By invited columnists, EE, Mohamed ElBaradei*, Ruth Dreifuss**, Elhadj As Sy***

EL ESPECTADOR, March 17, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Rarely in modern history has there been a country that could compare with Colombia in the degree of violence it has experienced, in the losses it has suffered in its own territory, or the resilience it has shown in facing its challenges. Colombia has suffered internal warfare, murders, homicides, and kidnappings, as well as displacement caused by the violence and the wars for the control of the land. The principal victims have been the civilian populations. What is worse, even though the conflicts have reached a regional magnitude and have involved foreign interests, its protagonists have been the children of Colombia themselves. The suffering, the injustice, and the arbitrariness of years of conflict have affected all of the parties indiscriminately.

Now, one of the initiatives of transitional justice provided in the 2016 Peace Agreement, specifically, the Truth Commission, represents, in the eyes of the world, a space that is designated to permit all of the victims of the war on drugs to be heard. The corresponding report, that will be published this year, is a key element of the next steps needed to reach a lasting peace.

The world is observing intently the work being done by the Truth Commission to confront the reality of how the repressive drug policies have contributed to the violence, to the conflicts, and to the numerous violations of human rights. There is no doubt that the drug traffic has been one of the factors that have thrown more fuel on the fire of the conflicts in Colombia and that, for many decades it has contributed to the financing of the armed groups, directly or opportunistically. However, at the same time, the indiscriminate repression of those situations of production and trafficking has undermined the control of drugs, because it has contributed to the profits and the power in the hands of the criminals. That repression has centered on the traditional coca growers, the consumers, and the small-scale traffickers, without those responsible for enforcing the drug laws being held to account for their actions.

Knowing the truth is a decisive step in reaching reconciliation and equity among Colombians. But that goal is impossible if all the taboos are not broken. It will not be easy to confront more than a century of conflict (greatly worsened in the last 50 years by the war on drugs that has been waged in Colombian territory, led by foreign powers) without talking about the unmentionable and without revealing the faults of all of the parties involved.

If you want to look for the truth or for reconciliation, you can’t ignore the impact of militarization as the answer to the trafficking and production of drugs, when the producers have been coca farmers who see themselves as trapped in a war. Otherwise, you would stop taking into account a whole part of Colombian society that, even though it’s a segment that is statistically small and marginalized from the geographic point of view, is composed of people that have lost their well-being because of the war on drugs.

Has anyone ever given the coca farmers the opportunity to express themselves, to explain their socioeconomic and cultural motives for selling their crops to those who use them to produce illegal drugs, or to explain the impact that fumigation with a carcinogen like glyphosate has had on their lives?

In the same manner, when have the soldiers, equipped and trained by a foreign power, been permitted to give their opinions freely about the effectiveness of putting their lives at risk, when the production and the trafficking, as well as the profits and the money laundering so as to introduce those profits into the legal economy, are increasing every year? According to their own criteria, and from the point of view of peace, what has been achieved by their activities in the Colombian jungle?

We are hoping that the Truth Commission will be a space where we can recognize and admit the damage that governments have caused with their application of drug policy, a space where the victims can feel safe in denouncing the 50 years of injustices, and can promote a new conversation about how to repair the harms that have been caused, and guarantee that the story will not be repeated. The Truth Commission is the opportunity to give a voice to the victims who have suffered with the criminalization, the coercion by the drug traffickers and the guerrilla groups, and the social stigmatization, so that, perhaps, through their words, the world will understand that participation in the marketing of drugs, at any level, is usually connected with the lack of opportunities, services, and infrastructure. Giving space to hear the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be, and creating a space where everybody can tell their own truth, what they have experienced, is the key to achieving a sustainable peace and preventing future injustices.

  • Former Director of the agency of nuclear supervision at the United Nations, and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

**  Former President of Switzerland and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

*** President of the Council of the Kofi Annan Foundation

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