Expected Council Action
In January 2018, the Council will receive a briefing from Special Representative Jean Arnault on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Consultations will follow the briefing.
Assuming that the government of Colombia and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) decide to renew their temporary, bilateral ceasefire, the Council will most likely renew the part of the mission’s mandate dealing with monitoring and verification of this ceasefire. This aspect of the mission’s mandate expires on 9 January 2018.
The overall mandate of the Verification Mission expires on 26 September 2018.
Key Recent Developments
On 29 September 2017, the government of Colombia and the ELN issued a joint communiqué requesting the Council to expand the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to include participation in a monitoring and verification mechanism composed of representatives of the Colombian armed forces, the ELN, the UN, and the Catholic Church. The parties indicated that the mechanism would verify compliance with the 102-day temporary ceasefire they had agreed in Quito, Ecuador, on 4 September 2017. They called for the mechanism to have a presence at the national, regional and local levels. The UN, as the international component of the mechanism, was asked to coordinate its work, to resolve potential disagreements between the parties, and to make recommendations accordingly.
Special Representative Arnault briefed Council members about the temporary, bilateral ceasefire on 11 September 2017. He informed them that the Secretary-General would make recommendations to the Council in response to the request of the government and the ELN.
On 2 October 2017, Secretary-General António Guterres forwarded a letter to the Council in which he conveyed his “positive assessment of the viability and desirability of the role proposed to the United Nations” (S/2017/830) by the parties. He emphasised that the UN’s engagement could “instill further momentum into the positive dynamics that have been emerging in the past few months”, both in terms of upholding (and eventually extending) the ceasefire and bringing about humanitarian relief to affected communities.
The Council adopted resolution 2381 on 5 October 2017, expanding the mandate of the UN Verification Mission—which is responsible for verifying the political, economic and social reintegration of the members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), as well as security guarantees—to also include the activities outlined in the 29 September joint communiqué agreed by the government and the ELN. Also on 5 October, the Council adopted a presidential statement in which it recognised the work of the UN Mission in Colombia, which expired on 25 September 2017, and welcomed the “remarkable achievements” in Colombia following the 2016 peace agreement.
The UN Verification Mission started its work on 26 September 2017 as the successor mission to the UN Mission in Colombia. Through resolution 2377 of 14 September 2017, the Council authorised the deployment of 120 unarmed, non-uniformed international observers as an appropriate civilian component to carry out the tasks of the verification mission. When the Council expanded the mission’s mandate in resolution 2381, it authorised the deployment of no more than 70 additional international observers to help it fulfil its further responsibilities, bringing the total number of international observers to 190.
On 8 December 2017, the Secretary-General submitted a letter to the Council in accordance with resolution 2381, which requested him to provide an update on the additional tasks accorded to the verification mission (i.e. those related to the monitoring and verification of the temporary ceasefire between the Colombian government and the ELN). He highlighted some positive developments since the start of the ceasefire, noting that offensive armed clashes had not occurred between the parties, that communities had reported a decrease in violence and improvement in humanitarian conditions, and that a wide array of social organisations had taken part in public hearings designed to determine the methodology for a nationwide dialogue.
However, he also observed that the parties have different interpretations of the Quito agreement, which lacks “such a critical feature as a separation of forces”, and that UN teams have faced challenges in accessing remote areas affected by conflict, where inhabitants are afraid of sharing information for fear of retribution.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman visited Colombia from 13 to 15 November 2017. He met with senior government officials, including President Juan Manuel Santos; FARC-EP representatives; civil society groups; and UN officials in Colombia.
In a press conference near the end of his visit, he highlighted three key issues central to the peace process. First, he underscored the importance of providing opportunities for reintegration of former FARC-EP fighters, including female fighters. In particular, he expressed concern “at the lack of an overall strategy for reintegration matched by concrete plans and resources to enable its success”. Second, he emphasised the need for enhanced government authority in former conflict zones, especially in areas vacated by the FARC-EP, where insecurity has led to the killings of community leaders and some former FARC-EP members. Third, he expressed concern about delays in approving legislation regarding the FARC-EP, including in relation to aspects of accountability..
Feltman briefed Council members on his visit in consultations on 29 November 2017. On 30 November, Council members issued a press statement marking the one-year anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP. In the statement, members “noted the importance of the international community remaining closely engaged to continue to support and encourage Colombia’s work to implement the peace process”. They emphasised the importance of making progress in reincorporating former FARC-EP combatants into civilian life and in improving security in former conflict zones.
On 17 December 2017, the ELN indicated that it was willing to renew its ceasefire with the Colombian government, saying that it needed more time to assess “the progress, confidence and results of the current one”. On 19 December, President Santos in turn expressed the government’s willingness to extend the ceasefire, announcing the appointment of a new lead negotiator to engage with the ELN. The current ceasefire expires on 9 January 2018.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 9 October 2017 statement following a six-day visit to Colombia, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour expressed concern over continued attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders. According to the statement, the government’s efforts to adopt policies aimed at preventing such attacks had yet to produce significant results. Since the beginning of 2017, there had been more killings of human rights defenders and community leaders, particularly in areas formerly occupied by the FARC, than in previous years, Gilmour said.
Key Issues and Options
An important issue is ensuring that the next steps in the peace process are effectively implemented. In this sense, the government’s ability to develop a well-resourced strategy for reintegrating FARC-EP members into society and to provide safety and security in areas formally occupied by the FARC-EP will be critical issues in ensuring successful implementation. Council members already highlighted the importance of these issues in their 30 November 2017 press statement, and the Secretary-General’s 90-day report will provide an opportunity for them to assess how much progress has been made. The Council could decide to adopt a statement encouraging further steps toward the reintegration of former fighters and security in certain areas of the country, while recognising any progress achieved.
Another key issue for the Council is the importance of renewing the aspect of the mission’s mandate that focuses on monitoring and verification of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the ELN. Assuming that the parties agree to extend their ceasefire, the Council will need to take action in early January. This could be done through an exchange of letters between the Secretariat and the Council or through a resolution.
Members are unified in their support of the peace process in Colombia, including the enhanced role for the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to monitor and verify the ceasefire between the government and the ELN. Several members view engagement in Colombia as a rare bright spot for the Council, which has struggled to play an effective role on several other agenda items in recent years. However, members realise that the challenges of implementing the peace agreement are significant and success cannot be taken for granted. Legislative and presidential elections scheduled for 2018 in Colombia create political uncertainties that could impact the implementation of the agreement. Feltman’s emphasis on the need for an effective plan for reintegrating the FARC-EP and for promoting safety and security in areas vacated by the FARC-EP has been noted by several members in consultations.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
UN Documents on Colombia
|Security Council Resolutions|
|5 October 2017 S/RES/2381||This was a resolution expanding the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|10 July 2017 S/RES/2366||This was the resolution establishing the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, a successor mission to the UN Mission in Colombia.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|5 October 2017 S/PRST/2017/18||This was a presidential statement recognising the work of the UN Mission in Colombia and welcoming the remarkable achievements in Colombia following the 2016 agreement.|
|Security Council Letters|
|8 December 2017 S/2017/1037||This was a letter from the Secretary-General providing an update of the tasks provided to the UN Verification Mission in Colombia with regard to the temporary ceasefire between the government of Colombia and the ELN.|
|2 October 2017 S/2017/830||This was a letter from the Secretary-General conveying his positive assessment of the viability and desirability of the role of the UN proposed by the government of Colombia and the ELN.|
|30 November 2017 SC/13101||This statement marked the one-year anniversary of the Colombia peace agreement.|