Making headlines for the right reasons:
The silencing of guns in Colombia
We talk a lot about ceasefires in the UN Security Council. Sometimes they’re called cessation of hostilities, local freezes, or even just peace agreements. But they all tend to mean the same thing: guns falling silent, an end to the suffering. Provided the parties to the conflict stick to them.
Today we have a new one to talk about: Colombia. Less than an hour ago in Havana, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono signed a ceasefire agreement that marks a new way forward for Colombia.
I saw the final stages of this ceasefire come about earlier this week when I visited President Santos in Bogota.
The conflict has lasted half a century. For months, then years, the conflict raged, the headlines kept coming. Over time, those headlines faded. Behind Vietnam, Cambodia. Behind Lebanon and the wars in the Balkans. Behind the DRC, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The conflict in Colombia has outlasted them all.
But as the wheels on my plane touched down in Bogata, I could anticipate new headlines. Positive headlines of a new Colombia.
Colombia is on the verge of peace. A fragile peace. A peace that needs i’s dotted and t’s crossed. A hard fought peace. And one that generations of Colombians have waited for.
I made my visit a mere 48 hours before the signature of the ceasefire. That makes it look like I had something to do with it. I didn’t. I pay tribute to all those involved at the peace talks and behind the scenes.
In particular the credit falls on the shoulders of a president who was only 13 when war came to Colombia. It is because of Juan Manuel Santos’s bold leadership that gunfire in the Colombian countryside should become a thing of the past.
Santos is a true statesman. He is the twelfth Colombian president that has dealt with paramilitary forces, guerrilla groups, hostage situations, and ideological forces that have pitted Colombians in rural areas against each other. Each of them worked toward a resolution, but until today, each of them came up short.
And there’s a reason for that.
Three out of four Colombians live in urban areas. Those cities bare a stark contrast to the images you have in your mind when you think of a war zone. I saw it myself this week. Downtown Bogotá was filled with markets, restaurants, and shopping malls. It’s full of life. That’s not to say, they’ve been spared from violence over the past half century. Urban centres have been the site of some brutal attacks. But, I’ve visited many countries at peace that look a lot like what I saw in Colombia — lots of people out and about, excellent food, and finding a screen to watch the England/Slovakia game was hardly a challenge.
But ask that fourth Colombian. The one who lives in the rural outskirts. Those that have lived for generations listening to the sound of gunfire. Who have treaded carefully over land littered with landmines. For every fourth person the underlying tension of a half century of conflict is very real. Nobody made this clearer than the grassroots civil society representatives who I was honoured to meet on the trip. They spoke of human rights abuses, gave insights into lessons learned from previous peace efforts, and made it clear that there was still a long road ahead.
When Santos and Londono signed the ceasefire agreement today, they took a step forward down that long road. The biggest step in a long time. They took that step forward for every fourth Colombian.
And they did it because every Colombian deserves peace.
Let’s not beat around the bush: if you’re the President of Colombia, a peace deal isn’t helping you at the polls. It’s pretty unpopular.
It’s so much easier to continue fighting than sitting around a negotiating table and charting a new course.
But peace isn’t easy. Santos knows that, and he’s willing to take the tough road.
Santos deserves praise, but one sided peace doesn’t exist. Mirroring the leadership of the president is the courage of a movement to lay their guns down. To chose a life that differs so much from what they’ve known.
When you’ve been a part of an armed movement that spans generations the decision to lay down weapons is not taken lightly. That requires courage. That requires a leap of faith.
Make no mistake about it: all of this adds up to something historic. It’s historic for Colombia and historic for the United Nations. The UN Security Council’s agenda is packed with country situations that we, the members of the Council, have put there, often against that country’s will. Colombia is a different story. Their resolve for peace led them to place themselves on the Security Council agenda.
As the lead country on the Security Council for Colombia, the UK, and I personally, will do what we can to ensure that resolve for peace is met with support from UN Headquarters in New York. It will include a UN mission to observe the ceasefire agreement.
That could be a small win for the United Nations and the rules based international system.
But a big win for generations to come in Colombia.