1 April 2016, Christian Aid and its partner ABColombia welcome the announcement of the formal start of the peace talks between the Colombian Government and the left-wing guerilla group Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN). But they also urge the Government to dismantle paramilitary groups to achieve sustainable peace in the country.
The peace talks with the ELN, the second largest guerrilla group in Colombia, were announced just one week after the Government failed to reach a final peace deal with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Colombia’s largest rebel group. The FARC and the Government had set up a 23 March deadline to sign a final agreement, but negotiations in Cuba have stalled in past months.
Louise Winstanley, ABColombia Programme and Advocacy Manager, said: “The announcement of the ELN and Government’s official peace talks is a welcome step toward ending half a century of war in Colombia.
“However, the guerrilla groups are not the only illegal armed groups in Colombia. For there to be sustainable peace in the country it’s essential to dismantle the right-wing paramilitary groups that are reportedly gearing up to move into the power vacuums that are left by the FARC as they demobilise.
“Since the end of last year communities have reported that paramilitary groups are increasing in number and moving about the country armed, in uniform and with a military structure. The groups are overwhelmingly responsible for the massacres, crimes of sexual violence, forced disappearances and displacements. It would be contradictory to negotiate with the insurgents while witnessing the paramilitaries expanding their territorial control.”
The activities of the right wing paramilitary groups that did not fully demobilise during formal negotiations in 2005 still continue today. According to Somos Defensores in 2015 these groups were responsible for 66 per cent of attacks and threats against human rights defenders and they continue to forcibly displace and disappear people in Colombia.
Thomas Mortensen, Christian Aid country manager for Colombia, said: “The announcement of the talks is good news. Christian Aid and partners have been campaigning for peace talks to begin with the ELN for years. It is essential that the final agreement reflects the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-repetition.
“As a gesture of their commitment to the peace talks the ELN should also immediately free those people it has kidnapped. We now urge both parties to declare a bi-lateral ceasefire as soon as possible, in order to reduce violence and build confidence.”
Colombia’s internal armed conflict has seen 220,000 people killed, 80 per cent of whom were civilians. With the exception of Syria, it continues to have the highest number of internally displaced people in the world, as well as the worst record globally for the killing of human rights defenders, with 63 killed in 2015.
The ELN and the Government have agreed on a six-point agenda for the formal peace talks, which will initially be held in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito. The pursuit of justice for victims of the conflict will feature on the agenda at the negotiations, with representatives of civil society having a key role in the discussions. Christian Aid and partners welcome this move, as they have consistently called for peaceful and participatory dialogues that include representatives of all spheres of Colombian civil society: victims of conflict, women, community leaders, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants.
Luis Guillermo Perez from Christian Aid partner, Colombian Lawyers’ Collective José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR), added: “Peace is not a matter that can be left to the armed actors; peace needs to be built with civil society.”
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