Special representative of secretary-general for children and armed conflict concludes humanitarian mission to colombia 19990609

Discussion with FARC

The Special Representative met with Comandante Raul Reyes, spokesperson for the FARC, and Joaquin Gomez, in the demilitarized zone near San Vicente. The meeting was arranged and attended by the High Commissioner for Peace, Victor G. Ricardo. The Special Representative urged the FARC to observe humanitarian principles and norms in the conduct of war. He particularly stressed the importance and urgency of achieving a political settlement of the protracted conflict.

In the discussion with the FARC, the following were agreed upon:

— The FARC agreed to end recruitment of children below the age of 15;

— The FARC expressed its openness to explore with the United Nations and relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs) a process and framework for the eventual demobilization and rehabilitation of young persons currently within their ranks; and

— Mr. Otunnu announced the formation of a tripartite task force, comprising Government, United Nations and the FARC, which will address urgent humanitarian needs in the demilitarized zones, focusing especially on the needs of children and women. A pilot

Mr. Otunnu declared today:”The significance of the meeting with the FARC leaders lies in the fact that, for the first time, the international community has engaged the FARC, directly and at a high level, on issues of humanitarian principles and norms. And they have responded positively. The Task Force provides a mechanism for ongoing engagement on humanitarian assistance and protection issues, that are of joint concern. “

Situation of Internally Displaced Communities

Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) — predominantly children and women, victims of war or “land cleansing”. Displaced communities live in particularly precarious conditions, without basic facilities such as water, electricity, sanitation or medical services. Apart from improvised classes, children often have no access to regular schooling. Mr. Otunnu stated:”These displaced communities in Colombia are on their own. Apart from some NGO presence and the Church, the communities I visited in Soacha, Turbo and Quibdo have little or no assistance from the Government or the international community. I urge the Government of Colombia and United Nations agencies to make the protection and assistance of displaced persons an urgent priority issue. The situation of IDPs in Colombia underscores — once again — the need for the international community to find a way to provide a legal and institutional mechanism to protect and support some 25 million persons presently displaced within their own national borders worldwide. “

Mr. Otunnu was very pleased that both the Government and the FARC agreed to place the needs and protection of children as a high priority in the peace process and its outcome.

‘Voice of Children’/Coalition on Protection of Colombian Children

Mr. Otunnu proposed the establishment of a radio station or programme devoted entirely to the needs of children in Colombia. This would serve to give voice to children’s concerns, offer education and entertainment, and promote tolerance and peaceful conflict resolution.

At the close of his visit, the Special Representative launched a broad coalition comprised of members of the United Nations system, NGOs, representatives of civil society and other key actors to coordinate and raise the profile of efforts to address the needs of children affected by the war in Colombia.

In conclusion, the Special Representative stated that he was deeply struck by the universal and palpable yearning for peace. He declared:”This is ultimately the only way to end the massive suffering of civilian populations, especially children and women. Only in conditions of peace can the Colombian people address the fundamental issues of social injustice and exclusion. “

9-Jun-99

HR/4418

(Reissued as received from the Office of the Special Representative. )

NEW YORK, 8 June — Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, has just concluded an eight-day mission (30 May-6 June) to Colombia, during which he pursued the following objectives. He sought to assess first-hand and highlight the impact of the decades-long civil war on children; to identify concrete measures to ensure greater protection for war-affected children; to impress upon all parties to the conflict the importance of respecting humanitarian principles and norms; and to ensure that the protection and welfare of children are placed prominently on the peace agenda. Throughout his visit, Mr. Otunnu stressed the humanitarian character of his mission.

At the conclusion of his visit, the Special Representative announced the following:

— The Government and the largest guerrilla movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have agreed to place children’s issues on the peace agenda;

— The FARC pledged not to recruit children under the age of 15;

— The Government has adopted a new policy not to enlist children under the age of 18;

— A tripartite task force for humanitarian assistance in the demilitarized zone has been set up;

— Mr. Otunnu urged the release of all hostages, and condemned political abductions as “entirely unacceptable”;

— He called for a mechanism for the protection and assistance of internally displaced populations; and

He launched a broad coalition to support and Address the needs of war-affected children in Colombia.

During his visit, Mr. Otunnu held talks with President Andres Pastrana Arango, Vice-President Gustavo Bell Lemus, High Commissioner for Peace Victor G. Ricardo, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces General Fernando Tapias Stahelin, and other senior officials. He met Comandante Raul Reyes, the spokesman for the FARC, in the demilitarized zone in the south of the country. Throughout his visit, he held discussions with representatives of the United Nations system, international and local non-governmental organizations, the Catholic Church, the business community and other members of civil society.

The Special Representative travelled to Apartado, Turbo and the “peace community” of San Jos de Apartado (Uraba region), Medellin (Antioquia), Quibdo (Choco), and San Vicente de Caguan in the demilitarized zone. He also visited Soacha, a marginalized community south of Bogota, which is home to some 50,000 displaced persons.

Impact of War on Colombian Children

For over 40 years, children have suffered as victims, witnesses and perpetrators of violence. Large numbers of children participate as child soldiers in armed groups and forces. Children comprise the majority of the 1. 2 million persons who have been forcibly displaced within Colombia over the past 10 years. Displaced communities lack access to basic rights and services such as schooling, health, water and sanitary living conditions. Colombia’s chronic violence has given rise to alarming rates of child prostitution, gang warfare, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect and elevated numbers of street children who are often victims of “social cleansing”. This “culture of violence” has produced a widespread sense of fear, impunity, and resignation (inevitability) within the Colombian society.

The following were the key issues raised and commitments made:

— Protection of civilian populations in the midst of conflict:Mr. Otunnu expressed the deep preoccupation of the international community concerning the protection of civilian populations in the midst of armed conflict; he insisted that all parties in the

— Kidnapping and hostage-taking:Mr. Otunnu strongly condemned kidnapping and hostage-taking as a means of conducting political struggle. He declared:”Kidnapping is entirely unacceptable to the international community. It traumatizes families, terrorizes

Senator Piedad Cordoba met with Mr. Otunnu last Saturday in Medellin, following her release the previous day, and they travelled together to visit displaced communities in Quibdo, Choco.

Mr. Otunnu declared today, “I rejoice with Senator Piedad Cordoba and her family on her release. And I congratulate the people of Colombia on this positive outcome. I wish to seize this occasion to reiterate my appeal to the ELN leadership to make a similar humanitarian gesture and release all the hostages taken from Avianca Airline and the Church of Santa Maria. “

Discussion with Government

In his discussion with the Government, the following were agreed upon:

— The Government announced a new policy not to enlist young persons below the age of 18 in the armed forces, and to initiate the process of adapting the necessary legislation;

— President Pastrana also informed Mr. Otunnu that the Government is exploring ways of advancing towards ratification of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (

— Mr. Otunnu implored the Government to address the urgent needs of displaced communities, especially health, education, sanitary conditions, shelter, water, registration and economic opportunities. The Government should also ensure their physical protec

He urged the Government to Address the issue of impunity.