Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Colombia. Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu is expected to brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission, dated 27 March.
The verification mission’s mandate expires on 31 October 2023.
Key Recent Developments
During the first quarter of 2023, the administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego continued to advance its policy of “total peace”, which entails the implementation of the Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace signed in 2016 between the government of Colombia and the former rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) as well as the promotion of dialogue with armed groups operating in the country. While some progress was made on both processes, violence continued in conflict-affected areas of the country.
The government has been pursuing peace talks with armed groups it deems as having a political agenda, while also discussing possible agreements with groups characterised as criminal that focus on ceasing violence in exchange for judicial benefits. On 31 December 2022, Petro announced that five armed groups had agreed to bilateral six-month ceasefires with the government. The government characterises two of these groups as political, namely the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), which mainly consists of former FARC-EP dissidents who did not sign the 2016 accord. The remaining three groups are described by the government as “high-impact criminal structures”: the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), the Autodefensas Conquistadores de la Sierra, and the Segunda Marquetalia (which consists of former FARC-EP dissidents who signed the 2016 agreement but took up arms again). Analysts warn, however, against making conclusive distinctions between the various groups, as some of them—such as the AGC—claim to have political origins, while groups that hold a political agenda also engage in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.
Shortly after the government’s announcement, the ELN said in a 3 January statement that it had not agreed to a bilateral ceasefire, emphasising that the issue should be discussed at the negotiating table. Moreover, to date, only the EMC has reportedly signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, while the others have yet to be operationalised due to legal and political challenges. A 24 February report by the International Crisis Group said that during the first months that the “total peace” policy had been implemented there was “a slower tempo of hostilities involving these groups, and a fall in homicides perpetrated by them in some regions” but these groups used other ways to persecute and assert control over rural communities, including through child recruitment, sexual and gender-based violence, and movement restrictions.
In a 14 February letter to the Security Council (S/2023/112), Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Álvaro Leyva Durán announced the resumption of dialogue with the ELN. He also shared the decrees declaring the bilateral ceasefires with the other four groups that were issued by the government in December 2022 following its announcement. Leyva indicated the government’s intention to request UN verification of these processes. He noted in this regard that: “[w]e trust that the Security Council will consider favorably the possible expansion of the role of the verification mission in Colombia”.
Following the first round of peace talks between the government and the ELN held from 22 November to 12 December 2022, a second round was held in Mexico between 13 February and 10 March. At the conclusion of this round, the sides announced that they had agreed, among other things, to discuss the modalities of a national and temporary bilateral ceasefire in the next round of negotiations, which at the time of writing is scheduled to take place in Cuba in April. However, a 29 March attack in the Catatumbo region which claimed the lives of nine government soldiers and was reportedly perpetrated by the ELN may entail setbacks for the process.
On 28 February, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP)—the judicial component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition established by the 2016 agreement—convened a special hearing, citing concerns about the continued killing of former FARC-EP combatants. The hearing followed up on the SJP’s July 2020 order which called for the National Commission on Security Guarantees (NCSG), the body charged under the peace agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and their support networks, to present guidelines and an action plan for the policy.
At the hearing, civil society representatives to the NCSG expressed concern about the lack of the NCSG’s participation in processes relating to legislation on justice against high-impact criminal structures. Additionally, the representatives raised concerns over the institutional weakening of government bodies charged with the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. At the hearing, the SJP underscored the importance of aligning the work of the NCSG and the “total peace” policy and ordered the government to present a policy for dismantling criminal organisations by 2 May.
On 14 March, ex-combatants from the former territorial area for training and reintegration (TATR) in the Mesetas municipality in the Meta department announced that more than 200 families of former combatants had received threats from the EMC demanding that they leave the area. This message came a day after the government said that it would soon start peace talks with the dissident group.
The threats against the residents of the Mesetas TATR were denounced by many national and international actors. In a 15 March statement, a commission in the House of Representatives (the lower house of Colombia’s Congress) monitoring the implementation of the 2016 accord said that such threats by armed groups raise doubts about their commitment to the achievement of “total peace”. The statement highlighted the need to address the situation, stressing that “without security for the signatories of the Final Peace Agreement and [its] integral implementation”, achieving “total peace” will be very difficult.
