Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh agus a Theachtaí agus a Sheanadoirí as an cuireadh a bheith libh ar maidin chun cur síos gearr a dheanamh ar mo chuid oibre ar son an Aontas Europaigh i dtaobh an procéis síochána sa Colom. Tá mé sáiste go bhfuil gceisteanna a thogáil tar éis mo ráiteas.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to be here. Thank you, Chairman, for your invitation to the meeting this morning to talk about the peace process in Colombia. In October 2015 I was appointed by the High Representative, Vice President Federica Mogherini, as the EU special envoy for the peace process in Colombia. My role was to accompany the concluding stages of the peace negotiations between the Government of Colombia and FARC, which were then taking place in Havana, Cuba, and thereafter to accompany the implementation of the peace agreement on behalf of the European Union.
As the committee is aware, a peace agreement was concluded in August 2016 to end the 52 year long FARC conflict in which almost 250,000 people had been killed, 40,000 were still missing and 6 million people had been displaced from their homes. The agreement was defeated in a national plebiscite on 2 October 2016 by a very small margin, 49.8% voted "Yes" and 50.2% voted "No". It was then renegotiated and approved by the country's Parliament in December 2016, and all of that was subsequently upheld by the constitutional court following a number of court challenges. Implementation of the agreement commenced on 1 January 2017.
The agreement, which took four years to negotiate, is very comprehensive. It has more than 300 pages and is divided into six chapters which correspond to the six-point agenda of the peace talks themselves. Chapter 6 concerns implementation and sets out the joint Government of Colombia-FARC bodies which were to be established and details the accompanying roles which were allocated to the international community. The European Union was asked to assist with rural development, the re-incorporation of former combatants and support for a special investigations unit in the prosecutor’s office. Chapter 6 is being substantially implemented and, significantly, President Duque, following his inauguration last August, has appointed the relevant Ministers to the implementation bodies.
Chapter 3 deals with the end of conflict, including the laying down of arms by FARC and the re-incorporation of its members. A tripartite mechanism headed by the UN and including the Colombian defence forces and FARC oversaw the disarmament process which was completed by mid-July 2017. FARC reconstituted itself as a political party in September 2017 and contested its first elections in 2018. The process of re-incorporation of former combatants is continuing, although progress has been slow.
Chapter 2 addresses political participation. FARC was allocated five seats in both the Senate and the Congress for two electoral terms. Two of the FARC Senators were unable, however, to take their seats but the other representatives are now playing an active role in both Houses. A provision to provide 16 additional seats for areas of the country which had been badly affected by the conflict could not however be implemented because it marginally failed to secure the required parliamentary majority for its legislation.
Chapter 5 concerns victims and provides for a system of reparation and for the transitional justice system which is aimed at truth, reconciliation and accountability. The transitional justice institutions, that is, the truth commission, the missing persons unit, the special jurisdiction for peace known as the JEP and the victims unit have been established and are functioning. The JEP has begun hearings relating to kidnappings by FARC and large numbers of former state actors have also submitted to it, but the JEP itself has been subject to political criticism and the international community, including the European Union, has expressed strong support for its work and for its independence.
Chapter 4 deals with the illegal drugs trade. At the centre of the agreement is a commitment to voluntary crop substitution. So far, approximately 70,000 coca growers have signed up for the substitution programme but implementation has been slow for several reasons, including intimidation and attacks on social and local leaders who are promoting the programme. Meanwhile, the size of the coca crop has grown. Some estimates suggest that it is now three times as big as it was at the beginning of the decade.
Chapter 1 concerns integrated rural development. This chapter has a 15-year time horizon for implementation. The previous Santos Government had commenced a process of local development planning based on wide local consultation. It is known as the PDETs. It is hoped that the new Duque Government will take this process forward in the new national development plan. The main purpose of the EU trust fund for Colombia is to support rural development, which will require significant resources and land reform. As part of the EU's commitment to support the provision of infrastructure and marginalised areas of the country, the European Investment Bank has indicated its willingness to make up to €400 million available in loan financing.
As we know from our own experience on this island, the implementation of a peace agreement can be even more difficult than its negotiation in the first place. The Colombian peace process has faced several setbacks and continues to face challenges at many levels, but it is succeeding and it is being implemented. There had been fears that the election of President Ivan Duque, the candidate of former President Uribe's Centro Democratico, which had led the opposition to the peace agreement in the plebiscite, would put the process at risk but President Duque has committed to implementing the agreement, albeit with some announced changes. Since his election I have met with him on several occasions and both I and the EU delegation in Bogota have a good working relationship with his Government.
The main challenges to the peace process now are, first, no peace agreement has yet been made with the ELN. Former President Santos had commenced peace talks with it in Quito and those were later moved to Havana. The ELN declared a ceasefire in September 2017 to coincide with the visit of Pope Francis but it did not continue it after January 2018. The ELN talks were somewhat on hold through the elections in 2018 and in the early months of the Duque Presidency, but they have now been ended following a large ELN bomb at a police academy in Bogota in January this year which killed 60 people.
Second, although the FARC conflict is over, violence continues in the territories. Since the beginning of 2017 more than 300 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed by armed gangs, many of them associated with the drugs trade and the illegal economies.
Third, the deteriorating situation in Venezuela presents a further risk to peace in Colombia. So far, 1.5 million Venezuelans have moved across the border into Colombia. Colombia has a 2,000 km border with Venezuela and is therefore very exposed to the humanitarian crisis in that country and to any instability which might arise from Venezuela. To all of that must be added the pressures of inequality, social and regional, possible tensions from eradication of the coca crop and a more polarised political environment which can lead to possible social unrest. The necessity therefore to consolidate and build on the progress made in the peace process is even greater.
The UN Security Council receives a report every three months from its mission in Colombia. The international community is united in support of the Colombian peace process. The European Union has increased its financial commitment and repeated its political support. The Irish Government has been a strong and consistent supporter of the peace process and that support has been given added impetus recently through the opening for the first time of an Irish embassy in Bogota under the leadership of Ambassador Alison Milton and Colombia has opened an embassy in Dublin under Ambassador Patricia Cortes.
I thank the Tánaiste and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for their continued support for my work, including the secondment of an Irish diplomat to the EU delegation in Bogota to work with me and also for being among the very first EU member states to join the EU trust fund.
For my part, I have recently been appointed EU Special Representative for Human Rights. Mindful, however, of the need to maintain continued support for the Colombian peace process, especially at this time, the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, has asked me also to continue my work on the Colombian peace process until she can replace me in that role. I will therefore travel to Bogota again next week to co-chair the human rights dialogue between the EU and Colombia and to provide an update on the EU’s continuing support. This is a complex process, and this short presentation can scarcely capture all aspects of it in detail. I look forward, therefore, to responding to members’ questions.