Expected Council Action
In April, the Council will receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Consultations are expected to follow the briefing.
The mandate of the verification mission expires on 25 September.
Key Recent Developments
The implementation of the November 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace in Colombia continues to face obstacles. Briefing the Council on 23 January, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, recognised the progress achieved, including the plan for “Peace with Legality” developed by the Colombian government, but stressed that what is now most urgently needed is the translation of existing plans into effective actions that change the realities on the ground. Council members echoed this in a press statement adopted the next day in which they called for quick work to translate plans into action in the areas most affected by the conflict.
An increasingly divisive issue is the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the justice component of the transitional justice system established by the peace agreement. In February, President Iván Duque objected to several provisions of the statutory law of the SJP. Furthermore, Duque’s party, the Centro Democrático, has announced a legal reform that would significantly modify the mandate of the SJP. On 11 March, the UN country team and the UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued a statement characterising as regrettable the fact that the SJP still lacks a solid legal framework guaranteeing its autonomous and independent operation. At a 13 March meeting in New York with Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated concerns expressed by the UN in Colombia with respect to the uncertainty surrounding the adoption of the statutory law and his hope for swift action to ensure that this legal foundation is put into place as soon as possible.
In recent months there has been an escalation of violence by the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) armed group, including a 17 January attack against a police academy in Bogotá, which resulted in at least 21 deaths, and other deadly attacks since then, including against critical infrastructure. On 18 January, Council members issued a press statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack”. Except for a three-month bilateral ceasefire agreed with the government between September 2017 and January 2018, the ELN has remained active. Talks held in Cuba between the administration of then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the ELN were suspended in August 2018, and the current administration announced that they would not be resumed until the ELN released kidnapped hostages and unilaterally ceased to commit verifiable criminal acts.
Following the January attack, the government of Colombia requested that Cuba, which has continued to host an ELN delegation, hand over the members of the delegation to the Colombian authorities. The government, which characterises the ELN as a terrorist organisation, has said publicly that it does not consider itself bound by protocols put in place by the Santos administration to provide security guarantees to the ELN delegation in case of a rupture in the talks. At the 23 January briefing, high-level representatives of both Colombia and Cuba delivered statements, but did not address this issue.
Attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders continue. In addition to the ELN, other armed groups remain active, including former members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) who are frustrated with shortcomings in the peace process and have taken up arms again, and the criminal group Clan del Golfo. The limited access to economic opportunities for former combatants continues to hamper the reintegration process. While there is now a governmental plan, “Peace with Legality”, earlier Secretary-General’s reports have underlined that economic reintegration is clearly lagging behind, including in regards to access to land for former combatants.
At the 23 January briefing, Ruiz Massieu identified a near-term challenge of defining the future status of the 24 Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration, given that some forms of government support, including health and education services and the provision of monthly allowances, are due to expire on 15 August.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 40th session, the Human Rights Council considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Colombia on 20 March (A/HRC/40/3/Add.3). The report, covering January to December 2018, described the human rights situation in Colombia with regard to democracy, security, development, civic participation and peace and highlighted some of OHCHR’s activities in the country. It included OHCHR’s assessment of the second year of implementation of the human rights aspects of the peace agreement and highlighted challenges related to defending human rights, fighting impunity and corruption, the upsurge of violence, and social and cultural rights, particularly in rural areas.
Key Issues and Options
An important issue is ensuring that the peace agreement is implemented in its entirety under the new administration, given that it has taken a different approach from that of the administration of former President Juan Manuel Santos regarding agrarian reform, transitional justice mechanisms, and the cultivation of coca. Council members could follow up on the invitation conveyed by Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo in September 2018 and organise a visiting mission to Colombia to convey the Council’s unanimous support for the agreement and reassure Colombians about the irreversibility of the process.
In addition to the need for clarity on the mandate of the SJP, the government’s ability to develop and finance a strategy for reintegrating former FARC-EP members into society and to provide safety and security in areas previously occupied by the FARC-EP remain critical issues in the successful implementation of the agreement. Council members could encourage dialogue between representatives of the government and former FARC-EP members to overcome the trust deficit and discuss how outstanding issues can be addressed.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are unified in their support for the peace process in Colombia. Several members have viewed engagement in Colombia as a rare bright spot for the Council as it struggles to play an effective role in several other conflict situations. While Council members have generally been deferential towards the government since the issue was first brought to the Council’s agenda in January 2016, recent developments regarding the SJP may test how critical Council members are willing to be in public and in private.
Diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela, which have been tense over the latter’s alleged support for the ELN, were broken off by Venezuela as a result of a 23 February crisis in which Colombia supported an attempt to deliver aid to Venezuela against the wishes of its government. According to UNHCR, Colombia hosted 1,174,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants by the end of 2018 and is expected to host almost 2 million by the end of 2019.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COLOMBIA
|Security Council Resolution|
|13 September 2018 S/RES/2435||This renewed the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|23 January 2019 S/PV.8450||This was a Council briefing from Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|24 January 2019 SC/13676||This was a press statement reiterating the Council’s full and unanimous support for the peace process in Colombia and sharing the assessment set out in the report of the Secretary-General.|
|18 January 2019 SC/13671||The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack at the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá on 17 January 2019, which left several fatalities and dozens injured.|