In Bogotá, UN deputy rights chief says ‘peace is the only option’ for Colombia

The road to peace is a complex and winding one, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights said today during her visit to Colombia, a country with a “unique opportunity to evolve into a society” where everyone enjoys rights equally and without discrimination.

“I am aware that not everyone is convinced that peace is the best option for Colombia. But it is clear that peace is the best – the only – option,” said Flavia Pansieri, who travelled to Bogotá, Putumayo and Cauca where she met with authorities, ministers, representatives of civil society, as well as women, indigenous, afro-descendants and peasant organizations.

These groups have suffered disproportionately from Colombia’s protracted conflict, Ms. Pansieri said at a press conference. “They tell us stories of suffering and abuses they have suffered, not just because of the conflict, but because of a system that has historically discriminated and dispossessed them.”

During the armed conflict, over seven million victims suffered large-scale violations of human rights and humanitarian law, the Deputy rights chief stated, stressing the importance of special mechanisms of transitional justice. Now the State must increase attention to the rights of these groups - including basic rights, which are enjoyed in the richer parts of this country.

“In a modern Colombia there cannot be indigenous or Afro-descendant children who die of easily preventable illnesses, or because the water they drink is polluted with toxic waste produced by uncontrolled mining,” Ms. Pansieri said.

She also praised the dialogue initiatives which are taking place throughout the country, 46 of which the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is participating in. She emphasized the importance of the “unique consultation mechanism,” which allows all parties to understand each other’s needs and perspectives.

“People have the right to defend human rights and I want to stress the direct responsibility of the State in creating a climate of protection, in which these terrible acts become unacceptable. The best way to ensure this is through the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those who threaten and attack human rights defenders,” she said.

In discussions with different authorities on the progress made in prosecutions for extrajudicial executions carried out to inflate statistics on combat killings –what became known as ‘false positives’ – she urged the Ministry of Defence to support the investigation, prosecution and sanction of these crimes.

“Ending impunity for ‘false positives’ will ensure that victims’ rights are recognized and that these crimes will not be repeated anywhere in Colombia,” Ms. Pansieri said. “I would like to insist on the need for Colombia to act in line with human rights standards, which ensure respect for human rights and legitimacy in the use of force.”

These mechanisms can help ensure, in a comprehensive manner, not only justice but also truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. There is an imperative need for Colombia to develop judicial and non-judicial measures to help society deal with the human rights and international humanitarian law violations of the past.

While commending the current Government’s commitment to truth, justice and reparation for victims, she also insisted on the need for more coordination and cooperation mechanisms between State institutions.

“I also call on the Government to pay special attention to the demobilization and reintegration of girls and boys, preferably through a plan of action that will address the grave violations committed against them,” Ms. Pansieri said.

The international community has a major responsibility to accompany this process, she said, welcoming the international community to continue assisting the country in the promotion and protection of human rights, with the aim of achieving sustainable and lasting peace.

“I am conscious of the enormous challenges that exist. But I am convinced that with the participation of all sectors of society, a better future is guaranteed for Colombia for this generation and the next,” she said.

22 April 2015

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