Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 4 April 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Situation in Colombia: Mr. Eamon Gilmore
We are meeting with Mr. Eamon Gilmore, EU special envoy for the peace process in Colombia. He is very welcome back to the committee. The members of the committee look forward to hearing his thoughts and views on the current state of the peace process.
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and persons in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Members are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe or flight mode depending on the device. It is not sufficient for members to just switch off their phones or to put them on silent mode as that will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I now call on Mr. Gilmore to make his opening statement.
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh agus a Theachtaí agus a Sheanadoirí as an cuireadh a bheith libh ar maidin chun cur síos gearr a dheanamh ar mo chuid oibre ar son an Aontas Europaigh i dtaobh an procéis síochána sa Colom. Tá mé sáiste go bhfuil gceisteanna a thogáil tar éis mo ráiteas.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to be here. Thank you, Chairman, for your invitation to the meeting this morning to talk about the peace process in Colombia. In October 2015 I was appointed by the High Representative, Vice President Federica Mogherini, as the EU special envoy for the peace process in Colombia. My role was to accompany the concluding stages of the peace negotiations between the Government of Colombia and FARC, which were then taking place in Havana, Cuba, and thereafter to accompany the implementation of the peace agreement on behalf of the European Union.
As the committee is aware, a peace agreement was concluded in August 2016 to end the 52 year long FARC conflict in which almost 250,000 people had been killed, 40,000 were still missing and 6 million people had been displaced from their homes. The agreement was defeated in a national plebiscite on 2 October 2016 by a very small margin, 49.8% voted "Yes" and 50.2% voted "No". It was then renegotiated and approved by the country's Parliament in December 2016, and all of that was subsequently upheld by the constitutional court following a number of court challenges. Implementation of the agreement commenced on 1 January 2017.
The agreement, which took four years to negotiate, is very comprehensive. It has more than 300 pages and is divided into six chapters which correspond to the six-point agenda of the peace talks themselves. Chapter 6 concerns implementation and sets out the joint Government of Colombia-FARC bodies which were to be established and details the accompanying roles which were allocated to the international community. The European Union was asked to assist with rural development, the re-incorporation of former combatants and support for a special investigations unit in the prosecutor’s office. Chapter 6 is being substantially implemented and, significantly, President Duque, following his inauguration last August, has appointed the relevant Ministers to the implementation bodies.
Chapter 3 deals with the end of conflict, including the laying down of arms by FARC and the re-incorporation of its members. A tripartite mechanism headed by the UN and including the Colombian defence forces and FARC oversaw the disarmament process which was completed by mid-July 2017. FARC reconstituted itself as a political party in September 2017 and contested its first elections in 2018. The process of re-incorporation of former combatants is continuing, although progress has been slow.
Chapter 2 addresses political participation. FARC was allocated five seats in both the Senate and the Congress for two electoral terms. Two of the FARC Senators were unable, however, to take their seats but the other representatives are now playing an active role in both Houses. A provision to provide 16 additional seats for areas of the country which had been badly affected by the conflict could not however be implemented because it marginally failed to secure the required parliamentary majority for its legislation.
Chapter 5 concerns victims and provides for a system of reparation and for the transitional justice system which is aimed at truth, reconciliation and accountability. The transitional justice institutions, that is, the truth commission, the missing persons unit, the special jurisdiction for peace known as the JEP and the victims unit have been established and are functioning. The JEP has begun hearings relating to kidnappings by FARC and large numbers of former state actors have also submitted to it, but the JEP itself has been subject to political criticism and the international community, including the European Union, has expressed strong support for its work and for its independence.
Chapter 4 deals with the illegal drugs trade. At the centre of the agreement is a commitment to voluntary crop substitution. So far, approximately 70,000 coca growers have signed up for the substitution programme but implementation has been slow for several reasons, including intimidation and attacks on social and local leaders who are promoting the programme. Meanwhile, the size of the coca crop has grown. Some estimates suggest that it is now three times as big as it was at the beginning of the decade.
Chapter 1 concerns integrated rural development. This chapter has a 15-year time horizon for implementation. The previous Santos Government had commenced a process of local development planning based on wide local consultation. It is known as the PDETs. It is hoped that the new Duque Government will take this process forward in the new national development plan. The main purpose of the EU trust fund for Colombia is to support rural development, which will require significant resources and land reform. As part of the EU's commitment to support the provision of infrastructure and marginalised areas of the country, the European Investment Bank has indicated its willingness to make up to €400 million available in loan financing.
As we know from our own experience on this island, the implementation of a peace agreement can be even more difficult than its negotiation in the first place. The Colombian peace process has faced several setbacks and continues to face challenges at many levels, but it is succeeding and it is being implemented. There had been fears that the election of President Ivan Duque, the candidate of former President Uribe's Centro Democratico, which had led the opposition to the peace agreement in the plebiscite, would put the process at risk but President Duque has committed to implementing the agreement, albeit with some announced changes. Since his election I have met with him on several occasions and both I and the EU delegation in Bogota have a good working relationship with his Government.
The main challenges to the peace process now are, first, no peace agreement has yet been made with the ELN. Former President Santos had commenced peace talks with it in Quito and those were later moved to Havana. The ELN declared a ceasefire in September 2017 to coincide with the visit of Pope Francis but it did not continue it after January 2018. The ELN talks were somewhat on hold through the elections in 2018 and in the early months of the Duque Presidency, but they have now been ended following a large ELN bomb at a police academy in Bogota in January this year which killed 60 people.
Second, although the FARC conflict is over, violence continues in the territories. Since the beginning of 2017 more than 300 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed by armed gangs, many of them associated with the drugs trade and the illegal economies.
Third, the deteriorating situation in Venezuela presents a further risk to peace in Colombia. So far, 1.5 million Venezuelans have moved across the border into Colombia. Colombia has a 2,000 km border with Venezuela and is therefore very exposed to the humanitarian crisis in that country and to any instability which might arise from Venezuela. To all of that must be added the pressures of inequality, social and regional, possible tensions from eradication of the coca crop and a more polarised political environment which can lead to possible social unrest. The necessity therefore to consolidate and build on the progress made in the peace process is even greater.
The UN Security Council receives a report every three months from its mission in Colombia. The international community is united in support of the Colombian peace process. The European Union has increased its financial commitment and repeated its political support. The Irish Government has been a strong and consistent supporter of the peace process and that support has been given added impetus recently through the opening for the first time of an Irish embassy in Bogota under the leadership of Ambassador Alison Milton and Colombia has opened an embassy in Dublin under Ambassador Patricia Cortes.
I thank the Tánaiste and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for their continued support for my work, including the secondment of an Irish diplomat to the EU delegation in Bogota to work with me and also for being among the very first EU member states to join the EU trust fund.
For my part, I have recently been appointed EU Special Representative for Human Rights. Mindful, however, of the need to maintain continued support for the Colombian peace process, especially at this time, the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, has asked me also to continue my work on the Colombian peace process until she can replace me in that role. I will therefore travel to Bogota again next week to co-chair the human rights dialogue between the EU and Colombia and to provide an update on the EU’s continuing support. This is a complex process, and this short presentation can scarcely capture all aspects of it in detail. I look forward, therefore, to responding to members’ questions.
I thank Mr. Gilmore for his very comprehensive and concise outline of the very complex situation in Colombia. We know of the huge issues that have yet to be overcome and resolved satisfactorily. I call Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan.
Déanaim comhghairdeas le Mr. Gilmore as ucht an jab nua a bheith aige. I see he will be able to continue his work on the Colombian aspect, which of course ties in with his new human rights role. We know that human rights are a major issue in Colombia. I was reminded that in 2012 a number of us Deputies and Senators signed a letter expressing our support for the peace process and a commitment to dialogue and compromise as being vital to ensure lasting peace while also acknowledging Cuba’s role in the matter.
I recently read a report from Justice for Colombia. It made the point that its worst fears about the new Government have not been realised. Nevertheless, President Duque is going ahead with these six objections. He says that this is constitutional and that it will not threaten the peace process. I would like to hear Mr. Gilmore’s view on this and the general feeling about these objections. While they might be constitutional, are they in fact undermining the peace process? There are concerns about the attempts to change the remit of the JEP, taking out investigation and prosecution of members of the security forces and their holding to account for the war crimes and the human rights violations. There is a danger that this might not balance with the needs of the victims. Again, are the international community and the EU being strong enough in supporting what was agreed in that peace process? There is also the issue of new magistrates and that a process is now in place which could leave them more open to political influence. I looked through the summary of the final agreement. Obviously, land is central to the conflict, as I think it was in the first place. We know what the Government is trying to do about land reform with these 16 special regions, but I do not think much progress is being made on that. Is it a question of finance or political will that it is not coming about?
The situation regarding coca and crop substitution is very disturbing. It is not being promoted and encouraged as it should be. I have probably missed something, but what seems to be missing from all this is the attractiveness of Colombia to multinationals because of its resources. While these multinationals are coming in, we know there will be displacement, we know that villages are being wiped out and we know that their civil society leaders, their local leaders, the indigenous tribes, are being displaced and that their lives are really under threat. Is this featuring at all in the negotiations that are ongoing? I refer to the area of rural reform.
My last point – I may come back in later – concerns political participation. It was very disturbing to read that two members of the FARC who had seats in Parliament – Jesús Santrich, who I think is still in prison, and Mr. Márquez – are unable to take their seats. Why is more not being done about this to ensure that what was agreed has been followed through on? We know from the Good Friday Agreement that a sustaining, lasting peace with justice is very difficult. As Mr. Gilmore said, it is one thing to sign the agreement; it is another thing to look at its implementation. Many mistakes were made with the Good Friday Agreement, particularly regarding legacy, and we are seeing this now because it was not really addressed. We see it with the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and we saw it with Bloody Sunday. We could give a list of examples of issues remaining because legacy matters were not addressed. I would like to hear Mr. Gilmore’s views on this also.
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
Regarding my role, the High Representative’s request was that I would continue with my work on Colombia while doing my work as Special Representative for Human Rights. There is, as Deputy O’Sullivan said, an overlap in this regard. As it happens, the human rights dialogue with Colombia is due around now. We will have that formula on Monday morning. The consultations with civil society are taking place today and tomorrow and we will have a report on that on Monday morning when I am there. The new Government has committed to implementing the agreement and, as the Deputy said, Justice for Colombia has commented on that, which is very positive. I travelled with President Duque on his invitation to one of the FARC reintegration or reincorporation areas, met with former combatants and saw President Duque address them and commit to implementing the terms of the agreement. Regarding the six objections to which the Deputy referred, there is a law required to underpin the work of the transitional justice system of the JEP, the special jurisdiction that has been established. This required the signature of the President, and he sent it back to the Congress with six proposed changes. That is being considered by the Congress at present. The Congress referred it to the constitutional court, which has sent it back to the Congress, saying the Congress must complete its work on it, and it has been given a deadline for that work. That consideration is under way and, as in any parliamentary process, there is a lot of vigorous debate about the merits of the proposed changes, so we will have to see how that goes. The President has said he will accept what the Congress decides, so it is now a matter for the Congress to address that.
The second issue relating to the JEP is whether or not it applies to former state actors. A campaign is under way to have a separate process for state actors. This issue is also being considered by the constitutional court and a decision is to be made. In the meantime, as I said in my earlier statement, a very large number of former army officers and former police officers, something like 2,500 former members of the security services, have already submitted to the JEP, which is a very encouraging sign.
Land issues will take time, and there are issues relating to resources. As I said, there is a 15-year time horizon for dealing with rural development. It is not progressing very quickly, I must say, but it is an area where the European Union has been asked to provide accompaniment.
Regarding the coca situation, 70,000 have offered for voluntary substitution. The Government says it is committed to paying the compensation to be paid to them, which is good. The extent to which the voluntary crop substitution programme will progress after that remains to be seen. I will make a general point, however. The coca problem and the cocaine trade, in my view, cannot be solved purely at the supply end, and it is unreasonable and unrealistic of countries outside of Colombia to think it can be. It must also be addressed from the demand side. In the recent security discussions, the security dialogue between the EU and Colombia, we have discussed this issue and are doing some initial work on co-operation with Colombia as to how the demand side might also contribute to dealing with the coca situation.
On the issue of multinationals, the human rights challenges on the ground and the displacement of people in the various territories has more to do with the illegal economy than it has to do with the legal economy. It has to do with the drugs trade and the battle that is going on for control of that trade, and also with illegal mining. They are the biggest contributors to that.
I referred to two Senators not taking their seats. Senator Jesus Santrich is in custody following an extradition request from the United States for an alleged offence that was committed. It is alleged it was committed after the peace agreement started to be implemented. The question as to whether that was the case or not is also being addressed by the JEP. I understand that a decision on the case is due in the near future. Ivan Marquez left Bogota and decided not to take up his seat in the Congress.
In response to the point about legacy issues, I think the Colombian peace agreement is better on legacy issues and on the needs of victims than the Good Friday Agreement. Victims were made part of the negotiation process. Representatives of victims were brought to the table and there is an entire chapter of the Colombian agreement on victims. The Colombian agreement attempted to deal with the issue of victims in the main agreement and to deal with it upfront. To some extent, in the case of the Northern Ireland agreement it was something left to be dealt with afterwards. It remains to be seen how this will work out in practice but certainly from what I have seen of both agreements I think the Colombian approach was better.
I welcome Mr. Gilmore back to the Oireachtas. I congratulate him on his new role. We wish him well in his work. I have a couple of follow-up questions from what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked. What is the position of the present Government and Mr. Duque regarding Venezuela? Do they support the incumbent President Maduro or the aspirant President, Juan Guaido, and how does that impact the ongoing peace process?
I noted the reference in Mr. Gilmore's statement to the fact that production of the coca crop is now at an all-time high. I think he referred to a ten-year high despite the fact that the peace process is now under way. That is a major impediment. Is the peace process failing? Is it fair to say that the peace process is not dealing with the issue? I accept what Mr. Gilmore has just said about the demand side.
Learning from our own peace process, namely, the Good Friday Agreement, and also the peace process in South Africa, there has been some debate in this country following on from the success of the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa, is a similar process part of the peace process in Colombia? I would welcome a comment from Mr. Gilmore in that regard.
We are all struck by the scale of the process and the considerable undertaking involved. The population in Colombia has grown by almost 8 million people in a ten-year period. It is a big country and a big economy. I am mindful of the fact that Mr. Gilmore is in and out of the country and he is working with the Government. In his view, how strong, open and transparent is the current democratic system in Colombia in terms of dealing with the scale of the problem?
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
It is well known publicly that the President Duque and his Government do not support Mr. Maduro and have identified with Mr. Guaido and expressed support for him. The Venezuelan situation has a big impact on Colombia at a number of levels. The first is the significant numbers of migrants from Venezuela into Colombia. It is estimated that some 3 million Venezuelans have left Venezuela and approximately half of those have gone into Colombia. To put that in perspective, that is more than the total number of migrants who came into Europe at the height of what was referred to us the migration crisis for Europe.
The humanitarian situation in Venezuela is of concern. There are shortages of food and medicines and there are energy problems. That has an impact on Colombia because of the extent of its border with its neighbour. The situation in Venezuela is now a major priority for the Colombian Government.
I do not agree that the peace process is failing. The peace process is succeeding. I accept there are problems with it. There are problems with the implementation of any peace agreement. It is more than 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement here and there are still implementation problems.
There was some speculation at the time of the peace agreement that the increase in the coca crop was related to an expectation that there would be compensation as part of the peace agreement. I do not think that explains the extent of the growth of the coca crop. What explains the growth of the coca crop is largely increased demand and that increased demand is largely coming from North America and from Europe, but also there is increased demand now in South America, including in Colombia itself.
The truth and reconciliation provisions both in relation to the peace agreements in Northern Ireland and South Africa are very strong. A truth commission was established so that people who committed crimes and atrocities during the conflict would go there and tell the truth, and in particular give information to families about what happened to their family members. Many people are still missing and people want to know the truth about what happened at different points. That approach is working.
There is also the jurisdiction for peace. The fundamental idea behind it is that under the jurisdiction for peace if somebody who has committed a crime during the conflict goes before the jurisdiction for peace and tells the truth, he or she can be sentenced to deprivation of liberty but not in a conventional prison, it is more in a community setting. The sentences can be quite long, for example eight years or up to 12 years in some instances. If they do not go before the jurisdiction for peace they are then liable to be prosecuted in the normal way by the judicial system and incur the prison sentences that are associated with that.
In response to how strong and transparent Colombian democracy is, one of the things that we need to remember about Colombia is that it is one of the oldest democracies in the world. We are celebrating our 100th anniversary of independence and the establishment of the State. They are celebrating 200 years of almost continuous democracy since 1819. There was a four-year interruption in the mid 1950s but democracy was restored. They are very proud of their democracy. The system is based on a government, an executive president, Congress and the separation of powers. They take great pride in it and it is a strong democracy.
Mr. Gilmore is very welcome. I thank him for the worthwhile and valuable presentation. It is good to hear the update and presented in such a concise manner. I congratulate him also on his recent appointment, which I was delighted to see, and on the most important work he has done within Colombia on the peace process on behalf of the EU. We are all conscious that this is a highly complex process given the scale of the country and the scale of the issues faced. I was struck by the numbers he quoted to us in terms of 250,000 people killed, and 6 million people displaced. In that context we can clearly only touch on aspects but it is very useful to get an update.
Will Mr. Gilmore develop the topic of the discussion thus far in respect of the challenges to the peace process? Will he speak a little more about some of those challenges? He mentioned the situation in Venezuela, which is clearly having a very destabilising effect. I spoke recently to friends who have just come back from Colombia and who said the situation in Venezuela is very visibly impacting the economy and society in Colombia. Clearly, the numbers of refugees coming into Colombia from Venezuela is a huge issue. How does Mr. Gilmore see this working out? There does not seem to be any sign of improvement there. That is my first point.
My second point relates to the issues Deputies Niall Collins and Maureen O’Sullivan touched on, that is, the growth in the coca crop. The first thing I had wondered when reading about this is where the proceeds are going. This was always an issue when it came to support of the FARC but, presumably, the proceeds are now going into organised crime more specifically and less into paramilitary activity. Perhaps Mr. Gilmore could develop this point. I am interested to hear his comments about demand. I absolutely agree with him that this issue cannot be tackled within the borders of Colombia alone. That is true of all issues surrounding drugs. How does one go about tackling demand? Clearly, there have been huge changes in drugs policy in North America, particularly in respect of cannabis. Is something similar required on coca and cocaine? Is that where we might see some resolution of this issue? Allied to that, Mr. Gilmore’s presentation referred very strongly to the work of the EU and of the UN, but where is the US in all this not only as the biggest market for illegal coca, the product of the trade, but also as a huge player in the region? What impact does Trump and Trump’s policy have on the peace process? Can Mr. Gilmore say anything about this? He mentioned another challenge being the lack of a ceasefire from the ELN and the recent dreadful bomb in January of this year. Is there any hope for progress on this?
I refer to the more general context and the political buy-in for the peace process. Clearly, as Mr. Gilmore said, there is a more polarised political environment, which itself presents a challenge. Where is the big political sticking point in Colombia? Again, this is hard to see from the outside. Is it because, as Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan said, the treatment of victims has been a strength of the process? From reading about the process, I understand there are very robust institutions that are built into the agreement. What is the big political objection? I know that Deputy O’Sullivan has highlighted some of the issues that have been raised, but given that the EU and the UN have been so strongly adhering to the process, and given the amount of buy-in there has been from the outside, what is the sticking point internally and how is it best addressed?
I imagine it is hard for Mr. Gilmore to see beyond what he has been doing in Colombia, but can he say what the priorities of his new role are? This is perhaps a little beyond our scope today but, as a foreign affairs committee, we will presumably be looking forward to engaging with Mr. Gilmore in his new EU role. Can he say at this point what he sees as the key priorities in such a difficult political environment within the EU currently?
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
Clearly, as I said earlier, the situation in Venezuela is having an impact. I do not have a role in respect of Venezuela but I can say to the Senator that the European Union has established an international contact group with a number of Latin American countries which is working to try to achieve a political solution to the situation in Venezuela.
The difficulties are in the detail. The JEP, the transitional justice system, is working and is independent. Its independence has been challenged politically. There has been a lot of political comment about the JEP, but I have met the president of the JEP, Patricia Linares, a number of times. She has done a fantastic job and her people are doing a fantastic job, but they are being subjected to a lot of political criticism. This is part of the political narrative in the country, but they are continuing to work. There are difficulties. Senator Bacik asked where the sticking points are. The implementation of the agreement requires a lot of resources, so one issue is resources. The land reform will require restitution or reparation for victims, which requires a lot of resourcing. I refer to the institutions, the operation of the JEP and the transitional justice system. The JEP has 800 staff. It requires a lot of resources and is now seeking to operate regionally, so there are big resourcing issues.
Senator Bacik also asked me about my new role. I would be happy to talk with the committee at some stage again about this. I am very honoured to have been appointed as the Special Representative for Human Rights. It is a very challenging time for human rights internationally. Civil society space is being shrunk in many countries and there is a rise in authoritarianism. There have been many attempts even to redefine the concept of human rights on the part of some in the international community and, unfortunately, a withdrawal by some from human rights institutions. I am quite happy to come back to the committee at some stage if it wishes and talk about this. My role is in human rights in the external and foreign policy of the European Union. I do not have a role in respect of human rights internally in the Union. Obviously, however, I must be mindful of the human rights situation internally in the promotion of the human rights values and policy of the European Union in its external action and foreign policy work.
Mr. Gilmore mentioned civil society. My question is about his experience of civil society within Colombia, particularly the civil society of the indigenous communities. Does he have much engagement with them? It was good to hear what he said about learning from the Colombian peace agreement in terms of legacy matters and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Gilmore mentioned illegal mining, but we know there is legal mining going on and that it is creating problems not only because of displacement, but also particularly regarding workers’ rights, wages and conditions, etc. I think there is a fear that this is getting lost because the big picture is the peace agreement, yet this is going on within Colombia at the same time. We have only recently got our own business and human rights policy here, with a committee set up under a chairperson.
It is something that I had been pursuing for a while and looking at trade agreements. There is an example in more recent ones about binding conditions for workers. Would that come into Mr. Gilmore's new role? I know there is the possibility of a binding treaty that the UN is working on. We talk about human rights, but within that there also have to be workers’ rights. It is part of the human rights picture. I do not know that it should be separate.
My last question is about extradition. Mr. Santrich is in jail a year in April. I understand also that he is blind. I was reading a speech that President Duque made about extradition, and it certainly was alarming in terms of a request for extradition being received and us not really going into the details of it. There is the possibility of abuse within that system.
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
The issues that Deputy O’Sullivan raises will be very much part of my agenda on Monday when I co-chair the EU-Colombia human rights dialogue. As part of my visits to Colombia, I regularly meet civil society organisations, including indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, trade unions, churches, and broad spectrum human rights bodies. I do that as part of my work on Colombia. Specifically relating to the human rights dialogue next week, my colleagues in the European Union delegation and from the External Action Service will be conducting consultations today and tomorrow with civil society organisations in advance of the human rights dialogue on Monday. On Monday morning, before the commencement of the formal human rights dialogue, I will meet the representatives of civil society organisations to hear directly from them the issues they wish the dialogue to address. The dialogue will address issues such as the Deputy raised, including the human rights and labour rights provisions in the trade agreement between the EU and Colombia. That would be very much on our agenda. That is part of the overlap.
On the issue of the extradition of Mr. Santrich, that issue is being considered by the JEP. While there are a number of issues being considered, the central issue, as I understand it, that is being considered is about when the alleged offence was committed, and they are addressing that at the moment. I do not want to comment on the case because it is before what is essentially a court and we have to respect the independence of it. There were concerns, however, about the conditions in which Mr. Santrich was being held and he went on hunger strike for a time. I visited him in detention during that hunger strike period and talked to him. I am very pleased that he subsequently ended the hunger strike, not because of my discussion with him, because I know others had discussions with him as well, but I think this has enabled the JEP to consider his case. My understanding is that a decision on it is imminent. It is like any court in that we must wait for its judgment. Obviously we will see then what happens after that.
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
There are two levels to the issue of FARC’s involvement in the drugs trade. First, part of the agreement was that there would be a commitment by FARC to discontinue its involvement in the drugs trade, and second, it said that it would co-operate with the Government in bringing an end to the illegal drugs trade. Separately, FARC agreed that, insofar as it had proceeds, an inventory would be done of what assets it had accumulated and that those assets would be used in the reparation of victims. That would become part of the pool to be used for the reparation of victims.
The proceeds of the illegal drugs trade are going into criminal hands. The Government of Colombia has a very robust policy to try to end the drugs trade. The difficulty is with the growing end because it is a case of who is growing the crop. The people who are growing the crop are in the main small landowners and small farmers for whom this is a profitable crop. There is a degree of what might be called peer pressure at one level but also raw intimidation from those who are controlling the drugs trade, which makes the shift to substitution very difficult.
One approach that is being advocated is the forced eradication of the crop. The difficulty with that is that very often it puts the security services of the state into conflict and into very difficult situations with local communities, giving rise to social unrest. For example, there was an incident in Tumaco on the Pacific coast a little over a year ago where unarmed people who had been protesting were killed. That is very difficult and it is difficult to see how the drugs problem can be solved solely at the level of those who are growing the crop.
President Santos used to talk about the necessity for a wider international approach. I believe there is a shared responsibility, certainly in countries, communities and environments where there is a big market for cocaine. It is something we have to talk about because there is a direct link between the consumption of cocaine and people getting killed in remote areas of Colombia and other countries. Colombia is one of the biggest producers of cocaine and there is a direct link. There are people being killed because they are in favour of crop substitution and they are being intimidated. Many of the social leaders who have been targeted are people who have been trying to give leadership in local community situations where there is very little presence of the state, who have been trying to organise crop substitution, and who have been intimidated or worse. That is what is happening on the ground, and since the commencement of the implementation of the peace agreement, more than 300 social and local community leaders and human rights defenders have been killed.
Is the answer then to move towards a different policy in the market countries such as the US, in Europe and Ireland, where there is a market for cocaine? I accept it is probably beyond Mr. Gilmore’s brief, but does the answer lie in a change in policy, as we have seen in other countries on cannabis?
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
Policymakers have to have to think about it.
We have to work more closely. Certainly it is an issue that the EU has been thinking about, namely, working more closely with Colombia on the drugs issue. Policy makers need to reflect on the consequences for countries like Colombia, for poor people in difficult circumstances who do not have protection and what the consequences of the consumption of cocaine in well-off parts of the world is resulting in for poor people in the areas where the coca is grown. We need to be thinking a bit more about it. It is not enough to say that a solution to the coca problem is to spray the crop or eradicate the crop or whatever, because that is only half the answer.
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
There are a lot of things that can be done. For example, there can be a greater level of co-operation on the interdiction of drugs, on the transportation of drugs and on their importation. The work at security level which is under way regarding the various drugs gangs which are importing cocaine into Europe and the United States certainly can be part of the answer.
I know the issue about legalisation of drugs and so on. That is a big debate and is probably one that needs more attention. I also think that the individual consumers of cocaine to need think about the consequence of what they are doing and what it is resulting in. There is a connection.
You mentioned in your introductory remarks about illegal mining. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan also referred to it. There is the damage that has been done to the environment by widespread extraction of natural resources. There are a huge number of issues to be dealt with in implementing the peace process. Does the environmental damage and the need to protect the environment feature in the public narrative in Colombia at the present time?
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
Yes it does. There has been a very strong programme. Part of the peace dividend was very much to be, first of all, around the protection of forests and the protection of the ecosystem. The intention is that protection work will be part of the re-incorporation effort of former combatants, that they would be working in parks situations. I have seen the illegal mining. I have been on rivers where one can see the dredgers. This is no longer people with shovels and sieves. One is talking about seriously big industrial-scale dredgers gouging out the sides of rivers, destroying the plant life, destroying the river itself and presenting a really serious environmental problem and a serious security problem. The European Union is funding a number of projects. There have been some projects where local people, local communities work as kind of guardians of the river. From a community point of view they provide some protection for the river, or some effort to protect rivers and the ecosystem. That is part of the projects that are being supported by the European Union and some member states. There is quite a lot of this mining. A lot of this is taking place in parts of the country which are physically remote where there is very little infrastructure and where there is very little presence of the state.
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
No I would not say that. In terms of the Santos Government and the present Government, the responsibility to protect the ecosystem and to make their contribution in the context of climate change is very strong. There are a number of programmes which the Government is working on. I have talked with the Minister for agriculture and the Minister for environment about those programmes. It is not just one Government. There has been a continuity of policy in this area. It is a state that is very conscious of its responsibility to the environment and its global responsibility to participate. It is also a state that is very conscious of its international responsibilities. It is very much a multilateral state in its approach to issues like this. Obviously it needs support and we can we can provide that support.
Is there a dilemma for the Government between using its resources for badly needed funding and at the same time trying to protect the environment? We met a group, Guardians of the River, a couple of years ago when they were over here. Colombia is a big trading partner for Ireland. Has Mr. Gilmore met any of the Irish companies who are working in Colombia? What is his sense of their awareness of the labour rights of workers?
Mr. Eamon Gilmore:
This challenge is very real. In the discussions that I have had with the Government at a number of levels there is a very strong commitment to its environmental responsibility. They talk about it a lot in their discussions with me. Where that comes home is when one looks at individual projects and the impact they are having. There are a number of Irish companies that have interests in Colombia. I have met the larger companies. That is growing. The interests of Irish companies and the trade relationship between Ireland and Colombia is growing. That is reflected in the fact that Ireland has now opened an embassy in Bogota. It is obviously providing support in the context of the peace process but it is also to develop further the trade and other relationships between Ireland and Colombia.
I join other members in wishing you well in your new role as EU Special Representative for Human Rights and also to compliment you on your work as special envoy for the peace process in Colombia. It is evident from your contribution and your presentation to us here today the very active role you have played. I wish you well in the ongoing work in the whole area of human rights. In this committee room and the House generally we can often be critical of the European Union and that is understandable. However, it is heartening to note that the European Union is putting substantial funding into supporting rural development in Colombia.I think €90 million has been committed to the EU Trust Fund and also the European Investment Bank has a loan facility up to €400 million for financing.
That is very important as well. At times we need to note the interest the European Union takes in other countries. Your appointment by the High Commissioner was clear evidence of the European Union’s interest in continuing to support the peace process and see it implemented.
I want to thank you sincerely for your presentation here this morning and your very comprehensive replies to the issues raised by my colleagues. We look forward to having you before us in your new role as special representative for human rights. Thank you very much.