Expected Council Action
In July, 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, which was issued on 25 June.
The verification mission’s mandate expires on 31 October 2021.
Key Recent Developments
In recent months, the political and security situations in Colombia have remained complex. Widespread demonstrations and a national strike that started on 28 April lasted for over 40 days across the country. The protests were sparked by criticism of a tax reform proposed by Colombian President Iván Duque and presented to parliament on 15 April. Some demonstrations turned violent, including in the capital Bogotá and in the western city of Cali. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received allegations of 56 deaths related to the protests, including that of two police officers. Colombian and international interlocutors have criticised incidents involving excessive use of force and abuse by the police during the protests.
Although the government retracted the proposed tax reform on 2 May, demonstrations continued into mid-June, as protestors called for broader reforms—including economic, health and education reforms—to address longstanding, underlying issues aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Secretary-General’s report, civil society organisations in several regions also included in their demands 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).
On 20 May, talks commenced between the government and the strike committee—which represents some 40 labour unions, farmer organisations and student organisations—to resolve the crisis. The sides invited Ruiz Massieu and representatives of OHCHR and the Catholic Church to serve as facilitators in the discussions. Demands by the strike committee included additional subsidies to address the economic fall-out from the pandemic, amendments to the country’s trade agreements and the admission of culpability for abuses committed by the police during the protests. On 15 June, the strike committee announced that it was suspending the talks— which had hit an impasse after several weeks—while expressing its intention to pursue its demands through other means, including by proposing bills to congress. It further announced that a protest would take place on 20 July.
Meanwhile, the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders continued to complicate the implementation of the 2016 agreement. The verification mission verified the killing of 15 former combatants during the 27 March to 25 June reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report. According to OCHA, the activities of armed groups led to the forced displacement of over 7,400 people in seven departments, 33 percent of whom are from indigenous communities. To date, 29,200 people have been displaced in 2021—more than a 100 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
The Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which was made public on 21 June, illustrated the adverse effects of the insecurity on children in Colombia. The report, which contains verified information on violations against children which occurred in 2020 and violations that occurred earlier and were verified in 2020, noted the killing and maiming of 69 children. In addition, 116 children were recruited and used, with dissident groups of the former FARC-EP being responsible for 66 such cases and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) for 22.
The Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition—which comprises the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the Truth Commission and the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing— continued to advance its work in the past several months. In late April, members of the former FARC-EP secretariat responded to the SJP’s (the judicial component of the transitional justice system) January indictment accusing eight former FARC leaders of perpetrating a kidnapping-for-ransom operation that targeted more than 20,000 people during the conflict. They acknowledged responsibility for the kidnappings, stated that the former guerrilla group’s kidnapping policies were unjustifiable, and admitted culpability to mistreatment of kidnapping victims. Ruiz Massieu welcomed the response by the former FARC-EP members, calling it an important advance in fulfilling victims’ rights and in the promotion of truth, justice and reconciliation.
The Truth Commission also continued hearing testimonies in preparation for the issuance of its final report in November 2021. In a recent high-profile testimony, former President Juan Manuel Santos testified on 11 June on the issue of the “false positives” phenomenon, whereby civilians killed in military operations during the conflict were presented as combatants in official reports. In 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. Santos served as defence minister under Uribe between 2006 and 2009. In his testimony, Santos acknowledged that such crimes took place during his tenure and asked for forgiveness.
On 17 June, members of the former FARC-EP secretariat provided information to the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing on 55 people who were kidnapped by the FARC-EP during the conflict. The former FARC-EP further committed to providing information on 136 additional victims.
On 25 June, a helicopter carrying Duque and several other government officials came under attack as it was passing through the Catatumbo region, which is located near the border with Venezuela. No casualties were reported in the attack, which has not been claimed by any group.
On 11 May, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2574, extending the verification mission’s mandate to include monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. According to the Secretary-General’s 25 June report, following the adoption of the resolution, Ruiz Massieu met with the president of the SJP to discuss the new tasks of the verification mission and articulate the next steps in the process. The SJP is expected to begin handing down its sentences towards the end of the year.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 14 May, several human rights experts from the UN and Organisation of American States, released a joint statement condemning “the excessive and unlawful use of force by police and members of the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Riot Squad) against peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists across Colombia”. According to the statement, the experts received reports of at least 26 killings; 1,876 cases of police violence; 216 cases of injuries, including police officers; approximately 168 disappearances; 963 alleged arbitrary detentions; at least 12 cases of sexual violence, as well as allegations of torture. There were also reports of at least 69 assaults against human rights defenders.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council remains how best 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 longstanding Council concern. The Secretary-General noted in his report several steps that need be taken to address the precarious security situation. These include progress towards the implementation of a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups, criminal organisations and their support networks, and the deployment of security forces and an increased presence of civilian institutions to areas affected by conflict. The report further notes the persistent risks faced by women social leaders and calls for further progress in the implementation of the Comprehensive Programme for Safeguards for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders. Council members may ask Ruiz Massieu about any steps that have been taken to improve the security situation.
Council members will be following the work conducted by the verification mission in preparation for undertaking its new task of monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. One option would be for Council members to invite representatives of the SJP and of victims’ organisations to brief them during the quarterly Council meeting on Colombia to hear their views on the mission’s new role and on ways in which the Council can further support transitional justice processes in the country. The Council could also consider such a discussion in an informal interactive dialogue, a closed meeting format that could allow for a frank exchange of ideas.
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. Russia, for example, has criticised the government on its heavy-handed handling of protests in late 2020 and for insufficient implementation of the provisions of the 2016 peace agreement.
It appears that the Council is generally united in its support of the verification mission undertaking the additional task of monitoring compliance with the SJP’s sentences. However, the negotiations on resolution 2574 took longer than initially expected, including because of concerns expressed by China regarding the possible budgetary implications of the mandate expansion. Eventually, language proposed by China in this regard was not included in the text, as other Council members felt that these issues should be addressed through the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COLOMBIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|11 May 2021S/RES/2574||This resolution expanded the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to include monitoring compliance with sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) and extended the mission’s mandate until 31 October 2021.|
|25 June 2021S/2021/603||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|6 May 2021S/2021/437||This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.|
|Security Council Letters|
|23 April 2021S/2021/401||This letter contained a record of the statements made at the Security Council’s latest quarterly meeting on Colombia, held on 21 April 2021.|