gilmore knows in depth the setbacks that a peace process can have. The European Union appointed him special envoy for the peace process in Colombia after 30 years of political life in Ireland. He was directly involved in the peace process with the Irish Republican Army, IRA.

Also read: UN Security Council Asks for Security Measures for Peace Defenders

This time he arrived in Colombia to disburse more than 2.3 million euros to finance two projects to protect human rights defenders. These initiatives are added to the creation of a new unit of the Special Prosecutor's Office to clarify crimes against social leaders.

Colombia 2020 spoke with the diplomat during the "Inclusion and education, pillars for peace" event. The event was the closing of the first year of El Espectador's pedagogical and journalistic campaign for postconflict.

What is the balance of the peace process with the FARC, taking into account all the delays that the Transitional Zones have had and the decommissioning of weapons?

We should not focus on schedule delays. All peace processes are difficult to implement, so I think it is important to not become prisoners of the dates and deadlines. The important thing is that the disarmament process reaches completion and for both the FARC and the Government to be committed.

Did something similar happen in Ireland?

All the time. And it’s considered a successful process! In many cases we did not achieve what we wanted within the stipulated period. But the long-term goal, which was to reach peace, was achieved. That's what's important.

How did they solve those problems?

Maintaining the momentum of the negotiation and the willingness of the parties; as long as both understand the need to implement the agreement, as is clearly the case in Colombia, it will be fulfilled.

You were recently in Nigeria, an African country that also suffers internal violence from Boko Haram. How do they see the Colombian process?

Nigerian parliamentarians showed great interest in the Colombian negotiations and want to apply some of the lessons learned here.

Such as...?

The most important thing is for persistence to exist and to never lose sight of the main objective, which is to achieve peace. Sometimes, when you are dealing with the everydayness of a peace agreement, you only see the present moment and not the overall picture.

At this moment the Government is occupied precisely in the immediate details of the implementation. What can be the outputs to comply with what was agreed in Havana?

The only solution is to follow the already agreed step by step process. Surely adjustments will be necessary and that will have to be negotiated, but the important thing is to not lose the momentum.

You also came to start projects of human rights protection. What are the specific objectives of these projects?

We want to help realize the human rights dimension of the Peace Agreement. We are, for example, working to strengthen the presence of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Arauca, Chocó, Cordoba, Guaviare, Huila, Putumayo and Urabá, key regions for the reincorporation of the FARC.

Also read: Victims demand Congress to maintain the essence of the Peace Agreement

How much money did they designate for this initiative?

1.5 million euros that should be implemented in 18 months.

And why do you think this is such an important issue right now?

One of the concerns we have is the vulnerability of the social leaders, the intimidations and the threats of which they have been victims. What we want is to monitor the safety of these leaders.

But that has been a historical problem in Colombia. What solutions have the European Union found so that this time the lives of these leaders actually get protection?

We are supporting the creation of a specialized unit within the Office of the Prosecutor to deal with cases of violence against social leaders. We are very aware of the historicity of the problem and we want to ensure that these people have the highest level of protection.

And for how long will this be implemented?

It is a long-term and permanent project. We want to support the creation of the unit with financial capacity, but also with technical assistance.

Why does the EU believe that successful reintegration is linked to rural development programs?

There is an important challenge which is the economic reincorporation. This conflict was largely carried out in the countryside and if we look at the different points of the Agreement terms of rural development and reincorporation, we realize that everything is integrated. The European Union is accompanying this important step and I hope that the projects that we will be funding in the rural development area can also be used for members of the FARC.

But this is only part of the reintegration process...

Don’t forget the personal and human reincorporation. In this regard we have prioritized the reincorporation of underage ex-combatants. We want to support their education and other needs in joint with Unicef.

How much did they designate for that project?

In total 2.5 million euros.

Do you already know how many underage ex-combatants would benefit from this program?

We don’t have a figure yet.

Some political sectors claim that, if they win the presidency [in the 2018 elections], they will shred the Peace Accord, what do you think of that?

I understand that in an electoral context there is a certain language associated with political campaigns. It is not my role to enter into the political debate that take place in Colombia from here to the presidential elections, but I hope that whatever the result is, the achievements that have been reached so far don’t suffer reversals.

In Colombia there is a huge discussion about the Truth Commission. What is the importance of this mechanism?

The most important people at the end of any conflict are the victims. They are the ones who paid the price: loss of body parts, death of loved ones, disappearance of family members, and economic and material losses. That is why the victims have the right to know what happened and why. That is why there must exist means to allow for the truth to be told. Victims must have tools to find truth and tranquility.

Also read: "Let us not be afraid of the truth of the conflict" Pablo Catatumbo

What would you say to Congress at this moment in which nearly 70% of the Peace Agreement could be modified and its approval could be slowed down?

I understand the decision of the Constitutional Court, I understand that they reaffirm the independence of the parliament, I was a parliamentarian for 30 years and I know what the work is like. But I think parliaments should act responsibly. The Colombian Congress knows what the Agreement contains and the agenda deadlines that must be achieved, I am sure that it will act responsibly.

Source: Colombia 2020