April 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 March 2024
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Expected Council Action

In April, 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 circulated to Council members on 26 March. A civil society representative may also brief.

The verification mission’s mandate expires on 31 October 2024.

Key Recent Developments

The Security Council conducted a visiting mission to Colombia between 7 and 11 February, which was co-led by the UK (the penholder on the file), Guyana, and Switzerland. (Security Council Report, which accompanied the Council on the visit, provided coverage of the visiting mission that can be found in our dispatches from the field, dated 7, 9, 12, and 14 February.) The visiting mission allowed Council members to assess progress and challenges in the implementation 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). It also afforded them an opportunity to learn more about the “total peace” policy promoted by the administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego, which entails the promotion of dialogue with armed groups operating in the country as well as the implementation of the 2016 agreement.

During their visit, Council members heard first-hand accounts from the actors at the heart of peacebuilding efforts in the country, including government officials, former FARC-EP combatants, human rights defenders, and representatives of women’s and victims’ organisations. This impressed upon members the ambitious and transformative nature of the 2016 accord—described by many interlocutors as a roadmap for the future of the country—as well as the tremendous scope of tasks to promote the agreement’s implementation, as various issues need to be tackled simultaneously in a vast country, requiring a whole-of-government approach.

Several recurring themes from the visiting mission, which are also addressed in the Secretary-General’s report, are likely to feature in the Council’s upcoming engagement on Colombia. One longstanding issue is the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders. The Secretary-General’s report says that the “roll-out of key security guarantees policies remained at a standstill, as the decrees setting normative, budgetary, and institutional frameworks were yet to be issued”. This includes the public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups and criminal organisations, which was presented on 7 September 2023 by the National Commission on Security Guarantees (NCSG), a body established by the 2016 agreement. The report emphasises the continued relevance of the NCSG, including in providing guidance for the policy’s implementation at the local level and promoting coherence with other peace and security policies.

Throughout the visiting mission, Council members heard views from civil society representatives about the government’s dialogue process with armed groups operating in the country. Some expressed concern about the persistent violence, including sexual violence, despite the observance of bilateral ceasefires between the government and the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the dissident group of the former FARC-EP that identifies itself as the Estado Mayor Central Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (EMC FARC-EP).

The Secretary-General’s report notes that while the “ceasefires have produced concrete benefits”, they are “preliminary, limited in scope, and temporary by nature”. It emphasises that these negotiations have fostered expectations among many Colombian actors, who wish to see “outcomes that address many of the structural issues as soon as possible”, noting that these aspirations need to be taken into consideration at the negotiating table.

The Secretary-General’s report further underscores the importance of complementing the ceasefires with immediate measures for the benefit of communities. To that end, it calls on the Colombian government to ensure the prompt implementation of the security guarantees measures of the 2016 agreement and to strengthen the integrated presence of the state, especially in conflict-affected areas.

Recent months have witnessed both progress and setbacks in the government’s dialogue efforts with armed groups operating in the country. On 5 February, the ELN and the government announced a six-month extension of their bilateral ceasefire. Shortly after, a crisis emerged following the announcement by the government of its intention to hold a regional dialogue in the Nariño department that would reportedly involve one of the ELN’s regional fronts. The ELN’s central command said that this decision was taken without its approval, and on 20 February announced the suspension of the dialogue with the government. After an emergency meeting held in Cuba between 24 and 26 February, which was attended by international guarantor countries and Ruiz Massieu, the sides agreed to continue implementing the ceasefire. They will meet for a seventh round of talks in Venezuela between 8 and 22 April.

In January, the government and the EMC FARC-EP decided to extend their bilateral ceasefire for a period of six months. The process faced an obstacle after the EMC carried out attacks on 16 and 17 March against indigenous communities in the Cauca department, resulting in the death of a traditional community leader. This led Petro to suspend the ceasefire as of 20 March in the departments of Cauca, Nariño, and Valle del Cauca.

Ahead of and during the visiting mission, Council members heard concerns from the Colombian government and former FARC-EP combatants about the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 agreement. They also heard concerns from members of the SJP about the many pressures they face in their work, including challenges to their autonomy and security threats against magistrates as well as victims and those appearing before the court.

