Ferney Cifuentes, like so many Colombian children from his area, was helping his father herd cattle in Montecristo in January 2015 when a violent blast lifted the Earth and sent shrapnel flying.
The 14-year-old had stepped on a landmine. His death — tragically — was not unique. More than 11,000 Colombians have been wounded or killed by landmines and other unexploded ordnance in the past quarter century.
Landmines are singularly dangerous because they can lay dormant for years, only to kill and maim innocent people without warning. In Colombia last year, 285 people, including 40 children, were killed by landmines, a toll surpassed only by Afghanistan. At current mine clearance rates, decades will pass before the country is mine free.
The United States and Norway believe that time line is not acceptable. That’s why we are leading a global effort to increase resources and technical expertise to help Colombia win the battle against these indiscriminate tools of war in the next five years. More than 20 countries and the European Union have joined our initiative, and we are welcoming others to come on board.
Hosted by the government of Colombia, supporters of the initiative are participating this week in a Forum of Experts in Bogota.
They will meet the operators conducting the demining, learn from Colombia’s past experience, share best practices and discuss ways to effectively channel additional aid.
Participants will also visit a pilot demining project being run jointly by Colombia’s government and the guerrilla group, FARC. The decades-long war has generated much of the landmine problem. The project is the first successful example of the two parties working together in the field to heal the wounds of that conflict. Victims’ groups have welcomed the joint project and hope that, by building trust, it will help smooth the path to a full and final peace agreement in the near future.
Now, as the Colombian government and the FARC are approaching a final agreement, we must stand ready to support implementation.
It will be crucial even after a peace accord is signed to underscore the benefits of peace by producing visible results for residents of conflict-affected communities. Confidence needs to be restored, security ensured, and institutions strengthened.
Demining can be a crucial part of this normalization process by helping to create safe conditions for people to return to their homes, freeing up productive land and making it safer for children to play outside and go to school.
As was true during the long conflict, Colombians will bear the overwhelming share of the cost. But for a peace deal to be successfully implemented, the international community must also play a role, including by sharing technical expertise and resources.
The Colombian government estimates it will need $350 million to eliminate the threat posed by landmines within five years.
Peace in Colombia is a global concern that has the support of nations around the world, regional organizations, NGOs, humanitarian groups, and religious leaders — including his Holiness Pope Francis.
As difficult as the negotiations have been at times, peace cannot wait. We must all do our part.
There would be no more fitting memorial to the memory of Ferney Cifuentes than to rid Colombia of the land mines that ended his life far too soon.
John Kerry is U.S. secretary of state. Borge Brende is Norway’s foreign minister.