CLAREMORRIS native and Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone recently visited Christian Aid projects in Colombia. The senator travelled as part of a delegation coordinated by the aid organisation, visiting remote communities in the South American country and observing the progress of the country’s peace process.
After over 50 years of conflict, a historic peace agreement was signed last year by the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). More recently, a temporary ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (ELN) was also agreed.
The senator said she had become aware of the problems that the Colombian peace process was facing and that ordinary people in rural areas had a very tough time because of the decade-long conflict.
“I was struck by how unified the communities I met were, but also how frustrated they are at the lack of support they are getting from the state,” said Noone.
Ms Noone met human rights defenders, as well as indigenous groups who have been forced from their homes by the conflict. Colombia has one of the highest rates of internally displaced people in the world, with over seven million people forced from their homes and villages by the war.
The peace process has been widely welcomed by the international community, but real and severe threats to its success remain. Human rights defenders continue to be murdered, with 51 killed this year alone, including representatives from some of the communities visited.
Ms Noone has called on the Irish Government to continue to support the peace process.
It was announced in budget 2018 that the Irish Government will open an embassy in Colombia. Eamon Gilmore was appointed EU envoy to the Colombian peace process in 2015.
“I hope that there will be further peace agreements with other paramilitary groups and that Colombia continues on its path towards peace,” said Ms Noone. “It’s important for Colombia to have outside influence … We have had such constructive international interest in Ireland that it’s only right and proper that we give back to countries like Colombia,” concluded Senator Noone.
Christian Aid and its partners have worked with displaced communities for 20 years, and have helped to build peace in Colombia since the peace process began there in 2012.