Expected Council Action
In January 2022, 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 27 December 2021. A civil society representative is also expected to brief.
The verification mission’s mandate expires on 31 October 2022.
Key Recent Developments
On 24 November 2021, Colombia marked the fifth anniversary of 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 Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). The occasion prompted reflection on issues relating to the implementation of the peace agreement and increased engagement by both Colombian and international actors.
Security Council members issued a press statement on 24 November 2021, welcoming progress in the past five years on such issues as the reintegration of former combatants, the transformation of the former FARC-EP from an armed group into a political party and transitional justice processes. Members highlighted the need to address remaining challenges, chiefly the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders.
Secretary-General António Guterres conducted a two-day visit to Colombia on 23 and 24 November 2021, which was his first official field visit since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. He met with government officials; members of the Comunes party (which is comprised of former FARC-EP members); the heads of 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; civil society representatives; and victims of the conflict. During a 24 November 2021 event in Bogotá, Guterres outlined the important advances in the peace agreement’s implementation, while warning about the risks undermining peace and emphasising that “the main long-term solution lies in a comprehensive expansion of the State that brings governance and development opportunities to the entire territory”.
The reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, which covers 25 September to 27 December 2021, witnessed important progress in transitional justice processes in Colombia. On 28 October 2021, ICC Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan announced that the court had decided to close its preliminary examination, which commenced in 2004, on alleged crimes committed during the civil war in the country. (During a preliminary examination—which precedes a full investigation—the ICC assesses whether the alleged crimes fall under its jurisdiction and evaluates whether domestic authorities are carrying out genuine proceedings to facilitate accountability.) The ICC said that its decision was informed by the progress made by the various jurisdictions in Colombia in addressing conflict-related crimes, which led the court to determine that Colombian authorities are “neither inactive, unwilling nor unable to genuinely investigate and prosecute Rome Statute crimes”.
The ICC and the Colombian government signed a cooperation agreement which outlines mutual responsibilities to ensure that transitional justice processes in the country remain on track—the first agreement of its kind between the court and a state party. According to an ICC press statement, the agreement reinforces the roles both entities will undertake to “ensure that the significant progress achieved by domestic prosecutorial and judicial entities, and in particular by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, is sustained and strengthened”.
The Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition continued to advance its work in the past several months. On 10 December 2021, the SJP announced that 21 former Colombian soldiers and one civilian have admitted their culpability for crimes committed as part of the “false positives” phenomenon, whereby civilians killed in military operations during the conflict were presented as combatants in official reports. (A February 2021 SJP report implicated the Colombian military in the killing of at least 6,400 civilians between 2002 to 2008.) They have acknowledged their responsibility for the murder of at least 240 people, asked for forgiveness and provided new evidence on the crimes, according to the court. Among the 21 former soldiers is Brigadier General Paulino Coronado Gámez, who is the highest-ranking officer to acknowledge responsibility for such crimes.
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 peace agreement. The verification mission verified the killing of ten ex-combatants during the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, bringing to 303 the number of former FARC-EP members killed since the signing of the 2016 agreement.
Preparations for congressional and presidential elections planned for March and May 2022, respectively, are also underway. On 13 December 2021, the registration for congressional candidates was concluded. Among the 2,966 registered candidates, 407 are candidates for the 16 “special transitional electoral districts for peace”. The establishment of these electoral districts was stipulated in the 2016 agreement, with the aim of promoting the participation of historically excluded populations in conflict-affected areas, including members of indigenous communities and representatives of victims’ and women’s organisations.
On 30 November, the US Department of State revoked its designation of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) as a terrorist organisation, noting in a press statement that since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement, the group “no longer exists as a unified organisation that engages in terrorism or terrorist activity”. According to the press statement, this will allow the US to promote the implementation of the peace agreement, including by working with demobilised combatants. The US further announced the designation as terrorist organisations of the FARC-EP and Segunda Marquetalia, groups which are comprised of combatants who refuse to demobilise.