In a 6 February letter to Petro, sent shortly before the visit, signatories to the agreement raised concerns about pending amnesties for former combatants and argued that the SJP’s decision to prosecute middle-ranking and rank-and-file former guerrillas has created legal uncertainty, among other issues. Following the visit, several leaders of the former FARC-EP suggested in a 24 February interview that an alternative justice mechanism could be considered, but then clarified in an 8 March interview that they will continue appearing before the SJP. The Secretary-General called in his report for constructive dialogue among all relevant stakeholders to resolve such issues.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 1 March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk issued an update on the human rights situation in Colombia. He stressed that while Colombia made significant strides in 2023, pressing issues remain. In 2023, his office verified 105 killings of human rights defenders; 98 massacres, in which 320 people were killed; 53 cases of gender-based violence; and 134 cases of recruitment or use of children by non-state armed actors. On the other hand, he also highlighted Colombia’s commitments and actions to promote human rights, while welcoming the adoption of policies such as the public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups and criminal organisations.

In a 15 March statement issued after the conclusion of his ten-day visit to Colombia, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples Francisco Calí Tzay acknowledged the legal advances and the government’s intention to strengthen indigenous people’s rights. He deplored, however, the persistent challenges that threaten indigenous people, putting them at “imminent risk of physical and cultural extermination”. He also expressed alarm at the plight of indigenous women and children, who face discrimination within and outside their communities in access to health, education, and food. He urged the Colombian government to implement the recommendations of his predecessors, made after their visits in 2004 and 2009, and called for “concrete measures to address the historical marginalization” of indigenous peoples. Calí Tzay’s report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) will be available in September.

Key Issues and Options

The overarching priority for the Council is to continue supporting the full implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. Throughout their visiting mission, Council members heard from interlocutors that the international community’s attention has helped the agreement withstand changes in the country, including the priorities of different governments. The Council could continue providing such support through its regular messaging on Colombia, including in future products such as press statements and resolutions on the verification mission’s mandate.

The Council heard consistent calls for the need to make 2024 “the year of implementation” by moving from the planning phase to advancement of policies, a message reiterated in the Secretary-General’s most recent report. Council members could continue emphasising in their statements the need to do so, including by implementing such policies as the public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups and criminal organisations.

Promoting the implementation of the gender and ethnic chapters of the 2016 agreement, which has been slow, has become a key priority for the Council in recent years. This is evidenced in the frequent messaging by Council members and in the agenda of the visiting mission, as members held a working dinner with representatives of women’s organisations in Bogotá as well as Afro-Colombian and indigenous representatives in the city of Buenaventura. During the visit, Colombian Vice President Francia Elena Márquez Mina—who heads the Ministry of Equality, which oversees implementation of the two chapters—outlined institutional hurdles to progress on these issues, including complicated bureaucratic procedures and systemic racism in certain state institutions. In addition, the Secretary-General’s report said that resource constraints continue to hamper the implementation of more than 100 gender-related provisions of the 2016 agreement, noting that the Vice Ministry of Women within the Ministry of Equality remains underfunded. Members could seek to bring more visibility to these issues, including by expressing support to Márquez’ efforts and by continuing to invite women as well as Afro-Colombian and indigenous civil society representatives to brief the Council.

Supporting transitional justice efforts in the country is a longstanding priority for the Council. Members have emphasised the importance of upholding the SJP’s autonomy on numerous occasions, including through their press statements on Colombia. They apparently also wish to see addressed concerns about legal uncertainty by those appearing before the court. It seems that several SJP magistrates are expected to visit New York ahead of the Council’s April Colombia meeting. Council experts could meet informally with the magistrates to discuss the concerns raised about the SJP’s work. This will also allow them to gain a better understanding of the court’s preparations for the handing down of sentences, which is expected in 2024, a crucial—and potentially polarising—stage in the transitional justice process.

Council Dynamics

Council members are united in their support for the peace process in Colombia and for the verification mission’s work. It seems that Council members were encouraged by their recent visiting mission, as it demonstrated how the Council can exact important change on the ground when it speaks with one voice, which has become increasingly rare considering difficult dynamics on other situations, such as Ukraine and Gaza.

Council members have different views, however, about the appropriate level of Council support for the government’s dialogue efforts with armed groups operating in the country. Some members, such as the US, apparently feel that a cautious approach is needed and advocate a case-by-case analysis of a possible UN role in such dialogue efforts. Other members would apparently like to see a more proactive approach from the Council in support of the dialogue processes. Council member Switzerland is an accompanying country in the dialogue process with the ELN and a guarantor country in the process with the EMC FARC-EP.

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Secretary-General’s Reports
26 March 2024S/2024/267 This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.

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