Expected Council Action
In April, the Council expects to 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, published on 26 March. As was the practice in 2018 and 2019, the Council is likely to issue a press statement following the 90-day briefing. At the time of writing, it was unclear whether the briefing would be held exactly as planned because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The mandate of the verification mission expires on 25 September.
Key Recent Developments
At the outset of 2020, Colombia experienced a period of relative calm in contrast to the last quarter of 2019, which was marked by complicated electoral dynamics and widespread popular demonstrations. Following the local and municipal elections that took place on 27 October 2019, new local authorities—including mayors, governors, and members of municipal councils—assumed office across Colombia on 1 January. The October elections were the 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) and the first elections in which former FARC-EP members participated.
On 20 February, the mayor of Bogotá, in cooperation with Colombian civil society organisations, convened a summit on “Territorial Peace”. At the meeting, mayors and governors from different regions of the country launched the “National Network of Local Authorities for Peace” and promised to incorporate steps to implement the 2016 peace agreement in their local development plans.
Following popular protests in November 2019, at which citizens expressed their demand for a comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement, among other things, Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez launched a “national conversation” on 26 November 2019 between government representatives and different sectors of civil society. The conversation, which spanned several meetings in late 2019, revolved around six themes: inclusive growth, transparency, education, the government’s “peace with legality” strategy, the environment, and youth. A report summarising the findings of the national conversation was supposed to be issued by 15 March, but at the time of writing its release had been postponed to an unknown date because of the outbreak of COVID-19. Several protests took place across the country during the first months of 2020, with a protest planned for 25 March being suspended due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Violence against communities and the killing of former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders have continued unabated in 2020. According to a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least ten human rights defenders were reportedly killed during the first 13 days of the year. As of 26 March, 16 former combatants had been killed in 2020. This toll can be viewed as a continuation of the worrying trend in 2019, which saw the killing of 77 former combatants—the highest number of victims since the signing of the peace agreement–and the killing of at least 108 human rights defenders. The violence continues to be most prevalent in rural areas with limited state presence–in particular the Cauca, Nariño, Antioquia, Caquetá and Norte de Santander departments–where there is heightened activity by illegal armed groups and criminal structures.
In his 26 December 2019 report, the Secretary-General called for the reconvening of the National Commission on Security Guarantees, the body charged under the peace agreement with the development of a public policy on the dismantling of criminal organisations and their support networks. After a long hiatus, the commission was convened by Duque on 9 January. According to government officials, the purpose of the meeting was to ensure that the positions of civil society be reflected in future public policy on the matter. On 23 January, a technical session was held to consider the proposals presented by civil society and to establish a roadmap for the drafting of the policy.
On 14 February, the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) announced a 48-hour long “armed strike” in several departments. During the “strike”, civilians were instructed by the group to not leave their homes or use means of transportation. Several incidents of violence took place during the strike, including attacks on security forces which resulted in the death of one soldier. Following the strike, civil society groups called for a renewed dialogue between the government and the ELN.
As of 22 March, Colombia had 277 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and had reported two fatalities from the virus. On 17 March, the Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation, Emilio Archila, indicated the government’s commitment to continue implementing programmes related to the implementation of the peace agreement, regardless of the difficulties posed by measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus. The governmental Agency for Reintegration and Normalization (ARN) which is in charge of carrying out plans for the reintegration of former combatants, has affirmed that the measures to counter COVID-19 will not affect the payment of monthly allowances for former combatants.
Between 22 and 23 March, riots erupted in 13 penitentiaries across Colombia, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 inmates and 83 injured. The riots were reportedly sparked by inmates’ concerns that the authorities are taking insufficient measures to protect prison facilities from the spread of COVID-19. Following the riots, the government announced a national “state of penal emergency” and pledged to take action to forestall the spread of the virus in the country’s prisons.
On 30 March, the guerrilla group ELN announced on its official website its intention to implement a one-month unilateral cease-fire which will begin on 1 April, with the aim of facilitating the response to COVID-19 in the country. It emphasised, however, that this is an “active” ceasefire, since the group reserves the right to respond to attacks from government forces or other armed groups. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement welcoming the announcement, while expressing hope that the measure will allow the government to fight the spread of the virus and will give respite to communities and vulnerable groups affected by violence. He further called on other armed groups to adopt similar measures.
