Marie-Claude Bibeau is Canada's Minister of International Development and La Francophonie.
It has been dubbed the world's longest running civil war for more than half a century. It has seen more than 220,000 killed and more than 6.8 million people forced from their homes.
Few countries have a history of violence and conflict as bloody and as complex as Colombia. But that is all about to change. On June 23, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a ceasefire agreement, which outlines the terms of disarmament and demobilization of the troops. This is a historic first step towards a final peace agreement that will officially mark the end of hostilities between the warring parties.
Our two countries have a rich bilateral relationship that includes, trade, diplomacy and development. Indeed, we have been working with Colombians for decades now to prepare for this day.
As a long-standing friend of Colombia, Canada will do its part to help make peace a reality. This is a time for solidarity with Colombia because a final peace agreement, based on the principles of justice, truth and reconciliation, is now close at hand. The challenge for Colombia and for its international friends is to ensure that this peace actually lasts. Communities need to see the effects on the ground quickly. They need reconciliation and healing. Victims of the conflict need access to justice. Land seized from smallholder farmers by illegal armed groups must be returned. Corruption, and particularly the relationship between local authorities, illegal activity and organized crime, must be addressed.
A key piece of the peace and development puzzle is women and girls. In Colombia, they have been armed combatants, conflict victims and local peacebuilders. As Colombia demobilizes and reintegrates former guerilla combatants into civilian life, it is important to remember that many of them will be young women. For Colombia to transform its countryside into productive land, free of illicit crops like coca, rural women will need to lead. Colombia's conflict has been fuelled for decades by Colombia's inequality. Better access to land and natural resources for rural people, particularly for women, is how Colombia will avoid slipping back into conflict again.
In my first official visit to Colombia, I will demonstrate Canada's ongoing commitment to peace and human rights. Today, on behalf of the government of Canada, I will announce support for five development projects that will help Colombia make the peace process a reality. Our goal is to assist Colombia in deploying the benefits of peace quickly to communities that have suffered for far too long from armed conflict. I am especially sensitive to the high price that has been paid by women and youth, who have lost loved ones, livelihoods and income, and the chance of a brighter future through education.
The projects announced today will enable the government of Colombia, UN agencies and civil society organizations to reach as quickly as possible the communities most affected by conflict through tangible initiatives and results. They will help Colombia to be mine-free by 2021, allowing children to go to school without fear of stepping on a mine. They will provide women and youth with protection, education and compensation services, and encourage girls to participate in peacebuilding activities. And they will make rural credit accessible for women farmers in conflict zones. All of these projects empower women and youth so that they can help build the new Colombia.
I believe that in a world marred by conflicts, Colombia offers us hope. It shows that peace can be achieved through persistent negotiation, a commitment to reconstruction and by putting women and youth at the centre of peacebuilding. Canadians can be proud to support these efforts towards peace in Colombia.