UN on Colombia: COVID-19 must not derail peace agreement

The global COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on Colombia, but it cannot be allowed to derail the Latin American nation’s quest for sustainable peace after five decades of conflict, the Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in that country told the Security Council in a video conference meeting in April.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Colombia, said that the pandemic will impact on the implementation of the Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace, signed on 24 November 2016 between Bogota and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia‑People’s Army (FARC-EP).

It is encouraging to see Colombians finding creative responses to the crisis and responding positively to calls for unity as authorities at all levels take measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, he said, noting how implementing parties are embracing video technology to continue their work.

However, while the National Liberation Army (ELN) — which is still in negotiations with the Government — has declared a month-long ceasefire for April, clashes involving illegal armed groups are continuing, he said.

“At a time when all efforts must be focused on fighting the pandemic, we urge all illegal armed actors in Colombia to desist from continuing to perpetrate violence upon vulnerable communities, including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities,” he emphasized.

He told the 15-member council that the international community has a “collective obligation” to ensure progress in implementing the 2016 peace agreement.

“Peace in Colombia cannot and should not be a casualty of this pandemic,” he added, calling for ongoing progress to fully implement the Final Agreement, including on three priorities that the Secretary-General set out in his latest report on the Mission’s work.

Also briefing the council was David Santiago Cano Salazar, youth representative, who said all Colombians who lived through the conflict have suffered from the consequences of violence. Having grown up in Medellín, he said he remembers neighbors who were killed, corpses on TV, the sounds of gun shots and pervasive fear. While the peace agreement fulfilled hopes, he said it also raised expectations that peace would finally take root in rural Colombia.

“We should not need a pandemic to argue for the silencing of weapons,” he said, urging the Council to see COVID-19 as a reminder that “we are stronger when we are united”.

In the ensuing discussion, council members agreed that Colombia must forge ahead with implementing the peace agreement and that violence — particularly in rural areas — must come to a halt.

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