Red Cross says peace elusive as UN council heads to Colombia
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that conflicts in Colombia are ongoing and the humanitarian situation has worsened as the U.N. Security Council heads to the South American nation to assess progress toward peace.
Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s U.N. observer, told a group of reporters that four armed groups are still fighting the government — and two of the groups are also fighting each other.
So “it is hard to speak about post-conflict because conflict is unfortunately still playing out there with humanitarian consequences,” he said.
Mardini spoke as Security Council members were preparing to fly to Colombia’s capital Bogota later Thursday for a firsthand look at implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
He said the situation now is “more complex” with violence increasing, especially in some rural areas and areas where there is no government presence, and armed groups remaining “operational,” with some starting to reorganize.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the Security Council earlier this month that he regrets the “polarization and division” in Colombia over elements of the peace deal and called on the government to ensure that any changes to the accord respect commitments made to rebels who laid down their arms.
The U.N. chief also expressed “deep concern” that the U.N. mission in Colombia has verified 123 killings of former combatants since the peace deal was signed. He said the attacks are closely related to the increasing presence of “criminal armed groups and illegal and informal economies” in areas vacated by the FARC, “where the state has not established an effective presence and control.”
Mardini said since the 2016 agreement, the ICRC has documented one case of enforced disappearance connected with armed violence every four days, on average.
“In 2018, ICRC monitored more than 2,500 cases of disappearances, which is just a small fraction of the countrywide caseload estimated at more than 80,000, according to the National Center for Historical Memory,” he said.
Mardini said that in 2018, the ICRC received information on the whereabouts of 216 people, “and 49 were found alive” which is “good news.” But this number shows how many decades will likely be needed to clear up the “massive caseload.”
The U.N. Security Council has a special role in Colombia.
In January 2016, the government and FARC jointly asked the council to help monitor and verify rebel disarmament should the two sides reach a deal to end their war, which left an estimated 260,000 people dead and displaced millions.
It was a rare request for help to the council, which deals with global crises and is often criticized for failing to end conflicts like Syria. But the council welcomed the opportunity and established a political mission after the deal was signed that initially focused on verifying disarmament of FARC rebels and is now focusing on trying to reintegrate them into Colombian society.
The majority of the 13,000 former rebels who chose peace are fulfilling the accord’s stipulations, authorities have said. A relatively small but still important faction has returned to arms.
Peru’s U.N. Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, who is co-leading the Security Council’s July 11-14 trip, said recently that the main objective is to show the council’s “full commitment” to the peace process, support the agreement’s implementation and “better understand the priorities and concerns” of the parties and key players.
Britain’s Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen, who is co-leading the trip, said the council will make a field visit and meet with officials from the government, FARC, political parties, civil society and the U.N. mission.