Award ceremony speech


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Presentation Speech by Kaci Kullmann Five, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, presented by Berit Reiss-Andersen, deputy chair of the Committee, Oslo, 10 December 2016.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, delivering the presentation speech

Berit Reiss-Andersen, deputy chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, delivering the presentation speech.

© The Nobel Foundation. Photo: Ken Opprann

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute and courageous efforts to bring to an end the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war. The award has been made to President Santos alone. But it is also intended as a tribute to the Colombian people – a people who despite great hardships and countless injustices have never given up hope of a just peace. Many groups and individuals have contributed to the peace process and deserve our thanks and tribute today, including tireless negotiators, facilitators, diplomats, politicians and, of course, leaders from the government and the FARC guerrillas. Our tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the civil war’s victims, several of whom are present here today. They carry their own painful stories, yet manage to represent other victims as well. We salute all these strong, fearless individuals, and offer them our respectful gratitude.

The armed conflict between the Colombian authorities, the FARC and ELN revolutionary guerrilla groups and various paramilitary groups is the longest civil war in our time. The human and material cost of the conflict is almost inconceivable and very difficult to measure. Numbers give only a vague, albeit horrifying, impression of the extent of the suffering and the war’s impact on daily life for several generations of Colombians.

Since the first military confrontations in May 1964 and until the mutual ceasefire entered into force this summer, more than 222 000 Colombians have lost their lives as a direct consequence of the conflict. Four of every five persons killed were civilian non-combatants. In addition, somewhere between five and seven million Colombians were forced to flee their homes. Many have lived ever since as displaced persons in their own country.

In 2013, an investigative report was presented by the Colombian National Center for Historical Memory. The report shows that nearly 2 000 massacres of civilians have taken place in Colombia since the early 1980s. Allegedly, more than 1 000 of these mass killings were carried out by paramilitary groups who fought the rebels, almost 350 by FARC or ELN guerrillas, and close to 300 by Colombian security forces. The rebel guerrillas, for their part, were responsible for a majority of the many kidnappings that terrorised the Colombian people from 1995 to 2005. In that decade an average of one kidnapping took place every eight hours. The guerrillas used the kidnappings and the ever-expanding drug trade to finance their warfare. Colombia has long been the world’s biggest producer of cocaine. The social and health effects of drug trafficking is a tragedy in its own right, with consequences far beyond Colombia’s borders.

Now, at last, it looks as though this terrible conflict will soon be history.

Mr. President, you initiated the negotiations that culminated in the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas earlier this autumn. This was an initiative that required considerable political courage and great perseverance. The initiative was grounded in a conviction that negotiations were the only path to creating a better future for your people. After a narrow majority of voters opposed the accord in the referendum held on 2 October, you made it clear that you would in no way give up, but would pursue your efforts to end the civil war with undiminished vigour. Like many others, you realised that the Colombian people had not voted “No” to peace, but to the accord submitted to them. In this critical situation, you issued an invitation to participate in a broad-based national dialogue with a view to reaching an agreement that could also win the support of its critics. The accord has now been renegotiated. While the second agreement has also been subject to criticism, several contentious points in the first accord have been amended and the groundwork has been laid for a historic national compromise. You have been a driving force throughout this peace process.

Mr. President, when the referendum results were announced, many observers felt that it would be premature to award you the Nobel Peace Prize this year. They recommended that the Norwegian Nobel Committee wait another year to see whether the peace process would eventually succeed in bringing about true peace. The Committee, however, saw things differently. In our view, there was no time to lose. On the contrary, the peace process was in danger of collapsing and needed all the international support it could get. Moreover, we were deeply convinced that you Mr. President, as Colombia’s head of state, were the one to continue to move the peace process forward. Developments in the weeks since the announcement of this year’s Peace Prize have in no way weakened our conviction in this respect.

In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to President Juan Manuel Santos the Norwegian Nobel Committee sought to encourage him and all those working to achieve peace, reconciliation and justice in Colombia not to give up. Political compromises seldom strike a perfect balance. Peace accords are especially hard to balance. Nonetheless, it is our sincere hope that the renegotiated accord that has now been signed by the parties and ratified by the Congress is a solution that can ensure the Colombian people peace and positive development.

Mr. President, after the referendum you emphasised that you would continue to work for peace until your very last day in office, “because that’s the way to leave a better country to our children”. Children under the age of 15 account for 23 per cent of Colombia’s population, or more than 11 million people. Kindling a spark of hope in the eyes of these 11 million children and their loved ones is the best possible investment towards a peaceful future for your people.

Ladies and gentlemen, the history of the Nobel Peace Prize shows that there are many roads to peace. By awarding this year’s Peace Prize to President Juan Manuel Santos, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour him and all those who have helped stake out what can be called the Colombian road to peace.

This road has three distinctive features that can serve to inspire similar processes in other countries.

