September 2020 Monthly Forecast

AMERICAS

Colombia

Expected Council Action

In September, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, which expires on 25 September.

Key Recent Developments

The situation in Colombia remains complex as the country continues to experience high levels of violence and political polarisation while it contends with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 31August, Colombia reported 607,938 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 19,364 fatalities from the virus.

Violence against communities, including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and the killing of former Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) members, human rights defenders and social leaders—which had been prevalent prior to the pandemic—have continued unabated. According to the Secretary-General’s report from 26 June, illegal armed groups have been taking advantage of lockdown measures imposed to stem the spread of the pandemic to strengthen their control over strategic illicit trafficking routes. In some areas, these groups have imposed unauthorised social control measures, such as additional lockdown and curfew measures, harshly punishing breaches, as well as set up illegal checkpoints.

A spate of violent attacks that took place between 10 and 16 August illustrates the precarious security trend in rural areas of Colombia, which are characterised by weak state presence. According to media reports, two young boys were killed on 10 August in the city of Leiva in the southern Nariño department when they were caught in crossfire between warring armed groups. On 11 August, five minors of Afro-Colombian descent were found dead with signs of torture in the city of Cali in the western Valle del Cauca department. On 16 August, eight young people were killed in a massacre in the town of Samaniego in the Nariño department.

The UN country team in Colombia and the Verification Mission issued a statement condemning the 16 August massacre and other attacks in previous weeks. The statement noted that since the beginning of the year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented 33 massacres and received reports of 97 killings of human rights defenders, 45 of which have been verified. The Verification Mission has verified the killings of 41 ex-combatants, bringing to 215 the number of former combatants killed 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 former rebel group FARC-EP.

According to the statement, these events illustrate the urgency of the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, which sets out various mechanisms for security guarantees. The statement further underlined the need for the National Commission on Security Guarantees, the body charged under the peace agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and their support networks, to make advances in its work. President Iván Duque convened the commission on 12 August after a long hiatus since he last did so on 9 January.

On 7 August, Colombia’s Supreme Court ordered that former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe be detained. He was placed under house arrest amid investigations into charges of fraud, bribery and witness tampering. Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010, is a polarising figure among Colombian society and political elites. Supporters of Uribe, including President Duque, credit him for subduing the FARC insurgency. Critics of Uribe, however, accuse him of overseeing heavy-handed tactics by the army in his bid to fight the FARC. Those tactics reportedly led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians.

The Security Council last discussed Colombia on 14 July, when it received a briefing from Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu and held consultations on the topic. At the meeting, Ruiz Massieu identified outstanding challenges in the implementation of the peace agreement while stressing that violence against former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and communities poses the “most serious threat to peacebuilding in Colombia”. He further noted that urgent support is needed to address the challenges to productive projects of former combatants caused by the pandemic, including through technical assistance and land allocation. The Council was also briefed by Clemencia Carabalí Rodallega, a representative of the Municipal Association of Women (ASOM) in the north of Cauca department and a defender of ethnic and territorial rights. Rodallega made several requests to the Colombian government and to the international community to take action to address the grave security risks posed to social leaders.

On 16 July, members of the Council issued a press statement that expressed grave concern over the targeting and killing of former combatants, social leaders and indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other communities. They recalled resolution 2532, which endorsed the appeal of the Secretary-General for a global ceasefire in response to COVID-19 and called on the parties in Colombia to halt violence and facilitate pandemic response.

On 14 August, the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict adopted its conclusions on the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Colombia, which covers the period from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2019. It expressed concern about the expanded territorial presence of armed groups, including the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and groups of former FARC-EP who have taken up arms, and the continued recruitment and use of children, including children from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and refugee and migrant children.

Key Issues and Options

The main issue for Council members in September will be the renewal of the Verification Mission’s mandate. The current 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 former FARC-EP combatants and personal and collective security guarantees, which include comprehensive programmes of security and protection measures for communities and organisations in conflict-affected areas.

Council members may wish to discuss 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 sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 peace agreement. The SJP has the authority to issue sanctions against those who acknowledge responsibility for crimes committed during the conflict, which can include up to eight years of confinement to one municipality to carry out work and activities that count as reparations for victims. Those who will not acknowledge responsibility for crimes will be subject to the Colombian penal code and may face imprisonment of up to 20 years.

The government’s request followed a letter sent to them by the president of the SJP noting that the SJP will soon begin issuing sentences and asking that the Verification Mission undertake this additional task. Members of the FARC political party have also indicated their support for the mission to take on this task. While the 2016 agreement stipulated that the SJP would have the support of an international mechanism, to be part of the UN political mission, there had been no request to include this aspect of the agreement in the mandate of the Verification Mission because it was previously unclear when exactly the SJP will start issuing sanctions. In April, the SJP issued guidelines on the sanctions and the tasks it will impose on those under its jurisdiction, and it is expected to begin handing down sentences in early 2021.

In their 16 July press statement, Council members “took note with interest” of the request by the parties for the mission to assume a role in verifying compliance with SJP sanctions. In addition, during the 14 July Council meeting, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, France and the UK expressed support for the Verification Mission to take on this additional role.

Ahead of the mandate renewal, Council members may request additional information from the Secretariat on operational issues relating to the possible expansion of the mission’s mandate, such as which sanctions will be verified or whether additional personnel with specific expertise will be required. Members can request such information in the form of a Secretary-General’s letter, or they could convene a meeting to hear a briefing from a Secretariat official before the start of negotiations on the mandate renewal.

A main priority for the Council remains to support the full implementation of the peace agreement in Colombia. In this regard, addressing the political polarisation in Colombia is a key concern. The house arrest of Uribe takes place against the backdrop of an already tense political atmosphere, as members of congress from the ruling party publicly express intentions to introduce measures to reform the SJP. Council members may wish to echo the Secretary-General’s call, contained in his 26 June report, urging political actors in the country to avoid divisive rhetoric and achieve unity.

Council Dynamics

Council members are unified in their support for the peace process in Colombia, and they continue to showcase engagement in the country as a rare bright spot among several other conflict situations where the Council struggles to play an effective role. While members 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 the government’s 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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
26 June 2020S/2020/603 This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.
Security Council Meeting Records
14 July 2020S/PV.8749 This was an open briefing that took place in the Economic and Social Council chamber. Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu briefed on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission (S/2020/603).
Security Council Press Statements
16 July 2020SC/14255 This was a press statement expressing Council members’ support for the 2016 peace agreement, in which Council members took note with interest the request of the parties that the Verification Mission will monitor the implementation of the sanctions of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP).