Expected Council Action
In July, 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 the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission, which covers the period from 27 March to 26 June. A woman civil society representative is also expected to brief.
The verification mission’s mandate expires on 31 October.
Key Recent Developments
The administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego has continued to advance its policy of “total peace”, which entails the promotion of dialogue with armed groups operating in the country, as well as 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).
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. In a 14 February letter to the Security Council, Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Álvaro Leyva Durán referenced the government’s dialogue efforts with five such armed groups and indicated the government’s intention to request UN verification of these processes. (For more, see our April Forecast.) On 12 April, the Security Council sent a letter to the Secretary-General requesting him to submit recommendations on the possible role that the UN can play in this regard, including “implications for the configuration of the verification mission”.
The Secretary-General submitted his recommendations in a 13 June letter, in which he expressed hope that the Security Council will “consider favourably” an expansion of the verification mission’s mandate to participate in the monitoring and verification of ceasefires. The letter says that there are “two most immediate opportunities for the Mission to add value” through monitoring and verification, namely in the processes with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Estado Mayor Central Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (EMC FARC-EP), which mainly consists of former FARC-EP dissidents who did not sign the 2016 accord. (The government characterises both groups as political.) It adds that ceasefires with the other groups referenced in the government’s 14 February letter are “at either an embryonic stage or not currently in effect” and therefore there is presently “no role for the Mission to play in those ceasefires, although this could change as circumstances evolve”.
From 2 May to 9 June, the Colombian government and the ELN held a third round of negotiations in Cuba. At the talk’s conclusion, the parties announced an agreement on a six-month national, bilateral ceasefire starting on 3 August, that will be subject to renewal based on the parties’ joint evaluation. The envisioned monitoring and verification mechanism will comprise representatives from the government, the ELN, the verification mission (subject to Security Council authorisation), and the Colombian Catholic Church.
In early 2023, the government and the EMC FARC-EP negotiated a ceasefire protocol that focuses on a halt to offensive actions between the group and government security forces. In April, the parties announced their representatives to the peace dialogue and the establishment of a ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism similarly comprised of representatives of the government, EMC FARC-EP, the Colombian Catholic Church, and an international component that will include the verification mission, again subject to Security Council authorisation. The dialogue process experienced a setback in May following the killing of several indigenous youths in the southern department of Putumayo by the EMC FARC-EP, leading the government to announce the ceasefire’s suspension in four departments where it would resume offensive operations against the group. According to the Secretary-General’s 13 June letter, despite the ceasefire’s partial suspension, there has been “no reported upsurge in fighting to date”. The letter also notes that the government is seeking to reactivate the monitoring mechanism while maintaining contacts with the group aimed at establishing dialogue.
The Secretary-General’s 13 June letter presents two options for the possible expansion of the verification mission’s mandate, both of which will require additional personnel beyond the mission’s current ceiling of 120 observers.
The first option calls for a limited expansion authorising the mission’s participation in monitoring and verifying the government’s anticipated ceasefires with the ELN and the EMC FARC-EP. The Security Council could consider additional authorisations to monitor and verify potential ceasefires with the other groups mentioned in the government’s 14 February letter, based on the Secretary-General’s updates about the status of dialogue with these groups. This option would require 95 additional observers.
The second option would be a broad, one-time expansion authorising the mission’s participation in monitoring and verifying the government’s ceasefires with all groups identified in the government’s 14 February letter. The mission would first focus on the expected ceasefires with the ELN and the EMC FARC-EP and could then participate in other ceasefire mechanisms that may be established with other groups without requiring additional Council authorisation. This option would require 130 additional observers.
On 4 May, the Colombian Congress approved the government’s National Development Plan for 2022-2026, which outlines public policy priorities and allocates funding for their implementation. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the plan includes obligations related to the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement in 50 of its 373 articles, on such issues as comprehensive rural reform (including through establishing mechanisms to accelerate the purchase of land), reintegration of former combatants, and transitional justice.
Violence continued to affect communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders. The verification mission verified the killing of 12 ex-combatants during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report, compared to six killed during the previous reporting period. This brought to 375 the number of former FARC-EP members killed since the signing of the 2016 agreement. The Secretary-General’s report notes that the persistent violence continues to jeopardise the reintegration process of former combatants, as evidenced by the urgent relocation of the former territorial area for training and reintegration (TATR) in the Mesetas municipality in the Meta department. Following threats issued by the EMC FARC-EP to the TATR’s residents in March, the government announced that it will facilitate the residents’ safe relocation to a new area. In June, the government purchased and handed over a 1,400-hectare productive plot to the former combatants from Mesetas. The Secretary-General’s report notes that five former TATRs in the Antioquia, Cauca, Meta, and Putumayo departments are also facing security risks and require urgent support.
