Expected Council Action
In July, Security Council members are expected to hold an open videoconference (VTC) meeting, which will be followed by a closed VTC session, on Colombia. Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu will brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the mission, published on 26 June. A civil society briefer may also brief the Council. The Council is likely to issue a press statement following the meeting.
The mandate of the verification mission expires on 25 September.
Key Recent Developments
Since March, Colombia has been contending with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had ramifications for the country’s socio-economic situation, the security environment, and the overall implementation 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). As of 29 June, Colombia had 95,043 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and had reported 3,223 fatalities from the virus.
Violence against communities, including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and the killing of former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders and social leaders, which had been prevalent prior to the pandemic, have continued unabated. Lockdown measures that were put in place since 24 March to curb the spread of COVID-19 made it more difficult for vulnerable communities to report serious security situations and access governmental response mechanisms. As of 26 June, the verification mission had recorded the murders of 13 former combatants since the beginning of the year, bringing to over 200 the number of former combatants killed since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement. As of 19 June, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had verified the killing of 32 social leaders since the beginning of the year, with 47 additional cases currently under investigation. On 11 June, the head of the FARC political party, Rodrigo Londoño, held a VTC meeting with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in which he asked for international assistance to address the killing of former combatants, including visits of special rapporteurs to the country to assess the situation of ex-combatants and social leaders.
On 28 April, the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) announced that it would not extend the unilateral “active” ceasefire that it had observed since 1 April. Secretary-General António Guterres regretted the announcement, saying that the month-long ceasefire had had a positive effect and its extension could have helped facilitate the response to the pandemic in line with his call for a global ceasefire. He further urged armed groups in Colombia to cease all violence to facilitate the unimpeded supply of relief assistance. On 14 June, the ELN released six hostages (two police officers and four civilians). The government of President Iván Duque has repeatedly said that the release of all hostages and the end of kidnappings and attacks by the ELN are preconditions for peace talks. At the time of writing, there had been no response from the government on the recent release of prisoners or the possibility of holding talks with the ELN.
The socio-economic repercussions of the pandemic had a profound impact on Colombia as lockdown measures shut down businesses, leading to a historic high of 23.5 percent unemployment in urban areas. The Colombian finance ministry estimated that Colombia’s economy will contract 5.5 percent in 2020 because of the halt in economic activity caused by the pandemic. According to Ruiz Massieu, the pandemic has also hindered the processes of economic and social reintegration of former combatants, particularly with regard to the development of productive projects. In his most recent Council briefing, on 14 April, Ruiz Massieu warned that the close to 9,500 former combatants residing outside the former territorial areas for training and reintegration (TATRs) are vulnerable to pandemic health risks and urgently need access to health care and basic services such as clean water and sanitation. The UN country team in Colombia prepared a $303 million strategy focusing on health, improving livelihoods, and protecting vulnerable communities to lessen the devastating impact of the pandemic in Colombia.
Apart from the difficulties caused by the pandemic, the government, the FARC party, the private sector, and civil society have cooperated to address and mitigate the impact of the virus. Examples include the rapid provision of supplies such as hygiene kits to the former TATRs and initiatives by ex-combatant cooperatives to produce masks and provide support for vulnerable populations.
The Security Council last discussed Colombia on 14 April, when it received briefings from Ruiz Massieu and David Santiago Cano, a youth civil society leader from Colombia. In a 17 April press statement, members of the Security Council stated their support for the peace process in Colombia and expressed grave concern about the targeting of former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders and social leaders. In this regard, they welcomed the launch of the “Comprehensive Programme for Safeguards for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders” action plan and called for its implementation. They further called for effective action to improve security, including through the extension of state presence; the regular convening of the National Commission on Security Guarantees; and the implementation of the Comprehensive Security and Protection Programme for Communities and Organisations in the Territories. They also noted the unilateral ceasefire declared in April by the ELN in response to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 24 April, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Rupert Colville, said in a press briefing note that the situation in the Cauca department of Colombia was “deeply worrying”. He stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions have “aggravated an already violent and volatile situation”. OHCHR has received daily reports of threats, including death threats, and harassment against the “local population, including against farmers, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities who are trying to ensure confinement and prevention measures are complied with”. Some parts of Cauca continued to face “intensifying clashes” between security forces, armed groups and criminal groups, Colville said, and “civilians have been caught in the violence” with one indigenous child dead and forced displacement of two rural communities. The UN Verification Mission in Colombia has said that 36 FARC-EP ex-combatants have been killed in Cauca since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016. (During its July 2019 visiting mission to Colombia, members of the Security Council travelled to Cauca.)
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 a key factor for Council members.
A new issue for the Council is how to address the risks that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the implementation of the peace agreement. Council members might seek more information from the briefer on what can be done to ensure that the implementation of the three priorities outlined in the Secretary-General’s 26 March report—protection of social leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC combatants, ensuring the centrality of the needs of communities affected by violence in all peace-building efforts and guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the reintegration process of former FARC-EP combatants—are not hindered because of the circumstances created by COVID-19.
With regard to security guarantees, Council members could reiterate their calls for the regular convening of the National Commission on Security Guarantees, the body charged under the peace agreement with developing a public policy on the dismantling of criminal organisations and their support networks. The commission was last convened by Duque on 9 January.
On the long-term sustainability of the reintegration process, members may seek more information on what form of assistance, including technical assistance, might be needed to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from hindering progress on the economic reintegration of former combatants. In this regard, members might be interested in hearing more about steps that need to be taken to guarantee former combatants’ access to land, including for productive projects. In addition, they might ask the briefer for updates on the implementation of the “reintegration road map”, which was jointly agreed upon by the government and FARC and adopted by a government resolution on 27 December 2019.
The current mandate of the verification 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. Looking ahead to the verification mission’s mandate renewal before its September expiry, Council members may wish to consider possible modifications to the mission’s mandate to correspond with developments in the implementation of the agreement. In this regard, members may consider the 16 June request of the Colombian government that the mandate be expanded to include the monitoring of the implementation of sanctions imposed by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 peace 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 the 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 June 2020S/2020/603||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|26 March 2020S/2020/239||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|Security Council Letters|
|16 April 2020S/2020/305||This letter contained a record of the Council meeting on the situation in Colombia including the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission, that took place on 14 April 2020.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|17 April 2020SC/14163||This was a press statement adopted by Council members in which they reiterated their unanimous support for the peace process in Colombia.|