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Long-lasting Peace Includes Nature by Maria Alejandra Aguilar

Long-lasting Peace Includes Nature by Maria Alejandra Aguilar

In the front line of armed conflicts, human rights violations often coalesce with the destruction of nature, a silent victim. Air, water, and soil are polluted, and wilderness is disrupted as different scenarios of war are more likely to take stage in rural areas, non-excluding urban terrorism, as is a common modality. But many internal conflicts have been confined to places far from the controlled urban centers.

Photo Credit: Maria Alejandra Aguilar

This has been the case in Colombia, and other countries in the region with a similar history. The recent peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People's Army (FARC), one of the oldest guerilla groups in the world which origins date back to the 1950s, leave some important lessons when it comes to including nature as a direct victim of the conflict, because to some level it acknowledged liability in the damage of nature as a result of the war.

The approach of nature as a victim refreshes the traditional position of what is conceived as transitional justice.

Reparation efforts are directed to restore nature and recognize it as a victim, in similar ways as reparation is delivered to human victims. Most importantly, where compensation is relegated to a small part of the reparation, and instead, rehabilitation and the guarantee of no repetition within the material and symbolic reparation, come to play an outstanding role in justice pursued for peacebuilding.

Even though Colombia´s case is complex and rumbles in dichotomy, the country is doing an effort to move in the right direction. On one hand, there is the fact that some areas of the Amazonia were kept mostly pristine, such as the case of Chiribiquete. Due to the phenomenon of imposed conservation, as FARC forced restrictions of land use and transit, moreover the general desolation that war leaves behind. On the other hand, mass destruction is related to indiscriminate attacks, such as oil pipelines, bombings, illegal mining, and illegal coca monocrops. Beyond these issues, the Colombia peace agreement in the chapter for a "Rural Integral Reform", advances in the inclusion of nature as an important pillar for peace. This chapter opens a variety of possibilities where nature is part of the reparation process and to some extent recognized as a victim itself.

The Integral Rural Reform is an important first step for sustainable development after conflict, where humans and nature coexist in harmony. Among the highlights reside the opportunity of former guerilla rebels are able to participate in different activities that include nature-based solutions, illegal economy reconversion based on new productive projects which include changing coca crops for ecofriendly bioproduction of a range variety of products, like cacao beans, pineapple, organic fertilizers, among other; to help transition the ex-combatants to civil life. Along the same lines, other programs of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) can be found, these are directly linked to reforestation and restoration efforts, where victims of the conflict and perpetrators work together for the conservation of nature. Moreover, it also brings the chance of ex-combatants to be formed as new park rangers committed to safeguarding protected areas.

Notwithstanding that Colombia´s Peace Agreement is in its first stages of implementation with a long road ahead, it is no doubt that including nature as a priority is a promise for a better future; and this approach has been proved to be successful in other latitudes. So it's the case of Mozambique, where ex-rebels have followed a path as conservationists and park rangers, a practice also replicated in the Philippines.

These initiatives are signs that the recognition of environmental damages caused by war where nature is another victim in need of reparation. Reparation is key to ensuring peace within people and the land; which ultimately, promotes the evolution of transitional justice, redressing the systematic violation of natural rights as human rights.


About the Author

Maria Alejandra Aguilar is an environmental lawyer from Colombia, her work focuses on the promotion of sustainable development and climate action.

Ms. Aguilar holds an MSc. in Sustainability Science from the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, a joint diploma with the University of Tokyo. Currently, She is part of the Youth Knowledge Exchange Program of the UN Climate Technology Network and Centre as a gender specialist, also an Associate Lawyer at the Colombian non-profit NGO Ambiente y Sociedad.

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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.

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