The historic peace agreement of 26 September 2016 between the Colombian Government and the FARC rebels was rejected by a narrow majority of voters in a referendum. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the result of the referendum came as “a nasty shock and a huge disappointment”. However, he still hopes that “the peace can be won”, thus bringing an end to the conflict that has lasted over 40 years. For many years, Germany has been working to help the victims of this conflict in Colombia and will continue to support them, for example in the spheres of transitional justice and reconciliation.
Standing by the victims
More than 300,000 people have lost their lives and millions have been displaced as a result of this brutal conflict. Over the last ten years, Germany has stood by those affected in Colombia by providing more than 370 million euros of development cooperation in addition to humanitarian assistance. In 2016 alone, aid projects of 5 million euros were supported in cooperation with German and international NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). Germany has also been working for ten years to promote the Colombian peace process and last year appointed Tom Koenigs as Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process.
Despite the current ceasefire, the humanitarian challenges in Colombia remain large. The people are still suffering from the consequences of decades of civil war. Their houses have been destroyed and the basis for earning their livelihoods shattered. Restoring safe and humane living conditions is one of the priorities of the humanitarian assistance being provided by the Federal Foreign Office in Colombia. The Ministry is for example supporting health institutions, the distribution of aid and the construction of accommodation for displaced persons.
The impact of the conflict is further exacerbated by factors which are not man-made. The El Niño weather system struck Colombia hard and led to widespread crop failures due to drought. It was not just agricultural land which suffered from the lack of rain, there was also not enough drinking water for people and animals. Together with the German Red Cross, the Federal Foreign Office is supporting a project to lessen the impact of extreme weather events.
One of the world’s most heavily mined countries
Furthermore, Colombia is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries. In the four decades of conflict, countless mines were laid. These pose a constant danger, particularly to the rural population, and make it impossible to cultivate large stretches of land. The Federal Foreign Office is actively involved in mine clearance and contributes to the platform Global Demining Initiative for Colombia to make its impact as broad as possible. Making the rural population aware of the dangers, clearing minefields and looking after the victims go hand in hand here.
After the narrow margin in the referendum, the priority now is to find a way to save the peace in Colombia. Foreign Minister Steinmeier expressed the following expectation: “All those bearing political responsibility now owe it to the victims and their families to ensure that the newly awakened hope of peace will not be trampled underfoot. The violence, murder and killing must not be allowed to start all over again. President Santos and the FARC negotiators must hold fast to their desire for peace.”