Expected Council Action
The Council is planning a visiting mission to Colombia in July, to be led jointly by Peru and the UK. Later in the month, the Council will receive a briefing by Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, with consultations expected to follow the briefing.
The mandate of the verification mission expires on 25 September.
Key Recent Developments
Challenges and uncertainties persist in the implementation of the November 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace in Colombia, on matters such as the proper inclusion of the agreement in national planning and resource allocation or the fate of the Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration to which former Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) members and their families were relocated when the current governmental programmes end in August.
There have, however, been positive recent developments regarding some of the most controversial issues. In his 26 March report to the Council, the Secretary-General highlighted polarisation and divisions over the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the peace agreement. The mandate of the SJP has continued to be a divisive issue and while it started its operations in March 2018, various amendments to its statutory law were being presented by different actors and, in turn, reviewed by the parliament and the Constitutional Court. In March, President Iván Duque—who took power in August 2018, succeeding Juan Manuel Santos, a key architect of the peace agreement—lodged six objections to the statutory law of the SJP. Briefing the Council on 12 April, Ruiz Massieu praised the “impressive results” of the SJP’s work and echoed the Secretary-General’s call for prompt action by all concerned to ensure that a statutory law consistent with the peace agreement is adopted as soon as possible. On 16 April, Council members issued a press statement reiterating their call for full respect for the independence and autonomy of the SJP. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to reject Duque’s objections, but controversy arose regarding whether in the Senate an absolute majority—needed to overrule the objections—had been reached. The matter was then referred to the Constitutional Court. In his latest report, issued on 26 June, the Secretary-General stated that on 29 May the Constitutional Court ruled that both chambers of the Colombian parliament had reached the required threshold. On 6 June, Duque signed the statutory law of the SJP, and it entered into force.
A related issue is the case of one of the former leaders of FARC-EP, Seuxis Pausías Hernández (aka Jesús Santrich). He had been chosen for one of the ten congressional seats granted to former FARC-EP members by the peace accord and was supposed to take up his post in July 2018. In April 2018, Hernández was detained on drug trafficking charges following a federal indictment in the US. There is a no-extradition guarantee for crimes committed during the armed conflict and prior to the signing of the peace agreement, and it is the SJP’s responsibility to review the applicability of this guarantee. The SJP decided not to authorise Hernández’s extradition and ruled that he be freed, citing insufficient evidence. Following this decision, the justice minister and the deputy attorney general resigned. Hernández was released on 17 May and re-arrested that same day based on new evidence. On 28 May, the State Council upheld Hernández’s status as a member of the House of Representatives. Colombia’s Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over the country’s legislators, ordered his release on 29 May, and on 11 June, having been sworn in, Hernández took his seat in the House of Representatives.
Attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders continue. For the first time in a meeting on Colombia, the Council was briefed on 12 April by a civil society representative, Rosa Emilia Salamanca, co-director of the NGO Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica. She highlighted how the defence of human rights “is a high-risk activity that sometimes costs lives”.
The guerrilla group known as Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) continues to engage in hostilities. Furthermore, other armed groups remain active, including former members of the FARC-EP, who are frustrated with shortcomings in the peace process and have taken up arms again, and the criminal group Clan del Golfo. Fighting among some of these groups led to the displacement of some 40,000 civilians, including indigenous people, in the first quarter of 2019. Despite the governmental plan “Peace with Legality”, limited access to economic opportunities for former combatants, including access to land and markets, continues to hamper the reintegration process.
While the Council’s 16 April press statement recognised the achievements of the peace process over the past three years, it also acknowledged significant challenges. In addition to some of the issues highlighted above, a particular concern has been guaranteeing a smooth transition of the 24 Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration where former FARC-EP members were relocated with their families following the peace accord. The current arrangements include some forms of government support, such as health and education services and the provision of monthly allowances, but they are due to expire in August. According to the Secretary-General’s 26 June report, the Government’s four-year National Development Plan, approved on 3 May, identifies peace-related activities within a broader set of public investments in conflict-affected regions. It also, according to the report, “provides authority for the Government to continue basic monthly allowances to former FARC-EP members in the reintegration process and to facilitate access to land for their income-generating activities”.
