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“Building peace is like building a cathedral, brick by brick. We want to build it on solid and long-lasting foundations" - Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations.
Colombia faces an unprecedented opportunity for reconciliation, growth and human development. In a fragile but hopeful context, the friends of Colombia have a duty to engage even more closely. And this is what we are doing as European Union, European Commissioner for Humanitarian aid and crisis management Christos Stylianides said in an address to Members of the European Parliament on 16 January.
Following renewed attacks by the ELN militant group, Colombia is now in a very delicate moment for peace and reconciliation. But continuing to support the peace process is essential, said Stylianides. "We should not lose sight of the bigger picture. After half a century of war, the FARC have disarmed and turned into a political party. The Truth Commission has begun its work. The number of murders is still too high, but it’s the lowest in fifty years."
In support of peace and reconciliation, the EU has taken political and diplomatic measures. "For instance, we first suspended and then removed the FARC from our list of terrorist organisations. It was an essential decision. Showing to the ex-fighters that indeed a new beginning was possible. If they laid down their weapons and chose democratic politics instead." The EU has called on the ELN to immediately cease attacks and encourages the parties to resume talks on the extension of the ceasefire which expired on 9 January.
"Peace can only come from a return to dialogue," said the Commissioner.
The EU has always supported the peace process. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini's Special Envoy for the peace process in Colombia Mr Eamon Gilmore has throughout maintained close contacts with the Colombian government and with FARC, with opposition leaders, civil society, and with our partners at the UN.
In parallel to our diplomatic action, the EU is also engaged very practically in the reconciliation process, on the ground, in particular in the areas of rural reform, the reincorporation of ex-FARC guerrillas into civilian life, and the establishment of a Special Investigation Unit in the Prosecutor-General's office, to combat crime and protect activists.
The EU Trust Fund for Colombia was established precisely to support these tasks. The Fund today has a budget of EUR 95 million, with contributions from 19 Member States. Among other projects, the Trust Funds helps underpin the reincorporation of former fighters into Colombian society, whether with schooling, jobs or psychological support.
In addition to the Trust Fund, the EU Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace has mobilised an extra EUR 40 million towards such critical processes as an effective transitional justice system. "Because reconciliation and justice must always go hand in hand," noted Commissioner Stylianides.
The Commissioner also noted the work of the EU to protect human rights defenders, including by providing funding to cover legal fees, physical protection measures and, in the most serious cases, temporary relocation of the land activists and representatives of victims.
In parallel the EU has continued providing humanitarian aid to people affected by violence, ensuring those displaced or confined by conflict have access to basic services such as shelter, protection, safe water, food, healthcare, psychosocial support, and education.
The EU is committed to continuing and extending these measures of support to the Colombian peace process.
"After half a century of war, it would be naïve to imagine that reconciliation could happen overnight," said the Commissioner. "This last stretch of the road towards peace may be the hardest part. But it is just as important as the peace agreement itself. The people of Colombia – and peacemakers such as President Santos – need all our support. They can be sure that the European Union, together with the United Nations, will continue to be the strongest supporter of peace and human rights. And a point of reference for all those who dream of a country finally reconciled."
Watch the full speech by Commissioner Stylianides here