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Colombia: On-going support from Ireland will be critical to support a historic end to the world's longest conflict

25 August 2016 - Christian Aid Ireland and its partners have warmly welcomed the announcement of the final agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla group.

Christian Aid Ireland is the only Irish NGO to work on the ground with local partners in regions of Colombia affected by the conflict, which has lasted for more than 50 years.

However, civil society organisations are also urging the Colombian government to ensure implementation of the agreement and dismantle paramilitary groups as a matter or priority, to guarantee lasting peace and for international actors such as Ireland to continue to support efforts to establish long-term peace.

The Colombian government and FARC made the announcement in Havana today and the agreement is due to be signed on 23 September with state leaders present. However, it will be up to the people of Colombia to ultimately decide whether or not to back this deal in a public vote set for October.

For more than half a century Colombia has been devastated by an internal armed conflict. The numbers are staggering; almost a quarter of a million people have been killed, there are an estimated 8 million victims and at 6.9 million the country has the world’s largest number of internally displaced people. 

After almost four years of public negotiations the final peace agreement establishes a bilateral and definitive ceasefire between Colombian armed forces and the FARC. It includes action on six major points: rural development, political participation, ending the conflict, illicit drugs, victims’ rights and peace deal implementation and peace deal implementation, verification and endorsement.

Karol Balfe of Christian Aid Ireland welcomed the agreement:

'The enormous effort made by the government and the FARC to reach this agreement must be congratulated. It is also worth noting the positive role which the Irish government and the EU played in supporting the process. With our local partners, Christian Aid Ireland warmly welcomes this development, but also recognises that there is a lot of work still to be done. There remain many outstanding issues which could hinder the success of the peace process.'

She continued:

'International engagement is critical to the peace deal’s success, and it is important that trade considerations do not impinge on the fragile peace. Unfortunately despite significant concerns about potential human rights violations from Colombian and Irish NGOs connected to trade deals, the Irish government in early 2015 ratified an EU Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru. It is imperative the Irish government monitors this agreement so that we fulfill our obligations in relation to business and human rights. The Irish government has played a very positive role in relation to supporting peace in Colombia, we urge them to continue this and look at engagement in Colombia holistically. In the context of potential business expansion, it is essential to ensure that the relationship between business and citizens’ rights are respected in Colombia’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society.

'The international community must continue to support the peace process, both politically and financially. This support mustn’t just be now, but also in the years to come, when Colombia no longer has the world’s attention. In particular support for a strong and wide-reaching mandate for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia is essential in guaranteeing human rights protection. The conflict has lasted for more than 50 years and it will take many years to build peace.'

Father Alberto Franco, Director of Christian Aid’s local partner Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission, said: 'One challenge is not to repeat history by signing an agreement not complying with it, and allowing the killing of participants to the peace process, as it happened after the agreement of 1984.

'Another challenge is to see behind the immediate enthusiasm of the peace deal and to remember that peace-building also requires deep and lasting transformation of society. The peace process should mean the end of Colombia’s position as one of the world’s most unequal and corrupt countries, where people are often second to commercial interests.'

The peace deal includes specific measures to ensure victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation; and provides for no amnesty for perpetrators of serious human rights violations, such as sexual violence, whether committed by state forces, the FARC or paramilitary groups.

The agreement seeks to improve access to land, health and education for marginalised communities, build a more inclusive political system to break the domination of political and economic elites, and support voluntary substitution of illegal crops.

Christian Aid strongly encourages the Colombian Government and the country’s second largest insurgency group, the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), to begin their formal peace talks that were announced in March.

If you would like further information or to arrange an interview please contact Florence Mutesasira on fmutesasira@christian-aid.org or call (+353) 086 160 9405.

Notes to editors:

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 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

4. Follow Christian Aid Ireland on Twitter: twitter.com/christianaidirl

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit www.christianaid.ie


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