During a 29 March visit to the Mesetas TATR, Petro announced that the government is working on mechanisms to expedite the implementation of the 2016 agreement, adding that an official will be appointed to oversee the implementation of the peace process with the former FARC-EP. At the time of writing, this official has yet to be named.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 31 May, Siobhán Mullally, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, issued a statement following her nine-day visit to Colombia. Warning that trafficking in persons, especially children, by non-state armed groups and criminal organisations continues to undermine peacebuilding in Colombia, Mullally urged the Colombian government to include the issue of trafficking in persons in Colombia’s “total peace” dialogues. Mullally commended the Colombian government’s commitment to protecting victims’ rights and combatting impunity but underscored that this commitment should be implemented throughout Colombia, especially in rural areas.
Women, Peace and Security
From 22 to 26 May, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten carried out her first visit to Colombia in this role. According to a 1 June statement, during Patten’s visit, “a number of interlocutors highlighted that sexual violence remains a prominent feature of the conflict, especially in territories under control of armed groups”. The violence is disproportionately affecting indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ+) persons and women leaders. Patten also expressed concern about the sharp increase in the number of cases of “trafficking of persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation by armed groups and criminal networks”. During her visit, Patten met with Colombian authorities, UN officials, members of the diplomatic community, and civil society organisations. She also met with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Bogotá and Cartagena, who highlighted the challenges that they have faced in accessing services, justice, protection, and reparations.
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 support dialogue efforts with armed groups operating in the country, including through the monitoring of ceasefires. During July, Council members are expected to begin negotiating a draft resolution on the matter. To inform their deliberations on the proposals presented in the Secretary-General’s 13 June letter, members may wish to interact with relevant Colombian stakeholders, such as Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, who has been overseeing dialogues with armed groups operating in the country, and civil society organisations.
Council members are likely to be watching closely preparations for local elections that are set to take place in October, as electoral campaign periods in Colombia have historically been characterised by heightened violence. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the verification mission has already recorded the killing of six members of different political parties. Civil society organisations have warned of potential violence against candidates, including members of the former FARC-EP, 500 of whom are expected to run countrywide. The EMC FARC-EP, in apparent retaliation to the government’s partial suspension of the ceasefire agreement, has threatened to prevent candidates from campaigning in the regions where the ceasefire has been suspended. Council members are expected to issue a press statement following next month’s meeting, as has been a common practice in connection with quarterly Colombia meetings. In their press statement, members may wish to call for greater institutional efforts to guarantee fair and secure participation in the electoral process, particularly of women former combatants.
The situation of children in conflict-affected areas in Colombia is another matter of concern. According to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, published on 27 June, 130 children were recruited and used in 2022, including by former FARC-EP dissident groups (87) and the ELN (18). Council members can emphasise in their statement that measures relating to the protection of children can serve as an early confidence-building measure in peace negotiations and call on parties to include such considerations in their dialogues.
Council members are united in their support for the peace process in Colombia and for the verification mission’s work. Members are generally attentive to requests from the Colombian government and have often responded positively by expanding the mission’s mandate. However, deliberations on the government’s recent request might prove more complicated.
Some members may feel that a cautious approach is needed regarding groups characterised as criminal and advocate a case-by-case analysis of a possible UN role in such dialogue efforts. These members may prefer the first option (limited mandate expansion) proposed by the Secretary-General’s 13 June letter. Members may also raise concerns about the potential risks to UN personnel in verifying ceasefires with armed groups operating in the country. Russia mentioned these issues during the Council’s latest meeting on Colombia, held on 13 April. It said that the “question of contacts between the United Nations and the recognized criminal groups involved in drug trafficking requires separate and serious analysis, including in consideration of the possible consequences for the Mission’s credibility”.
Additionally, the possible budgetary implications of increasing the mission’s observer ceiling may be an issue for some Council members; China, for example, raised concerns about the matter during negotiations on previous expansions of the verification mission’s mandate.
Petro strongly condemned Russia following a 27 June missile attack on a restaurant in the city of Kramatorsk in Ukraine in which three Colombians—including Sergio Jaramillo, one of the 2016 peace agreement’s negotiators—were injured. The president had taken a less critical stance over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine than his predecessor, Iván Duque. The former president’s criticism of Russia has at times complicated the Council’s work on the Colombia file. It remains to be seen whether this recent development will have a similar effect.
The UK is the penholder on Colombia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COLOMBIA
|26 June 2023S/2023/477
|This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.
|Security Council Meeting Records
|13 April 2023S/PV.9303
|This was the Security Council’s quarterly meeting on Colombia, which was held on 13 April 2023.