Colombia is in the home stretch towards ending the decades-long conflict with the FARC guerillas. Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier visited the South American country on Friday (13 January) to further Germany’s support for the peace process. During his visit, he also visited a disarmament zone in the conflict area and opened the German-Colombian Peace Institute.
The current weeks and months are of historic importance for Colombia and much further beyond. The decades-long war between the government and left-wing guerillas claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The conflict has thus left deep scars on society and made the peace process a very difficult undertaking. Following lengthy negotiations, a breakthrough was achieved in September 2016 and an agreement was signed. But then came a bitter setback ‑ the agreement was rejected by a narrow majority in a referendum.
Working resolutely for peace
However, Colombian President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos refused to give up. He launched a second round of talks. In the meantime, the new agreement has been signed and is now at the implementation stage. But after such a long conflict, disarming the fighters, integrating them into the country’s political institutions and restoring state control quickly in all formerly contested areas is anything but easy. Coming to terms with the past is an important and major challenge.
Request for support from Germany
The peace agreement explicitly requests support from Germany in the field of reconciliation and transitional justice. Germany has been providing humanitarian assistance in Colombia for many years. It lent support to the peace process by appointing Tom Koenigs as Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process. Work on the foundation of the German-Colombian Peace Institute, which will conduct research on the consolidation of peace and provide stakeholders with guidance on policy, has been ongoing since October 2016.
Visit to the disarmament zone
“Peace takes courage” was the motto of the opening event of the peace institute. In his speech at the event, Steinmeier said: “With this peace agreement, Colombia is sending a message to other virtually irresolvable conflicts. And this message is that peace is possible!” He also held political talks with his Colombian counterpart María Ángela Holguín and President Juan Manuel Santos.
On Friday afternoon, Steinmeier travelled to the conflict zone. In one of the 26 special zones where thousands of FARC fighters are currently due to gather to lay down their arms, he had a chance to see the implementation of the peace agreement at first hand. He was particularly impressed by the fact that representatives of the government, FARC and United Nations share a tent.
If Colombia accomplishes the Herculean task of permanently ending the most protracted conflict in the entire western hemisphere, this would send a strong message of peace to our crisis-ridden world. Germany stands ready to provide all the support it can.