In Colombia there can be no development without peace
This op-ed was published online in English in the Globe and Mail on July 5, 2016.
By the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie
It has been called the world’s longest-running civil war, and it has lasted for more than half a century. It has seen more than 220,000 people killed and more than 6.8 million people forced from their homes.
Few countries have a history of violence and conflict as bloody and as complex as Colombia. But that is all about to change. On June 23, the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a ceasefire agreement, which outlines the terms of disarmament and demobilization of the troops. This is a historic first step toward a final peace agreement that will officially mark the end of hostilities between the warring parties.
As a long-standing partner, Canada has a strong bilateral and economic relationship with Colombia—the second-largest recipient of Canadian development assistance in the Americas. That is precisely why Canada will do its fair share to help make sustainable peace a reality. To do so, it is imperative to contribute to community reconciliation.
Colombians need to see peace measures quickly on the ground in order for them to fully engage and for peace to last. Victims of the conflict need access to justice. Land seized from smallholder farmers by illegal armed groups must be returned. Corruption, and particularly the relationship between local authorities, illegal activity and organized crime, must be addressed.
Women and youth are powerful agents of change and peace in their communities. They must be at the centre of our actions on the ground. As Colombia demobilizes and reintegrates former guerilla combatants into civilian life, it is important to remember that many of them are young women.
Colombia’s conflict has been fuelled for decades by Colombia’s inequality. Better access to land and natural resources for rural people, particularly for women, is one of the key elements needed to avoid slipping back into conflict again.
In my first official visit to Colombia, I will demonstrate Canada’s commitment to peace and human rights. In that regard, the Government of Canada will support five development projects that will help Colombia make the peace process a reality. I am especially sensitive to the high price that has been paid by women and girls, who—as in any other conflict—are the greatest victims since they are the most vulnerable to violence, they carry the responsibility for feeding their children and securing their future—even though everything has been taken from them. Canada’s intervention will help in achieving a part of the solution for sustainable peace.
These projects will enable the Government of Colombia, UN agencies and civil society organizations to reach most vulnerable communities as quickly as possible. They will help Colombians, specifically women and youth, to take ownership of the change they wish to see materialized in their communities.
As an example, our projects will help Colombia clear mined areas by 2021 so that children can go to school and women can farm their land without risking their lives. They will also provide women with protection, education and compensation services allowing them to play a key role in the peace consolidation process and to develop their full potential to actively participate in decision making. The projects will also make rural credit accessible for women farmers in conflict zones. All of our initiatives on the ground will empower women and youth—the architects of sustainable peace in Colombia.
I believe that in a world too often marred by conflicts, Colombia can become an example of hope. It can show us that peace can be achieved through persistent negotiation and a firm commitment to reconstruction. Canadians can be proud to support these efforts.
Office of the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie
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