3 November 2016 - Christian Aid Ireland has welcomed the visit of Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, to Belfast today.
President Santos was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the name of the 8 million victims of Colombia’s internal armed conflict.
Karol Balfe, Head of Programmes, Christian Aid Ireland, said: 'Northern Ireland and Colombia have a unique and shared understanding of the complexities involved in ending conflict and building peace. Our history in Northern Ireland means that we understand how communities can have their lives destroyed by violence.
'Now, more than ever, Colombia needs the engagement of the international community to continue to work for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict. The NI Assembly must demonstrate its ongoing support to the Colombian government and Colombian people as they continue to work for peace.'
Christian Aid has worked in Colombia since the 1980s and in 1995 opened an office in Bogotá to support people affected by the conflict.
Colombia has the world’s largest internally displaced population. All armed groups, including the security forces and the paramilitaries, acting alone or in collusion, and insurgents, have committed serious human rights crimes, including forced displacements, torture, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.
The Santos Government is currently renegotiating some aspects of the peace agreement with the FARC following a 'no' referendum vote by the slimmest of margins on 2 October 2016.
Thomas Mortensen, Christian Aid’s Country Manager in Colombia said: 'It is vital that any peace agreement in Colombia includes guarantees for truth, justice, reparation and, most importantly, non-repetition to thousands of victims and that it also includes guarantees of no amnesties for conflict sexual violence. These must be ensured to build sustainable peace.
'The agreement also makes important commitments on land reform and strengthening the rural economy, which is essential if we are to see people lifted out of poverty.'
Whilst President Santos has positively engaged with the 'no' campaign led by ex-president Álvaro Uribe Velez, and the stalled talks with the second largest group ELN will hopefully start again next weekend, violence by paramilitary groups continues and is directed at rural communities and human rights defenders.
In 2012, 33 human rights defenders were killed, making Colombia one of the worst countries in the world for the number of human rights defenders killed. In 2015, this doubled to 63 which means that one in three human rights defenders killed in the world last year were Colombian.
**Karol Balfe, Christian Aid Ireland’s Head of Programmes, is available for interview
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Notes to editors:
• Negotiations with the FARC have been ongoing for the last four years. On the 2 October 2016 Colombian citizens living in Colombia and abroad took part in a referendum to decide whether to accept the Peace Accord that had been negotiated between the Colombian Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia – Ejercito del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People’s Army -FARC), the largest of the guerrilla groups operating in Colombia. The vote for “No” won by the smallest of margins 50.2 per cent against and 49.8 per cent “Yes”.
• Achievements by women have been the most noticeable innovations in the Peace Agreement and in the negotiations: A commitment to demonstrate the disproportionate impact of the conflict on the bodies of girls and women in the Truth commission, a gender perspective in all of the Agreements made, creation of a Special Investigative Team for cases of sexual violence in conflict, establishment of a separate Historical Truth Commission mandated to collect evidence of sexual violence against women and girls that took place during the conflict.
• ELN: Ejército Nacional de Liberación (National Liberation Army) is the second largest guerrilla group.
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, and sustainably. Our strategy document ‘From Inspiration to Impact’ outlines how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid Ireland, with the support of Irish Aid, funds partners in Colombia working on peace building, human rights and accountability.
4. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org
5. Follow Christian Aid Ireland on Twitter: twitter.com/christianaidirl
6. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit www.christianaid.ie