On 29 October 2021, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2603, renewing the mandate of the verification mission for another year, without making any changes to the mission’s core mandate.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 15 December 2021, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report documenting instances of unnecessary or disproportionate use of force by police officers during mass protests in Colombia, which began in April 2021 and continued across the country for several weeks. Between 28 April and 31 July 2021, the OHCHR office in Colombia received 63 allegations of deaths resulting from participation in protests. At the time of writing, OHCHR has verified 46 deaths, of which 44 were civilians and two were law enforcement officers. Based on the information collected and examined by OHCHR, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that police officers were responsible for at least 28 deaths and that at least ten of the deaths involved members of the National Police’s Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD). The report asserts that Colombian authorities must reform their approach towards protest management to avoid the recurrence of loss of lives and injuries witnessed during the protests.
Key Issues and Options
Council members will closely follow developments relating to the 2022 congressional and presidential elections. A concern for the Council is the potential for an increase in violence against candidates, especially in the “special transitional electoral districts for peace”. In 2021, the Electoral Observation Mission—a platform of civil society organisations in Colombia that promotes the exercise of civil and political rights— registered 146 attacks against political and social leaders in the areas where these electoral districts have been established, 44 of which resulted in death. Council members may wish to issue a press statement underscoring the need to implement the security guarantees stipulated in the 2016 agreement and consolidate state presence in conflict-affected areas.
Progress in transitional justice processes is another likely focus for the Council, as the SJP is expected to begin handing down its sentences in early 2022. In resolution 2574 of 11 May 2021, the Council expanded the verification mission’s mandate to include monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. 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 recent months, several Council members initiated opportunities for diplomats, both in New York and in Bogotá, to interact informally with former FARC members and Colombian civil society representatives. For example, on 15 December 2021, Norway organised a virtual meeting among Council experts in New York and representatives of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to discuss the implementation of the ethnic chapter of the 2016 peace agreement. Council members may wish to continue holding such informal meetings to hear a broad array of voices address various aspects of the implementation of the agreement.
Council members are united in their support for the peace process in Colombia and for the verification mission’s work.
It seems that Mexico has sought to play an active role on Colombia, which is a priority file for Mexico City. For instance, it co-authored the Council’s 16 July press statement with the UK, the penholder on Colombia. It appears, however, that the UK and Mexico diverge on whether their cooperation on Council products should become established practice. This disagreement led to delays in the negotiations on resolution 2603; the zero draft of that resolution was circulated later than initially expected, leaving a short period for deliberations ahead of the verification mission’s expiry. Although resolution 2603 was eventually presented jointly by the UK and Mexico, it is unclear whether these members will pursue this practice for future Council products on Colombia. The UK was apparently the sole author of the 24 November 2021 press statement.
The advent of five new elected Council members— Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—in 2022 might affect Council dynamics on Colombia. Brazil, which borders Colombia, can provide a regional perspective and might wish to play an active role on the file, similarly to Mexico.
In 2021, the “A3 plus one” Council members (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) strongly emphasised the need to address the challenges faced by indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. For example, these members broke silence during the negotiations on resolution 2603, requesting additional language on the ethnic and gender chapters of the peace agreement. It remains to be seen whether Gabon and Ghana will join Kenya in highlighting such issues.
The US decision to revoke the FARC’s terrorist designation may also affect its engagement on the file. It appears that prior to the revocation, US diplomats were unable to participate in the informal meetings between Council experts and former FARC members.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COLOMBIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 October 2021S/RES/2603||This renewed the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia for another year, until 31 October 2022.|
|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.|
|27 December 2021S/2021/1090||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|14 October 2021S/PV.8879||This was the Security Council’s quarterly meeting on Colombia, which was held on 14 October 2021.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|24 November 2021SC/14713||In this statement, Council members congratulated Colombians on the fifth anniversary of the 2016 peace agreement.|