Clearing a Path to Peace in Colombia and Around the World

By: Major General Michael Rothstein, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Plans, Programs, and Operations in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Secretary Kerry met with landmine survivors and other victims of conflict in Colombia on September 26. [State Department photo]

Earlier this month, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced a revised peace accord aimed at bringing to an end 52 years of armed conflict. This accord followed a national dialogue that included the Colombian government, representatives of the campaign against an earlier draft of the agreement, victims and other social groups, and the FARC.

Through our Peace Colombia strategy, the United States will continue to support the difficult work necessary to secure a just and lasting peace.

Decades of conflict have left deadly hazards in the path towards peace. Colombia is one of the most landmine-affected countries in the world. Thirty-one of its 32 departments are thought to be contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance. Last year, 222 Colombians were killed or injured by explosive hazards, and at current clearance rates, decades will pass before the country is mine free. While explosive hazards remain a persistent challenge in Colombia, clearing them could also create new opportunities to strengthen the peace. In Antioquia and Meta, the Colombian military’s humanitarian demining platoons (BIDES), former FARC combatants, and Norwegian People’s Aid conducted two confidence-building joint demining operations, working together to identify landmine locations, consult with local residents, conduct clearance operations, and deliver land back to communities. These joint demining operations built trust between former enemies while facilitating community access to land once scarred by explosive hazards.

Recognizing the humanitarian and strategic consequences of landmine contamination, the United States has invested more than $43 million since 1993 to support clearance operations and mine risk education in Colombia.

The United States’ assistance has helped reduce casualty rates from their apex in 2005 and 2006, when roughly 1,200 Colombians were killed or injured each year. However, even more must be done to rid Colombia of landmine contamination. While authorities have been unable to conduct a systematic survey, the Colombian government estimates it will need $320 million to eliminate the threat posed by landmines within five years.

To help meet this goal, Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende co-hosted a meeting, this Fall, to secure commitments from the international community in support of the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia. Along with 19 other nations and the European Union, the United States and Norway pledged more than $100 million to support landmine survey and clearance, mine risk education, and assistance for survivors of landmine incidents. Of the total financial commitments made, the United States pledged $36 million and Norway pledged $22 million. In addition, Secretary of Defense Carter recently pledged an additional $10 million to support efforts to rid Colombia of landmines.

While we have made great strides in assisting Colombia to address the legacy of decades of war, persistent international support will be required to become mine-free.

Moreover, humanitarian demining is just as urgent a priority in Angola, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka, and numerous other countries. The United States is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, but we cannot address this global challenge alone. With additional support from other governments, non-governmental partners, and the private sector, we hope to expand demining efforts in Colombia and around the world, saving lives and limbs and making livelihoods possible.

This story also appears on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s Official Blog.