April 2021 Monthly Forecast

AMERICAS

Colombia

Expected Council Action

In April, the Security 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 and the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission.

The Council may adopt a resolution expanding the mandate of the mission to include monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP).

The Verification Mission’s mandate expires on 25 September 2021.

Key Recent Developments

At the outset of 2021, some progress was made on the implementation of the November 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace between the government of Colombia and the former rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), including some level of increase in the dialogue between the parties and progress in the transitional justice process stipulated by the agreement. However, the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders continues to complicate the implementation of the 2016 agreement.

During January and February, the SJP, the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 agreement, made several crucial announcements regarding its investigations, prompting widespread public discourse. The SJP has the authority to issue sentences 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 to victims. As the SJP expects to start handing down sentences in the latter part of 2021, it has been conducting preparatory work, such as identifying seven cases it deems representative of the conflict (including kidnappings by the former FARC-EP, extrajudicial killings by agents of the state, and recruitment and use of children); collecting information; and hearing testimonies from defendants.

On 26 January, the SJP issued its first indictment, accusing eight former FARC leaders of perpetrating a kidnapping-for-ransom operation that targeted more than 20,000 people, including many civilians. The SJP noted that some of the victims were raped or killed and said that the kidnappings amount to crimes against humanity. The accused former leaders have until 30 April to respond to the SJP’s indictment; in the meantime, they have indicated their intention to admit guilt. Public reactions varied, as some saw the indictment and the expected admission of guilt as a sign of progress in the transitional justice process, while others called for tougher punishment for the former combatants’ actions and for banning them from participation in political activities.

On 12 February, the SJP issued a report that implicated the Colombian military in the killing of 6,400 civilians from 2002 to 2008, during Álvaro Uribe’s presidency. The killings were apparently part of the so-called “false positives” phenomenon, whereby civilians killed in military operations were presented as combatants in official reports. The numbers presented by the SJP were substantially higher than previous official estimates, which had put the number of victims at 2,248. Uribe criticised the SJP’s report, arguing that it was politically motivated, and questioned the legitimacy of its sources. In a 19 February statement, OHCHR welcomed the SJP’s progress on the indictment and the report, calling them “important steps in the fight against impunity”.

The worrying security environment in Colombia persisted in the first quarter of this year, resulting in widespread internal displacement in some areas of the country. According to OCHA, during January, activities of armed groups in the border area between Colombia and Venezuela affected both Colombians and Venezuelan refugees in the area, leading to the displacement of at least 200 people in Cúcuta and Tibú. OCHA further warned about the surge in violence in the Pacific-coastal city of Buenaventura, which is a strategic area for drug trafficking. Violence perpetrated by armed groups since late 2020 that has mainly targeted the Afro-Colombian community in the city resulted in the killing of seven people and displaced hundreds. Overall, OCHA noted that in January and February, 13,422 people—including 5,574 children—experienced displacement or restrictions on their movement due to the activities of armed groups nationwide.

Attacks against former FARC combatants have also continued unabated. The Verification Mission verified the killing of 14 ex-combatants since the outset of 2021. On 26 February, the SJP stated that the government and other state entities failed to comply fully with its July 2020 order calling on them to implement mechanisms contained in the 2016 agreement to protect ex-combatants. Among other things, it called for the National Commission on Security Guarantees—which comprises government officials and six civil society representatives and is charged under the peace agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and their support networks—to present guidelines for the policy by 30 September 2020. The SJP therefore issued a new deadline, calling on the government to present the guidelines for the plan by 24 March. According to media reports, the government had shared proposed guidelines for the plan with the entire National Commission on Security Guarantees on 24 March, but the civil society members in the commission rejected them, saying their proposals had not been taken into account.

On 10 March, Colombian President Iván Duque met with Rodrigo Londoño, president of the “Comunes” party. (The FARC party decided to change its name to “Comunes” during its national assembly, which took place in January). At the meeting, which was facilitated by Ruiz Massieu, the parties agreed to work on a roadmap for the remainder of the timeframe envisioned for the implementation of the 2016 agreement and to strengthen efforts to protect former combatants.

While the SJP continued making progress in its work, the Security Council has been considering an expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate that would include the monitoring of compliance with SJP sentences. Following a 15 January letter from Duque formally requesting the expansion of the mandate, the Council asked the Secretary-General to submit his recommendations on the matter.

In a 24 February letter, the Secretary-General said that the mission’s tasks—which were formulated in consultation with the Colombian government—would be to verify that those individuals who have received restorative sentences comply with them, and that the government provides the necessary conditions (such as budgetary and security support) for the sentences to be implemented. He noted that the mission’s role in verifying compliance can help build confidence in the transitional justice arrangements contained in the 2016 peace agreement. The letter outlines changes that may be needed to the mission’s configuration, including a dedicated headquarters capacity in Bogotá and increased mobility to areas where restorative works will be carried out.

Council members held an expert-level meeting with the UN Secretariat on 5 March to discuss the Secretary-General’s recommendation. It appears that most members reacted positively to the suggestions, with some posing questions on issues such as envisioned timelines for implementation of the mandate expansion and the mission’s interaction with civilians in areas with indigenous populations, where a substantial amount of the restorative work is expected to take place. At the time of writing, negotiations on a draft resolution expanding the mandate have yet to begin, as it appears that at least one member had further questions about the budgetary implications of the possible expansion.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 46th session, the Human Rights Council considered the report on Colombia of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/46/76) on 25 February. The report, covering 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020, focused on security and human rights; civic space; access to justice and the fight against impunity; and inequalities in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. It also assessed the implementation of the human rights aspects of the 2016 peace agreement and put forward recommendations. Among the report’s findings, it said that in 2020 OHCHR documented 76 massacres involving 292 deaths and that OCHA documented 94 mass displacements, involving 25,366 people. In 2020, OHCHR registered the killing of 133 human rights defenders.

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, and not only selected aspects, continues to be an important matter for Council members.

Violence in Colombia is a long-standing Council concern. The Council addressed this issue in numerous 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 recent progress in this regard.

Another issue is the potential for tensions in Colombia as the SJP continues to carry out sensitive transitional justice processes. Council members may wish to reiterate their support for the independence of the SJP.  Another option for the Council is to undertake a virtual visiting mission with representatives from the SJP, the government and victims’ organisations to hear their views on the mission’s new role, assuming that its mandate is expanded. In this regard, during the Council’s July 2019 visiting mission to Colombia, Council members’ meeting with representatives of the SJP was an important sign of support for the court’s work.

Council Dynamics

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 become more critical of developments such as the continued insecurity in rural areas and the government’s uneven approach to implementing various aspects of the agreement.

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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
29 December 2020S/2020/1301 This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.
Security Council Letters
24 February 2021S/2021/186 This was a letter from the Secretary-General containing recommendations on the expansion of the mandate of the Verification Mission.
25 January 2021S/2021/77 This letter contained a record of the Council meeting on the situation in Colombia that took place on 21 January 2021.
15 January 2021S/2021/147 This was a letter from Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez, containing a request for the expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate.
Security Council Press Statements
28 January 2021SC/14425 This press statement reiterated Council members’ support for the peace process in Colombia.