October 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2021
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AMERICAS

Colombia

Expected Council Action

In October, 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 24 September.

The Council is also expected to renew the verification mission’s mandate ahead of its 31 October expiry.

Key Recent Developments

During the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, which covers 26 June to 24 September, 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 in the transitional justice process stipulated by the agreement.

The Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition—which is comprised of 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. On 16 August, Álvaro Uribe, who served as Colombia’s president from 2002 to 2010, held an informal meeting with the Truth Commission’s president, Francisco de Roux. (In February, the SJP issued a report that implicated the Colombian military in the killing of 6,400 civilians as part of the “false positives” phenomenon during Uribe’s presidency.) At that meeting, Uribe denied responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of civilians and questioned the legitimacy of institutions formed as part of the peace agreement, such as the Truth Commission. On 31 August, Andrés Pastrana, who served as president from 1998 to 2002, testified voluntarily before the Truth Commission. He noted that although he was unsuccessful in forging a peace agreement with the FARC-EP during his term, his government laid the groundwork for the agreement that was reached in 2016. With these meetings, the Truth Commission has received input on the conflict from all five living former Colombian presidents.

Under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement, the Truth Commission’s mandate is set to expire by 28 November. In July, several victims’ organisations filed a petition to Colombia’s constitutional court requesting an extension of the mandate, arguing that the commission’s work was hindered during the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted its ability to meet with conflict-affected communities. At the time of writing, the constitutional court has yet to rule on the issue.

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 13 ex-combatants during the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, bringing to 291 the number of former FARC-EP members killed since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement. In addition, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received information about the killings of 43 human rights defenders, three of which were verified during the reporting period.

While the period between late April and mid-June was marked by widespread protests, the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s latest report has not experienced similarly high levels of demonstrations. Protests and a national strike, which started on 28 April in response to a tax reform proposed by the government— that would have, among other things, increased taxes on the middle class— lasted for over 40 days across the country. Some of the protests turned violent, resulting in allegations of at least 56 related deaths.

In mid-June, the national strike committee—which represents some 40 labour unions, farmer organisations and student organisations—suspended talks with the government aimed at resolving the crisis and expressed its intention to pursue its demands through other means, including by proposing bills to congress. Since then, the strike committee has proposed ten draft bills to congress on various social and economic policies, but they have received little support from lawmakers, according to media reports. The committee has also called for protests to take place on the 28th of each month. On 7 September, Colombia’s congress passed an amended tax reform plan that replaced the previously proposed reform plan, which was retracted during the protests, and is set to raise $4 billion annually. The reform’s stated aim is to stabilise public finances and address social issues such as combatting poverty, the provision of higher education and the creation of additional jobs for women and youth.

Colombian President Iván Duque’s 21 September speech at the UN General Assembly high-level segment garnered criticism from members of the Comunes party (which is composed of former FARC-EP combatants) for its portrayal of the peace agreement. Among other things, Duque called it “[t]he weak peace agreement signed in 2016 with the FARC terrorist group”. He added that his country is making progress in “building peace with legality”. (The government’s “peace with legality” strategy has been criticised by former FARC-EP members as a narrow interpretation of the 2016 peace agreement.) Duque’s presidential term ends in August 2022, and congressional and presidential elections are set to take place in March and May of that year, respectively.

The Council last met to discuss the situation in Colombia on 13 July, when it received a briefing from Ruiz Massieu and from Melissa Herrera, founder and director of the Latin American Foundation Viva la Vida. Herrera described the efforts of young peacebuilders in the country and emphasised the dangers faced by young women. She proposed several possible actions for the Council in this regard, such as including indicators of progress on Council resolutions relating to youth, peace and security in the verification mission’s reporting to the Council. She also suggested that the Council conduct a visiting mission to Colombia and hold consultations with a diverse group of youth representatives.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for Council members in October 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 former FARC-EP combatants and personal and collective security guarantees, including comprehensive security programmes and protection measures for communities and organisations in conflict-affected areas. In resolution 2574 of 11 May, the Council expanded the verification mission’s mandate to include monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. (The SJP is expected to begin handing down its sentences by early 2022.)

The Council will be following the preparatory work conducted by the verification mission ahead of undertaking this new task. Council members may wish to interact with representatives of the SJP and of victims’ organisations to hear their views on the mission’s new role and on ways in which the Council could further support transitional justice processes in the country. Members could either invite these representatives to brief during the Council’s quarterly meeting on Colombia or hold such a discussion in an informal interactive dialogue, a closed meeting format that could allow for a frank exchange of ideas.

In July, several Council members initiated opportunities for diplomats to interact directly with former FARC representatives. (The Council last engaged with former FARC members during its visiting mission to Colombia in July 2019.) Norway organised a virtual meeting for Council experts on transitional justice processes with members of the Comunes party, while the Irish embassy in Bogotá convened an in-person meeting, in which several in-country ambassadors of non-permanent members of the Security Council were in attendance, to hear the views of members of the Comunes party on the latest Secretary-General’s report. Council members may wish to continue holding such informal meetings to hear a broad array of voices regarding various aspects of the implementation of the agreement.

October’s quarterly meeting will take place ahead of several important milestones, including the fifth anniversary of the November 2016 peace agreement. How best to support the implementation of the agreement in full, and not only selected aspects, continues to be an important issue for Council members.

Developments surrounding the electoral campaign for the 2022 elections, including the potential for an increase in political polarisation and violence against candidates, are a possible concern for the Council. As has been the case in the past, Security Council members are likely to issue a press statement following October’s quarterly meeting; in the statement, they may wish to call on political actors to avoid polarising rhetoric and to prioritise dialogue.

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. Russia, for example, has criticised the government for insufficient implementation of the peace agreement and its refusal to conduct dialogue with the armed group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN).

The Council is united in its support for the verification mission, and Council members are generally supportive of the mission’s undertaking the additional task of monitoring compliance with the SJP’s sentences. However, the negotiations on resolution 2574 took longer than initially expected, in part because of China’s concerns 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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
24 September 2021S/2021/824 This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.
Security Council Meeting Records
13 July 2021S/PV.8818 This was the Security Council’s quarterly meeting on Colombia, which was held on 13 July 2021.
Security Council Press Statements
16 July 2021SC/14583 In this press statement, Council members reaffirmed their support for the peace process in Colombia.