The Council visited Colombia once previously, from 3 to 5 May 2017, in an effort to demonstrate support for the peace process, gain a better understanding of the challenges, and encourage the parties to maintain their cooperation in implementation of the peace agreement.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 10 May press briefing, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm over “the strikingly high number of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, and by the fact that this terrible trend seems to be worsening”. Since the start of the year, 51 human rights defenders and activists have been reported killed, the spokesperson said, while expressing concern that with the approach of local elections in October, violent attacks may increase even further.
Women, Peace and Security
During the 12 April Council meeting on Colombia, civil society briefer Salamanca highlighted aspects of the situation that particularly affected women. She said a “culture that attacks bodies, goods and dignity” is what “women human rights defenders, leaders and peacebuilders” are facing when they seek participation. According to Salamanca, a future entailing “peace in everyday life” for women would mean for them to be able to walk “alone free from danger of being raped” and to participate “in the country’s decision-making without feeling threatened”. The Secretary-General’s March report on Colombia said that in 2018, a woman leader was killed every 18 days, on average. Between 27 December 2018 and 26 March, there was a reported increase in the percentage of female leaders killed, according to the report. The Secretary-General’s March report further said that sexual violence remains a driver of forced displacement. The Secretary-General expressed his deep concern about the lack of implementation of the gender provisions of the peace agreement that are related to security guarantees and reintegration. In his 26 June report, the Secretary-General noted “some progress on gender-related issues”. He listed under this rubric several recent meetings conducted by the Special Forum on Gender and the holding on 1-2 June of the first national forum by the FARC Gender Committee that gathered more than 400 women former combatants. A positive step, according to the report, was the development by the government’s High-Level Forum on Gender of an action plan that assigns responsibilities to government entities for each of the 51 gender indicators of the Framework Plan for Implementation of the Peace Agreement. The report, nevertheless, reiterated the need for prompt implementation of the elements of the agreement related to security guarantees for women leaders. With respect to the UN Mission, it is on track to reach its target of 46 percent female staff in the professional and field service categories on fixed-term, continuing and permanent contracts by the end of 2019, according to the report.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue is addressing the mistrust among political actors in Colombia and ensuring that the peace agreement is fully implemented. The Secretary-General highlighted in his 26 March report the importance of promoting the implementation of the agreement in its entirety “as an interlocking set of commitments”. Three months later, the Secretary-General described the situation as a “mixed picture” adding “and I deeply regret once again the continued atmosphere of polarization over elements of the Peace Agreement”. Council members may use the upcoming visiting mission to demonstrate their full commitment to the peace process and support for the peace agreement. Meetings with members of the Duque Administration may help clarify some concerns that the new government has expressed regarding the accord. Through meetings with different sectors of the Colombian political scene, including former members of the FARC-EP, as well as civil society, Council members are likely to deepen their understanding of the current problems and potentially help build some bridges between different actors. The visit may also help reassure Colombians about the irreversibility of the process and emphasise that any adjustments proposed by the government cannot be applied retroactively to commitments accepted by the parties.
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 Colombia was first brought to the Council’s agenda in January 2016, recent developments regarding the SJP led most Council members to criticise the objections to the statutory law and express their support for the SJP in the Council chamber on 12 April. Negotiations among Council members on the 16 April press statement reflected differences in tone among them, with most Council members stressing the need for balance in acknowledging achievements and outstanding challenges. The situation in neighbouring Venezuela and the differences in positions on this situation among Council members may also have affected the recent dynamics with respect to Colombia.
Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia on 23 February as a result of the crisis in which Colombia supported an attempted delivery of 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. During the visiting mission, members of the Council are likely to be interested in the impact of the presence of Venezuelan refugees in the country.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COLOMBIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|13 September 2018S/RES/2435||This renewed the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|26 March 2019S/2019/265||This was the Secretary-General’s Report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 April 2019S/PV.8511||This was a briefing by Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, on the Secretary-General’s latest report.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|16 April 2019SC/13782||This was a press statement reiterating the call for full respect for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace’s independence and autonomy.|