One is the will to face up to unpleasant, painful facts in order to lay the foundation for national reconciliation. For too long, victims’ memories of abuses, killings and other crimes were either a taboo — or a source of continuing conflict and enmity between the parties. The population’s growing desire for peace could never have been satisfied without breaking this vicious cycle. Two important steps in the right direction were taken with the establishment of Colombia’s National Center of Historical Memory and the publication in 2013 of the centre’s investigative report “Basta Ya!” – “Enough Already!” – which documented in detail the magnitude of the civil war’s atrocities.

When you, Mr President, was presented with the report, you stated that it represented “a first window towards the truth that we owe to the victims of this country”.

The second distinctive feature of the Colombian road to peace is the participation of the victims and their representatives. The negotiations between the government and the FARC were ground-breaking because they gave the victims’ representatives the opportunity to testify about their dreadful experiences in the presence of the parties concerned – and to confront perpetrators on all sides of the conflict. Inspired in part by South Africa’s peace and reconciliation process, the parties have recognised that a lasting peace arrangement must safeguard the rights and dignity of the victims while ensuring that the truth becomes known and that the perpetrators are held accountable and admit their guilt.

In this connection, I wish to commend FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño for so clearly, and unreservedly, expressing regret for the suffering that the FARC has inflicted on the civilian population and asking the Colombian people for forgiveness. This is an example to be followed.

The third distinctive feature of this peace process is the fact that the parties have engaged critics of the process by inviting them to join in a broad-based national dialogue. This was particularly the case after the referendum, when President Santos reached out to those who had voted “No”. Simultaneously, the leader of the FARC gave assurance that the organisation would continue negotiating and “use only words as weapons to build towards the future”.

I venture to believe that this means the national reconciliation process is already well underway. There is still, however, a long way to go. After more than 50 years of bitter conflict, true reconciliation does not happen overnight. Overcoming deep-seated distrust and a sense of exclusion is a huge task. We therefore encourage all sides in Colombia to carry on the national dialogue and continue on the road to reconciliation.

Ladies and gentlemen, Alfred Nobel’s will refers to three different types of peace work that qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize: contributions to fraternity between nations, to the abolition or reduction of standing armies, or to the holding and promotion of peace congresses. All these forms of peace work are represented in this year’s Peace Prize.

The peace process has already helped to foster fraternity between different parts of the population in Colombia. The civil war has also been a source of tension between Colombia and other countries in the region. Ending the civil war once and for all could strengthen fraternity not only in Colombia but also across national borders in the Americas.

This year’s Peace Prize also pertains greatly to the abolition or reduction of standing armies – meaning disarmament and arms control. Around 7 000 FARC soldiers are to be disarmed. The surrender and destruction of the weapons will be overseen by the United Nations. Hopefully, a similar negotiated disarmament agreement with the ELN guerrilla will soon be in place as well. Even though the obtained disarmament so far applies primarily to the FARC guerrillas, it is the Committee’s hope that the peace accord will also enable the government to reduce its military expenditure and thereby release funds that can be spent on building peace and welfare in Colombia.

And lastly, the long and intense talks that the Colombian government has held with the FARC guerrillas and the victims’ representatives, assisted by international facilitators such as Cuba and Norway, have in many ways served as a continual national peace congress.

The award of the Peace Prize to President Santos thus absolutely fulfils the criteria and the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will.

The more than 50-year armed conflict in Colombia is complex, and the country faces a magnitude of problems that must be solved. This will take time, making it even more important to get to work quickly. Only when peace has been restored will it be possible to give priority to education and other important services to assure positive, sustainable development. It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s hope that, in the years to come, the Colombian people will be able to reap the benefits of the ongoing peace and reconciliation process so that the country can effectively address major challenges such as poverty, social injustice and drug-related crime.

Mr. President, by awarding you this year’s Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wished to commend you on the results already achieved in the peace process. But it also sought to strengthen you and those around you in the difficult situation that arose after the referendum. It is with relief and satisfaction that we now note that your stated ambition of travelling to Oslo with a new peace accord in hand has been fulfilled. Perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize has contributed positively by giving you and the peace process a little push forward in these critical weeks. It is the Committee’s hope that it will also serve as an inspiration to all Colombians, as they now begin implementing the accord and building a just and lasting peace.

Ladies and gentlemen, seeking forgiveness for atrocities and suffering on the scale we have seen in Colombia is asking a great deal. No one can demand that a victim forgive his or her assailant. But by opening up memories, by having victims and perpetrators alike tell their stories, a foundation is also laid for reconciliation. This is what philosophers have called “the work of memory”. It is a painful process, yet at the same time it is a process that makes it possible to leave the pain behind and join forces in building a better future. This year’s Peace Prize diploma, which is reproduced in the programme in front of you, addresses this very issue: “The motif may look like a kiss,” the artist Willibald Storn has said, “but for me this picture is about forgiveness.”

In closing, I would like to quote another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose words bear direct relevance to the current situation in Colombia: “Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. … True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. … It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing.”

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2016

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