The Security Council last discussed Colombia on 13 January, when it received a briefing from Ruiz Massieu and held consultations on the topic. On 15 January, members of the Security Council issued a press statement in which they reaffirmed their commitment to working closely with Colombia to make progress in implementation of the peace agreement. The statement expressed grave concern regarding the targeting of community and social leaders as well as former FARC combatants and called for effective government action to improve security, including through the extension of state presence to conflict-effected areas. It also welcomed the meeting of the National Commission on Security Guarantees earlier in the month and noted that Council members are looking forward to the development of a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups in the country.
On 19 March, Colombia signed an agreement with the UN on a new Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for 2020-2023. Prior to the signing of the agreement, Duque met with Secretary-General António Guterres in New York on 9 March. In a press stake-out following the meeting, Duque announced that the agreement focuses on handling of the migrant population in Colombia, cooperation on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and “peace with legality” (a term used by Duque’s government to describe its strategy with regard to the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement). In comments to the press, Duque outlined that “peace with legality” focuses on reintegration of ex-combatants through territorial entities, eradication of illicit crops and combating armed groups. The government’s “peace with legality” strategy has been continuously criticised by members of the FARC party as a narrow interpretation of the 2016 peace agreement.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 43rd session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) considered on 27 February the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual report on the activities of OHCHR in Colombia (A/HRC/43/3/Add.3). The report assessed the human rights situation in Colombia in 2019, with a focus on the situation of human rights defenders; the use of the military in situations related to public security; the fight against impunity; and inequalities in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The report outlined “persistently high levels of violence generating serious human rights violations”, including attacks on human rights defenders and indigenous peoples; an increase in cases of alleged arbitrary deprivation of life; and grave human rights violations committed against children. It also assessed the implementation of the human rights aspects of the peace agreement and includes recommendations for improving the human rights situation. (On 30 October 2019, the host country agreement between the government and OHCHR was renewed until 31 October 2022.)
The HRC also considered the report of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, on his visit to Colombia (A/HRC/43/51/Add.1).
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council remains to support the implementation of the peace agreement in Colombia. The need to implement the agreement fully—as opposed to focusing on only select aspects—continues to be an issue, acknowledged by members of the Council in a series of recent statements that stressed the interlocking nature of the different elements of the accord.
Council members might be interested to hear more about the role that can be played by local authorities in implementing the peace agreement, such as local development plans that are intended to assist with the reintegration of former FARC combatants. As has been the case with previous Council meetings on Colombia, several Council members are likely to express concern regarding the persistent levels of violence against ex-combatants, community leaders and human rights defenders while stressing the need to protect women and ethnic communities. Council members may want to seek further information on progress in devising a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and of measures taken by the government to protect vulnerable communities that are affected by violence.
Council members may also be interested in hearing from the briefer about the potential impact that the outbreak of COVID-19 might have on the implementation of the peace agreement and on any challenges it might pose to the ability of the UN Verification Mission to perform its duties. Some members might raise the question of how the spread of COVID-19 in the region might affect stability, noting also that Colombia has closed its border with neighbouring Venezuela to pre-empt the spread of the virus.
The UN Verification Mission was established in accordance with the 2016 agreement, which stipulated an initial three-year duration, “renewable if necessary”. That initial period will end in September 2020. Duque, however, has already expressed his wish for the mission to continue through his term in office, which ends in 2022. The mandate of the mission, as set out in the 2016 agreement, focuses 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. Previous mandate renewal resolutions have left the mandate unchanged. However, in preparation for the next mandate expiry in September, Council members may wish to consider possible modifications to the mission’s mandate to correspond with developments in the implementation of the agreement.
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. For example, several members have been critical of the government on such issues 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.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
UN DOCUMENTS 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.|
|26 March 2020S/2020/239||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|26 December 2019S/2019/988||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|13 January 2020S/PV.8702||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 January 2020SC/14081||Council members issued a press statement in which they reiterated their full and unanimous support for the peace process.|