By Javier Otazu
United Nations, Apr 12 (EFE).- Colombian President Ivan Duque on Tuesday before the United Nations Security Council defended his country’s peace process and bragged about receiving “almost unanimous support” from the Council’s members, although a number of countries expressed concerns about the numerous acts of violence there against human rights activists and social leaders.
Duque, who had asked to personally address the Council, discussed some of what he said were the main achievements of the peace process, which in late 2021 had been under way for five years.
Chief among the points the Colombian leader made was the reduction in violence during the past four years to levels – he said – never seen in the past 40 years, both in terms of murders and kidnappings.
He acknowledged, however, that he cannot “sing about victory” when numerous murders are still being committed, with social, indigenous and black leaders being among the victims, and this point was echoed by almost all other speakers who took the podium to address the Council, demanding that Bogota make greater efforts to protect all threatened activists.
Duque once again attributed the violence to armed groups linked to drug trafficking, the existence of which he also connected to the support they receive in the Arauca region from “a neighboring country” – an allusion to Venezuela – “which gives protection, sanctuary and sponsorship to these terrorist groups.”
But in addition, he also blamed the countries where there is high cocaine consumption, a trade that is nothing but “fuel for drug trafficking” and for which he called for “joint responsibility” efforts to help Colombia defeat that plague.
He said that during his presidency, which will end next August, Colombia has broken records for eradicating coca crops and also for seizures of the drug, with 670 tons confiscated in just the past year, but even so “world consumption continues to grow,” he said.
Regarding questions about abuses by the security forces during their operations against the armed groups, which often have civilians as their victims, Duque sought to exonerate those forces, saying “The security forces on a daily basis are winning the affection of the citizenry,” and adding that there are sufficient “control mechanisms” to guarantee “zero tolerance for human rights violations.”
He attributed those violations to the armed groups and said they included recruitment of minors, femicides, ill-treatment of members of the security forces and crimes against them that the transitional justice mechanisms will have to clarify.
Within the Security Council, Duque received a surprise, namely that Russia – which in earlier sessions regarding Colombia had basically aligned itself with the other Council members – clearly distanced itself from the other member states on this occasion, once more making clear its geopolitical differences with other powers, which have been exacerbated by the Kremlin’s recent military invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, when it was his turn to speak, warned that “others are going to say nice words to you and avoid tricky questions, but we’re telling the truth and we’re not going to hide our ever greater unease over the peace process.”
Nebenzia said that the problems are growing and that the Colombian government is not capable of guaranteeing it can control drug trafficking, the influence of criminal groups and attacks on participants in the peace process.
“What the Colombian people achieved with so much effort is being destroyed,” said the Russian envoy, who went on to speak about “major failures” in implementing the final peace agreement with the now defunct guerrillas as they reenter civilian life.
In the face of the Russian critique, Duque once again asked to be given the floor and noted that he would accept “constructive comments” but would not tolerate the fact that “those who today are lacerating an inert people are preaching to us while they are committing fratricidal acts … How can those who are sowing war and desolation speak about peace?” he asked, referring to Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Finally, and with regard to those who are asking for the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group to join the peace process, Duque set forth his conditions for such a move: “We will only open up a bridge of understanding so that they may free all kidnap victims and put an end to the violence. Agreeing to move toward (them) while those levels of violence continue would be unacceptable,” he said.
On April 9, Duque had said that Colombia has “no relationship” with Russia, given Moscow’s brutal and ongoing attack on Ukraine, and will have no further relationship with it until the war ceases.