On 29 March, Petro visited the Mesetas TATR, where the government established a “unified command post for life”—an inter-institutional mechanism to coordinate preventive responses that involve state entities, local authorities, and civil society. During his visit, Petro announced that the government is working on mechanisms to expediate the implementation of the 2016 agreement, adding that his ministerial cabinet will become “the peace cabinet” and that an official will be appointed to oversee the implementation of the peace agreement with the former FARC-EP.
Human Rights-Related Developments
At the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk presented the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on Colombia (A/HRC/52/25). In his report, Türk noted the Colombian government’s willingness to discuss human rights challenges frankly and stressed the need for the government to utilise a human rights approach when dealing with armed actors, victims, and any affected communities. Türk also noted that his office documented 92 massacres in which 321 people were killed in 2022, as well as 116 killings of human rights defenders. The report condemns the massacres, which “disproportionately affect indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples”.
Peacebuilding Commission (PBC)-Related Developments
Last year’s PBC Chair, Ambassador Muhammad Abdul Muhith (Bangladesh), delivered the PBC’s first briefing or “oral advice” to the Security Council at a 12 October 2022 Council briefing on Colombia. Muhith highlighted the importance of the 2016 agreement’s elements on comprehensive rural reform, reconciliation based on a shared understanding of the past, and the rights of victims. Among other points, Muhith welcomed the government’s commitment to reducing inequality and underlined the importance of “inclusive approaches to addressing inequalities as drivers of conflicts”.
For the Council’s 11 January briefing on Colombia, the PBC submitted written advice to Council members in a letter dated 9 January, commending the Colombian government and the ELN for the resumption of negotiations, including the strong representation of women on both sides.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is to consider the Colombian government’s request for expanding the verification mission’s mandate to have a role in supporting dialogue efforts with armed groups operating in the country, including through the monitoring of potential ceasefires. At the time of writing, Council members were apparently considering sending a letter to the Secretary-General requesting him to submit recommendations to the Security Council on the matter.
The persistent violence in Colombia is a major ongoing concern. In this regard, Council members emphasised in a 13 January press statement on Colombia that the approval and implementation of a public policy on dismantling illegal armed groups and criminal organisations would be a significant step towards violence reduction. Members may consider interacting with representatives to the NCSG to hear their views about the challenges they are facing in their work and potential ways to increase complementarity between this body and the “total peace” policy. They may choose to do so in an informal meeting, such as an informal interactive dialogue, or to invite a representative to brief at a Council meeting.
In light of concerns raised by some Colombian actors that national and international attention is increasingly focused on the new outreach efforts to armed groups operating in the country, members may wish to reiterate the continued importance of the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 agreement. They may also consider interacting with members of the former FARC-EP to hear their recommendations on how the Council can better support the implementation of the agreement. Another option would be for Council members to conduct a visiting mission to Colombia. In this regard, Vice President Francia Márquez of Colombia invited Council members to her country at the Council’s 11 January meeting.
Council members are united in their support for the peace process in Colombia and for the verification mission’s work. Members are generally deferential to the Colombian government and have often responded positively to its requests for expansions of the mission’s mandate. For example, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2673 of 11 January, expanding the mandate of the verification mission to monitor the implementation of the chapter on comprehensive rural reform and the ethnic chapter of the 2016 agreement, following a request contained in a 17 October 2022 letter from Leyva. (For more information, see our What’s in Blue story of 11 January.)
Council deliberations on the government’s recent request for an expansion of the mission’s mandate might prove more sensitive. Some members may feel that a more cautious approach is needed regarding groups characterised as criminal and advocate a case-by-case analysis about a possible UN role in support for such dialogue efforts. Some members may also raise concerns about the potential risks to UN personnel, particularly in light of two incidents in the Catatumbo region in February and March in which staff from the verification mission and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), respectively, were temporarily detained and their vehicles were stolen in areas with ELN presence. The Council previously temporarily expanded the verification mission’s mandate to monitor compliance with a ceasefire observed by the ELN and the government through resolution 2381 of 6 October 2017.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|11 January 2023S/RES/2673||This resolution expanded the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to monitor the implementation of the chapter on comprehensive rural reform and the ethnic chapter 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).|
|27 March 2023S/2023/222||This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|11 January 2023S/PV.9240||This was the Security Council’s quarterly meeting on Colombia, which was held on 11 January 2023.|