Expected Council Action
In January 2020, the Council will receive a briefing from Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the mission, which at press time was due on 26 December 2019. As was the practice in 2018 and 2019, the Council is likely to issue a press statement following the 90-day briefing.
The mandate of the verification mission expires on 25 September 2020.
Key Recent Developments
The overall political situation in Colombia has remained complex. On 27 October 2019, the country held its first local and municipal elections since the signing of the 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace between the government of Colombia and the rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). Electoral campaigns in Colombia have for decades been marked by violence, and the 2019 campaign also saw cases of election-related killings, kidnappings and threats. On election day, five people were killed in election-related incidents, compared to 28 killed on the day of the last local elections prior to the signing of the agreement, held in 2015.
Centro Democratico (CD), the party of Colombian President Ivan Duque, suffered setbacks in the October 2019 elections, especially in the big cities. Its candidates lost the mayoral elections in Medellin, a CD stronghold, and in the capital city of Bogotá, whose mayor has traditionally been considered the second most powerful politician in the country after the president.
Candidates associated with FARC-EP running either for the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (FARC), the political party founded by the FARC-EP after the laying-down of weapons, or for other opposition parties, won in a handful of races, gaining seven seats in different municipal councils, one in a provincial assembly, one in an administrative local assembly, and three mayoral posts.
The government faced further crisis when on 5 November a report from an investigation into an August operation by the Colombian military was presented in the Senate by Senator Roy Barreras, revealing that eight of the 15 people killed in the bombing were minors aged between 12 and 17 years. The operation, a military offensive against an alleged rebel base in the Caquetá province, came hours after two former leaders of the FARC-EP, Luciano Marín (known as Iván Márquez), one of the chief negotiators of the agreement, and Seuxis Pausías Hernández (known as Jesús Santrich), released a video in which they announced a “new phase of armed struggle” in Colombia. The government declared that the military operation had been carefully planned and properly conducted and had resulted in the elimination of one of the dissident FARC-EP leaders. The November revelations that several of those killed were children who, with various others, were likely to be civilians, led the Senate to plan a motion to censure Defence Minister Guillermo Botero. Botero resigned the next day, and on 12 November 2019 Duque appointed his then Foreign Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, to the post, appointing as foreign minister Claudia Blum, a politician and diplomat who served as Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York in 2006–2010.
High levels of violence have continued, especially in areas from which FARC-EP had withdrawn, with targeted assassinations of indigenous and social leaders and human rights defenders. The Cauca department, which Council members visited in July 2019, has had particularly high numbers of killings recently. Nineteen people were killed in Cauca over the four-day period from 30 August to 2 September 2019. On 29 October 2019, five people from the Nasa indigenous community were shot dead and six others were severely injured by gunfire in the Tacueyó reservation in Cauca. Between 1 January and 1 November 2019, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia, 52 persons, including 11 human rights defenders, were killed in the Nasa territory in Cauca.
Numerous demonstrations in different parts of the country, including a national teachers’ strike in September, have condemned the killings. The November disclosure of the eight minors, and possibly other civilians, killed by the military on 29 August sparked another wave of mass demonstration, starting on 21 November 2019 when there was also a national strike.
In addition to decrying the continuing targeted killings, the protesters also demonstrated against the government’s failure to improve the economic situation of large sectors of Colombian society, especially in rural areas, as well as the return to a phenomenon characteristic of the civil war period known as “the false positives”, whereby civilians killed in military operations were presented as combatants in official reports. In several demonstrations, the full implementation by the government of the peace agreement was among the participants’ demands.
The Council last discussed Colombia on 10 October 2019, when it received a briefing from Ruiz Massieu and held consultations on the topic. On 15 October, Council members issued a press statement reiterating their unanimous support for the peace process in Colombia while deploring the announcement by a group of former fighters that they would return to armed activity. The statement expressed concerns about the killings of community and social leaders as well as candidates running in the 27 October local and departmental elections. In the statement, members reaffirmed their commitment to working closely with Colombia in achieving progress in the implementation of the peace agreement.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 30 October 2019, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that OHCHR had signed a Host Country Agreement with Colombia to remain and operate in the country with its full mandate–including technical cooperation and human rights monitoring and reporting–for a further three years. On the occasion of Human Rights Day on 10 December 2019, a spokesman for OHCHR said that the office had documented killings of at least 86 social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia in 2019.
Key Issues and Options
With the mission’s mandate focused on verifying aspects of the agreement related to the political, economic and social reincorporation of the FARC-EP, personal and collective security guarantees, and comprehensive programmes of security and protection measures for communities and organisations in conflict-affected areas, Council members will want to hear how the recent political and social turmoil may have affected the implementation of the agreement.
The need to implement the peace agreement fully—as opposed to focusing on only select aspects—continues to be an issue, acknowledged by the Council in a series of recent statements that stressed the interlocking nature of the different elements of the accord.
The UN verification mission, which started its operations in September 2017, was established in accordance with the 2016 agreement in which the parties requested the UN to set up a political mission. The agreement stipulated an initial three-year duration for the mission, “renewable if necessary”. That initial three-year period will come to an end in September 2020. The resolutions renewing the mandate of the mission have left it unchanged. Resolution 2487 adopted in September 2019 expressed the Council’s willingness to work with the government of Colombia to extend the mission beyond 2020, should the parties desire. It is likely, however, that the parties may suggest some changes with the expiry of the current mandate, and the Council may wish to begin holding Colombia–focussed discussions to consider ways in which the mandate could be modified to fit the evolving situation on the ground.
Given the important role of the international element of the verification process provided by the UN, which is recognised by the parties and by Colombians at large, the Council might consider a visiting mission to Colombia in the first half of 2020 to signal its ongoing support as well as its concerns about the violence, to encourage full implementation of the agreement, and to hear the views of local actors regarding the possible next phase of Council involvement.
Council members are united in their overall support for the peace process. While they have generally been deferential towards the government, some differences in tone emerged in 2019. Several members have been critical of the government on issues such as the continuing security vacuum in areas from which FARC-EP withdrew under the agreement and an uneven approach to implementing different aspects of the agreement. Other members objected to singling out human rights defenders as a separate category among victims of targeted assassinations.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|12 September 2019S/RES/2487||This resolution renewed the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia until 25 September 2020.|
|1 October 2019S/2019/780||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|10 October 2019S/PV.8639||The Council was briefed by Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|15 October 2019SC/13988||Council members issued a press statement, reiterating their unanimous support for the peace process in Colombia while deploring a recent announcement by a group of former fighters that they would return to armed activity.|
|18 October 2019S/2019/827||This was the report from the 11-14 July 2019 Security Council visiting mission to Colombia.|