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Colombia: Peace talks must remain a priority

12 June 2014 - With the final round of the presidential elections due in Colombia, Christian Aid urges that peace talks between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels remain a priority.

One of the two candidates standing on Sunday (June 15), former finance minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, recently said the peace negotiations taking place in Havana, Cuba should be suspended.

He is now demanding that the rebels declare a unilateral ceasefire, and agree to serve at least six years in prison before he is prepared to countenance continuing talks to end five decades of conflict.

Christian Aid Colombia country manager, Thomas Mortensen, said: ‘The peace talks which began last year have been fragile but promising. For real and lasting peace, whoever wins must see them through and arrive at agreement.

‘No one is under any illusions that agreement would mean an immediate end to the widespread and systematic violence in the country, but it is an essential step if Colombia is to enjoy peace and justice.

'This week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in London highlights the abuses that have been a hall mark of the conflict in Colombia and elsewhere. To pull out of the talks would amount to a betrayal of all those who have suffered.’

A recent Christian Aid partner report, Colombia: Women, Conflict-related sexual violence and the Peace Process showed just how prevalent rape has been in the conflict.

An estimated 500,000 women have experienced sexual violence in a conflict-related context in Colombia over the past ten years.  With the level of impunity running at more than 98 per cent, only two cases have been resolved of the 150,000 women who have given statements in the last eight years.

A recent joint declaration between the Colombian government and FARC said that the rights of victims of the conflict to truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence should be at the heart of any peace deal, and victims have now been invited to take part in the talks.

‘It is important for the talks to be inclusive with a strong say given to the victims, especially women, indigenous people, Afro-Colombian communities and marginalised rural communities,’ said Mr. Mortensen.

‘For a peace deal to be sustainable it will have to respect the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation,  include a guarantee of non-recurrence and refrain from granting any type of amnesty or pardon for conflict-related sexual violence crimes.

‘The extreme high levels of inequality, the highest in Latin America, are a cause for the ongoing conflict and need to be addressed.  To build peace, the Colombian elite need to accept a more just distribution of power and the victims must  have more power over their lives, resources and land.’

Colombia’s civil war has claimed at least 220,000 lives and left some 5.7 million people displaced, a number surpassed only by those forced to flee their homes in the Syrian conflict.

Although violence has diminished of late, the killing of community leaders, land claimants and human rights advocates continues, along with occasional attacks on government positions.

Today at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London Christian Aid partners ABColombia and PBI are holding a panel event at to discuss the costs of speaking out for journalists and human rights defenders. 

Chaired by Channel 4’s Lindsey Hilsum, speakers include Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima and Claudia Mejia director of Christian Aid partner Sisma Mujer, a Colombian women’s rights organisation. 

To find out more please see link to the event here.

If you would like further information please contact Jo Rogers on 020 7523 2460 and jrogers@christian-aid.org 24 hour press duty phone – 07850 242950

Notes to editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 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, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change www.christianaid.org.uk/images/partnership-for-change-summary.pdf explains 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's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk