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 The Oslo Forum

 Oslo, June 16, 2015

1. COLOMBIA: A RAY OF HOPE

The resistance to diplomatic solutions is nowadays common to most of the major conflicts at the centre of international attention.

There are more than 20 active conflicts in the world, and there is just one – one – where there is a realistic effort underway to bring it to an end through dialogue: the Colombian conflict.

That’s why I am here in Oslo: to share with you how, in my country, we are attempting to solve the longest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.

There are many difficult challenges ahead – it’s true – but no one can deny that our negotiations with the FARC offer a ray of hope in a world darkened by war, terrorism and violence.

We have learned that a military solution in the case of Colombia, and in many other conflicts, is not the answer.

Involved since the 1960’s in an armed conflict with guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug lords who turned the country’s rural areas into territories of crime and atrocities, Colombia had the image of a failed and violent State.

Fortunately this is no more. But, we are still trapped in a war logic.

2. WAR IS NOT A SOLUTION

It is time to recognise that War, as a major deciding mechanism in conflicts, has simply become obsolete.

Military “victory” no longer brings peace, simply because in the asymmetric wars of today victory will always be an elusive affair, and there will always be a war after the war.

It would be, on the other hand, dangerously naive to believe that the exercise of power and the capacity to intimidate are unnecessary.

In Colombia we had to change the correlation of military forces in our favour as a condition to start the peace process.

If our determination to reduce the military capabilities of the FARC had not been realised and positive results had not been obtained, I can assure you that they would not be present at the negotiating table.

And if we still send soldiers to fight, it is because we are in “a battle for peace”, as Yitzhak Rabin said in a memorable speech at the signing of Israel’s peace with Jordan.

He also taught us that sometimes a leader needs to fight terrorism as if there was no peace process, and persist in the search for peace as if there was no terrorism.

This has been my way, however contradictory and costly it may seem. And I truly believe that it is the fastest way to reach a settlement.

But – I repeat – more war is certainly not the solution, as many believe, and this is particularly true in the Colombian context.

3. GLOBAL AND REGIONAL SUPPORT

Another condition for successful conflict resolution in today’s interdependent world is the role that global or regional circumstances can play.

This has been patent in our case.

A radical change in our foreign policy, which led to an improvement in our relations with our neighbours and the rest of the region, facilitated the beginning of the process.

Our neighbours, including Venezuela, Cuba, Chile and lately the United States, are today of great importance for our peace process. Norway has played – I say this with gratitude – a fundamental and positive role.

Fortunately today there is not a single country that doesn’t support peace in Colombia. We just had a unanimous backing from the CELAC – European Union summit held in Brussels.

All the countries of Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe, also called – quite rightly – for faster results. This is also my plea because we have advanced too slowly in the last year.

4. LEARNING FROM THE PAST

We prepared well for these negotiations and we have worked in parallel to create the necessary momentum to allow us to end this 50-year conflict.

The FARC's record in past peace talks shows their tendency to try to manipulate them to acquire national and international legitimacy without actually striking a deal.

We learned from previous experiences in order to prevent past mistakes. Every step we have taken has a logic and a reason.

5. ADDRESSING THE ROOT CAUSES OF THE CONFLICT

The failure of the Colombian state to guarantee its presence in the whole country was one of the reasons that allowed the emergence of criminal insurgencies.

Having that in mind, in Colombia the post-conflict has already begun and we are addressing the root causes of our conflict; one that has been especially cruel and violent.

It has left behind almost 250,000 Colombians dead and more than 7 million victims including masses of displaced persons.

Resolving such a conflict requires dealing with practically every aspect of our nation’s life.

Colombia’s lagging infrastructure has been a handicap for economic development and a recipe for poor security.

We are addressing all these challenges.

For example, we are implementing the most ambitious infrastructure development and housing projects ever imagined.

And we are also designing and implementing modernization policies in agriculture, energy and technology.

All of these major competitive improvements for the country are being complemented with aggressive social reforms.

In the last five years, we have created more jobs and pulled out of poverty and extreme poverty more people than any other country in the region.

We made education free and for the first time our budget for education is bigger than our military expenditure. Our health system now has universal coverage and is one of the most progressive in the world.

As I have said: “in Havana we are silencing the weapons; in Colombia we are building peace”.

5.1 VICTIMS

But not only that… We decided to put the victims at the centre of the solution of this conflict. This is the first time this has been done.

I signed in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which contemplates reparation for the victims and restitution of millions of hectares of land, stolen from the peasants through the use of force by guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug lords.

This historic law has been the backbone of the agreement already reached with the FARC on Integrated Agrarian Development Policy.

Bear in mind that normally these kinds of laws are implemented only after a conflict has ended.

In this case, the law is being put into practice at an enormous fiscal cost while the war – unfortunately – is still going on.

For my government, giving back land to dispossessed peasants and offering financial reparation to the victims and to the millions of displaced families became another way to win peace and a way to start healing 50 years of wounds.

We have already indemnified five hundred thousand victims. I have been told this is unprecedented in the world.

6. THE PATH WE TOOK

We started secret negotiations almost three and a half years ago to establish a limited agenda that would allow us – assuming we reach an agreement – to end the conflict.

It is the first time that the FARC have agreed to such a procedure.

The Framework Agreement – signed here in Oslo two and a half years ago – has five items in the agenda.

1) Integrated Agrarian Development Policy;

2) Political Participation;

3) The Problem of Illicit Drugs;

4) Victims and Transitional Justice, and

5) The End of the Conflict (DDR)

We have already reached agreement on the first three.

Never before have we advanced so far in a negotiation with the FARC. In many ways, it constitutes a historic landmark.

For example, just to have an agreement on the third item – illicit drugs – is of great importance not only for Colombia but for the world, and has generated tremendous interest and support for the process.

Why? Because Colombia has been a centre of drug production and trafficking worldwide.

We have been the main exporter of cocaine to the world for the last 30 years.

The coca plantations have destroyed thousands and thousands of hectares of our rainforests with devastating consequences for the environment and climate change.

Countries such as Mexico and the nations of Central America, where drug cartels are violently harassing the population, will benefit from peace in Colombia.

It would also positively affect the United States and all other drug consuming countries, as well as West Africa, which has become in recent years the transit point of South American drugs on their way to Europe.

The FARC have played a very important part in this chapter. Many have accused them of being the number one drug cartel in the world. That’s why getting them to break all links to drug trafficking and instead help the government in the substitution of illegal crops and in the destruction of the labs (located deep in the jungles where cocaine is manufactured) would have such an impact.

The illicit drug market has paid for their war machinery and they have produced and encouraged this lucrative source of financing.

It is critical therefore that we eliminate this hellish business. So addressing the issue within the peace talks was fundamental.

7. JUSTICE

We are now simultaneously addressing the two last items of the Agenda: the rights of victims and DDR.

A truth commission was agreed upon two weeks ago and we are starting to talk about the key issue of justice.

Here we are entering unexplored terrain: there are no examples of successful peace negotiations in the era of the Rome Statute. We are aware we are setting precedent.

Transitional justice experts usually deal with past abuses after a peace agreement has been reached. In Colombia we are trying to do both at the same time.

This is truly a case of squaring the circle. We want to honour our international obligations, including our obligations under the Rome Statute, and obviously our national legal obligations as well.

And more importantly, we want to make sure that whatever legal formula we arrive at, it is one that is perceived by all Colombians as a just formula. That is the basis of a long and lasting peace.

At the same time, arriving at such a formula requires the agreement of both parties at the negotiating table.

It is extremely difficult and challenging but we are convinced that the circle can be squared.

How? By putting victims’ rights – as I mentioned before – at the centre of the negotiation.

That is what we have just agreed with the FARC in Havana: to build a comprehensive justice system that will address victims’ rights with regard to truth, justice, and reparations, and this will allow us to achieve peace as well.

Trade-offs between peace and full accountability are unavoidable.

Still, our aim will always be to achieve the maximum degree of justice that will allow us to attain peace. And to build a system that delivers the greatest accountability possible in a transition to peace.

That system will necessarily be a comprehensive justice system that incorporates both judicial and extra-judicial mechanisms designed to satisfy victims’ rights, where there can be special criminal treatment for those who are willing to redress victims by telling the truth and participating in reparation programs.

Will we succeed? We don’t know. But if we do, we may well become a new model of how to carry out justice in a peace negotiation.

Above all, nothing can be done or agreed, particularly when it comes to justice issues, without the democratic consent of the Colombian people.

8. SHARING OUR EXPERIENCE

Now let me finally share with you some personal experiences, which illustrate what I believe this Forum is all about.

I was duly warned that I would incur in a high political cost (as I have); that exercising leadership in times of war, as I did when I was Minister of Defence before becoming President (I was the most popular minister and that is why I became President) is much easier than exercising leadership in a peace process.

War “makes rattling good history, but peace is poor reading”.

War in Colombia and elsewhere, you surely know, frequently unites nations, while peace divides them.

Abraham Lincoln, who knew this from his own extraordinary life, warned politicians “to avoid measures of popularity if they want to have peace”.

I have certainly learned the lesson.

Too frequently, peace processes are defeated by politics, not necessarily by the core issues at the negotiating table. This is exactly what is happening in Colombia. It is hard to believe but peace also has many enemies, many times powerful enemies.

And allow me to draw yet another lesson from my own experience.

Conflict tends to inflame and distort the ego and we must rise above the natural urge towards animosity.

A leader needs to focus on the political objective of peace, and prevent being drafted into the easiness of war by the changes in the tide of opinion.

That is why I always remind myself that this was my mandate when re-elected. It has become my mantra.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Formidable difficulties still lie ahead for us in Colombia, and a final agreement is by no means a given. Time, unfortunately, is also running out.

But I am confident that we still have a real chance to put this conflict where it belongs: in the history books.

Reshaping the reality around us is our duty to future generations.

And we should be humbly grateful for the opportunity given to us by our people to serve them to the best of our capacity.

I will persevere in my vision for Colombia: a country at peace, better educated and with more equality.

If we reach an agreement, if we stop the killing each other after half a century of war, the political cost so far incurred will become a profitable investment.

If not, I will in any case go to my grave with peace of mind for having tried what I believe to be “the correct thing to do”.

Thank you