One year on from the signing of the Teatro Colón agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government, the Caritas Colombia Working Group, comprising 10 Caritas organisations of the Catholic Church in Europe and North America, together with the CIDSE alliance of 18 European and North American Catholic development charities, notes with satisfaction the high levels of implementation of objectives such as a ceasefire, the laying down of arms (according to the UN, 8,994 weapons have been handed over), the establishment of a monitoring mechanism and the creation of institutions and legal frameworks to guide implementation.
However, we noticed that there are big challenges in establishing security and protection guarantees (especially in areas formerly occupied by the FARC where other armed actors are now present), territorial peace, processing normative, legislative and administrative priorities such as the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), Special Temporary Peace Constituencies (CEP), and reintegration of former combatants to civilian life. These issues have a direct impact on peace building and reconciliation in the regions and community life.
On the other hand, confidence in the process is undermined by the high level of risk faced by social leaders who work to strengthen their communities and are dedicated to making democratic participation possible in the various processes underway in the country.
In the course of this first year of implementation 61 social leaders have been murdered, primarily in rural areas and leaders of ethnic communities. Between January and May 2017, 7,400 people were displaced by violence. We call on all sectors of Colombian society to promote protection and to guarantee the lives of leaders, and to respect and value their contribution to the construction of a shared vision of country and regions favouring the reconciliation of all Colombians. Reconciliation is the way forward, and life must be protected in all circumstances. Guarantees for communities are the route to ensuring the sustainability of peace building processes in Colombia.
For the consolidation of a permanent and lasting peace, the State needs to be wholly present in the regions so it may implement the peace accords and ensure human rights are respected at community level as a condition for co-existence and reconciliation. A comprehensive State presence in the regions will prevent the emergence of new forms of violence such as organised crime.
In its recent assembly, the President of the Colombian Bishops Conference noted that the Pope encourages us to step out on the long road to reconciliation by strengthening a sense of encounter through truth and mercy and an atmosphere of justice and peace. In this long-term scenario, we encourage Colombian society not to get give up insisting on the need for the truth about the events of the armed conflict to be known and received with mercy. This does not betray memory, but transforms it into a force that ensures that history will not be repeated. At the same time, the consolidation of a framework of restorative justice paves the way to reconciliation, restoring dignity to the victims, and allowing the aggressors to contribute constructively to the mending of the social fabric and the project of a common nation. “The search for peace is a task that demands we do not tire in our efforts to build national unity, and despite the obstacles, differences, and differing points of view on how to achieve a peaceful coexistence, that we persist in our efforts to create a culture of encounter situating the human person at the centre of all political, social and economic activity.” (Pope Francis, 7 September 2017)
As members of the international community and Colombia working group, we confirm our support of a peace building process in Colombia that puts the victims at the centre and strives for comprehensive human development rooted in respect for human rights.