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Statement by President Higgins following his meeting with President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos

Date: Tue 14th Feb, 2017 | 20:11

“Ha sido un privilegio y un placer poder responder a la invitación del Presidente Santos para visitar Colombia y quiero expresar mi sincero agradecimiento al Presidente Santos por la muy amable hospitalidad que me ha mostrado a mí y a los que han viajado aquí conmigo. 

[“It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be able to respond to the invitation by President Santos to visit Colombia and I wish to express my sincere thanks to President Santos for the gracious hospitality they have shown to me, and to those who have travelled here with me. ]

It is remarkable to come back to Colombia, 7 years after my first visit here, and witness a country commencing a new phase of the great journey of peacebuilding, seeking to end a 50-year armed conflict that has laid waste so many lives. This is an extraordinary achievement; an achievement of great personal leadership by President Santos but it is an achievement that belongs to all Colombians. And as President of Ireland, I wish to assure you of Ireland’s continued support as you progress on Colombia’s journey towards peace and reconciliation.

In my meetings with President Santos today, the President briefed me on progress in implementing both the Peace Agreement and the 100-day rapid response plan in Colombia, as well as plans to finalise a comprehensive 15-year framework plan to ensure the full implementation of the Agreement. I commended him on the very innovative approach taken during the Havana negotiations, which has made the Colombian experience an inspirational example for the many countries and regions of the world where violent conflict still rages. 

In our meetings, I spoke of our experience in Ireland of building peace, and of the lessons we have learned from that process and I spoke to President Santos of what other peace processes had learned from the many innovations introduced in the Colombian peace process.  We have been able to draw on both of our successes and our failures to deepen our engagement with the peace process, both bilaterally and through the European Union.

It is a matter of great pride that Ireland has been able to assist the peace talks process in Havana and will continue to support the work of Mr. Eamon Gilmore in his role as EU Special Envoy to the peace process. Ireland has also seconded an official to the EU delegation in Bogotá as well as a technical expert to the Colombian Ministry of Post-Conflict, to support the work on post-conflict implementation.
During my brief stay in Colombia, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the efforts being made to ensure the peaceful demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants, and the care taken to ensure the peace process is as inclusive as it can be.
I also had the opportunity to meet, and hear from, representatives of a wide range of Colombian NGOs, by whom I was impressed, of the importance of their work in embedding the peace, and laying the foundations for inclusive and sustainable development cannot be overstated. 

Responding to violence, forced displacement, levels of sexual and gender-based violence will require structural change.  Sustainable rural and urban development and the construction of institutions to protect and implement human rights, create respect for, and tolerance of, difference are essential.  In this context, I spoke with President Santos of my concern about the increase in threats against and killings of social leaders, first line defenders, trade unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia.  I know that the Colombian government is very aware of the need to strengthen the state presence in and bring new measures to bear on the affected regions and to protect and defend civil society actors.

Our discussions today covered many other issues. We are both delighted that cooperation in education between Colombia and Ireland is growing rapidly and I was privileged to witness the signing of four MoUs between University College Cork and a number of Colombian third level institutions. 

We also discussed the potential economic and investment dividend to Colombia from a successful peace process and we agreed that a delegation from ProColombia, Colombia’s Foreign Direct Investment Agency, will come to Ireland this year to meet with their counterparts in the IDA. 

Finally, let me again thank the President and the people of Colombia for their warm welcome. I used the opportunity of this first visit by a serving President of Ireland to convey to all Colombians Ireland’s encouragement on the country’s journey towards peace and reconciliation. Ireland is privileged to have been allowed to share, and make its contribution, in Colombia’s journey from conflict to peace, from darkness to light.”

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Bogotá, 14 February 2017