Expected Council Action
In October, the Council is expected to receive a briefing from Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu on recent developments in Colombia and the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the mission, published on 25 September.
The mandate of the Verification Mission expires on 25 September 2021.
Key Recent Developments
The situation in Colombia remains difficult, as violence continues unabated despite repeated calls for parties to halt aggression in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Attacks 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 continue to complicate the implementation 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.
During the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, the mission verified the killings of 18 former FARC-EP combatants—bringing the number of ex-combatants killed since the beginning of the year to 49. On 28 August, Jorge Iván Ramos, a leader of the FARC political party, was killed in the Bolívar department. Ramos is one of the highest-ranking former FARC-EP commanders to have been killed since the signing of the 2016 Peace Agreement. Members of the FARC party have publicly expressed alarm over information indicating that the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) might have been responsible for his death.
On 30 July, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 Peace Agreement, expressed concern about the constant killings of former combatants and issued an order to the Colombian Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, the Office of the Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation, the National Protection Unit and the Ministry of Finance, calling on them to implement mechanisms for the protection of ex-combatants contained in the 2016 agreement. Among other things, the SJP called 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 increase the frequency of its meetings and to present guidelines and an action plan for the policy within 60 days (that is, by 30 September). President Iván Duque convened the commission on 12 August after a long hiatus, last having done so on 9 January.
Violence against communities and social leaders also remains prevalent. Three massacres that took place between 10 and 16 August in the Nariño and the Valle del Cauca departments claimed the lives of 15 people, most of whom were minors. In addition, a massacre on 20 September in the municipality of Buenos Aires in the Cauca department resulted in the death of six young people. As of 25 September, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had verified 42 incidents in which a high number of civilians were killed since the beginning of the year, with an additional 13 under investigation. The continued violence and insecurity have led to large-scale displacement, with more than 37,000 people displaced in Colombia since the outset of the year. The Secretary-General has repeatedly stressed in his reports that the areas most affected by violence are rural departments with limited state presence that are characterised by the presence of illicit economies and illegal armed groups.
Following the death of a citizen in police custody on 9 September in Bogotá, large-scale public protests erupted in the capital and in the neighbouring city of Soacha. The citizen, Javier Ordoñez, was reportedly arrested for violating city rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. The widespread circulation of a video showing police officers repeatedly shocking Ordoñez with a stun gun sparked anger over police misconduct and prompted calls for reform. Some of the protests turned violent, with OHCHR saying that “excessive use of force” by security forces may have resulted in the deaths of at least 13 people—most of whom were young people–and injured more than 300. On 21 September, further protests against the government’s response to the previous protests, as well as its economic and social policies took place in Bogotá.
On 25 September, the Security Council adopted resolution 2545, which extended the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia for another year. The resolution did not make changes to the core mandate of the mission that was set out in the 2016 agreement. The mission’s mandate 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.
Resolution 2545 contains new language that recalls that the 2016 agreement envisaged a role for the Verification Mission in monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. The resolution expresses the Council’s readiness to consider adding this task to the mandate of the Verification Mission, upon the conclusion of a consultation process coordinated by the Colombian government on the matter. The Colombian government had previously requested that the Council approve a role for the Verification Mission in monitoring the SJP sentences, but it appears that it needed more time to conduct inter-institutional consultations with the SJP and the Verification Mission on the matter. The SJP is reportedly expected to begin handing down sentences in the latter part of 2021.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Addressing the Human Rights Council (HRC) at the opening of its 45th session on 14 September, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed deep concern about the killings of human rights defenders in Colombia. Bachelet said that OHCHR has documented 47 killings of human rights defenders in 2020, stressing that 44 additional cases are in the process of verification. Bachelet also addressed the protests following the death of Ordoñez. She noted that OHCHR is verifying reported cases of violence against protesters and has offered “technical assistance on democratic and human rights-based policing of protests”. The 2016 Peace Agreement “should be implemented to prevent further violence, and human rights violations and abuses”, she said.
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 only on selected aspects—continues to be a key factor for Council members.
Council members may be interested to hear from the briefer what should be done to facilitate 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; guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the reintegration process of former FARC-EP combatants; and ensuring the centrality of the needs of communities affected by violence in all peacebuilding efforts.
The persistent violence in the country is a long-standing concern for the Council. This issue was addressed in numerous Council press statements calling for the National Commission on Security Guarantees to make progress in devising a plan to dismantle criminal organisations in the country. Some Council members may therefore wish to inquire about advances in this regard.
A future issue for the Council, subject to the completion of the consultations coordinated by the Colombian government, will be the possible expansion of the mandate of the Verification Mission to include monitoring of the sentences of the SJP. This will require an additional resolution. Ahead of that decision, Council members may request information from the Secretariat on relevant operational issues, such as which sanctions will be verified or whether the mission will require specific expertise. 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.
Council members are united in their support for the peace process in Colombia. While they have generally been deferential towards the government, some differences in tone have emerged since 2019. Some Council members have been more critical of issues such as the continued insecurity in rural areas and the government’s uneven approach to implementing various aspects of the agreement. These differences were evident during the negotiations on resolution 2545. It appears that the EU members of the Council sought to add language on the killings of ex-combatants, human rights defenders and social leaders in reference to challenges in the implementation of the peace agreement. However, it seems that some Council members preferred not to make additional changes to the text of the resolution, and therefore the language was not retained.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COLOMBIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|25 September 2020S/RES/2545||This resolution renewed the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia until 25 September 2021.|
|25 September 2020S/2020/943||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).|