Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Bogotá
Friday (12 July) was packed with back-to-back meetings with interlocutors involved, in different ways, in the implementation of the peace agreement signed in 2016 between the government of Colombia and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC-EP). The Secretary-General’s Special Representative Carlos Ruiz Massieu welcomed participants in the meetings and served as co-moderator with the two leads of the Security Council visiting mission, Peru and the UK.
The delegation started the day with a breakfast meeting with the country’s President Iván Duque Márquez and top officials of his government, including Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and Emilio Archila, Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation. The delegation sought to deepen its understanding of the government’s approach to consolidating the peace process, and jointly with the government leaders to take stock both of progress and remaining challenges in implementing the agreement. The meeting, originally scheduled for an hour and a half, lasted about two hours and was described by both sides as productive and informative. President Duque personally conveyed to the Council the request to extend the mandate of the verification mission. The current mandate expires on 25 September and the early request for its extension was seen as a sign of the Duque government’s firm resolve to continue with the implementation of the peace accord.
Council members then held a technical meeting with heads of government entities involved in the implementation of the agreement. In addition to Trujillo and Archila, the participants included Miguel Ceballos, High Commissioner for Peace; Andres Stapper, Director of the Agency for Reintegration and Normalization; Marcela Urueña, Vice-Minister of Agriculture; and Ramón Rodriguez, Director of Victims Unit. They described the government’s efforts related to the reintegration of former combatants, providing security guarantees, and extending the presence of the state to former conflict areas.
In this meeting, as well, the delegation welcomed signs of the government’s resolve to continue the peace process. There have been concerns in this regard, since President Duque, whose party (Centro Democrático) had been opposed to the peace agreement, succeeded President Juan Manuel Santos, the main architect of the agreement, in August 2018.
One of the longest and most interactive meetings of the day was a dialogue with the leadership of the FARC Party. In addition to its president, Rodrigo Londoño, the participants were Jairo Estrada, Pastor Alape, Pablo Catatumbo and Sandra Ramírez. The political leadership of FARC conveyed a strong message to the Council delegation of their full commitment to the implementation of the accord.
A meeting with a group of some 20 senators and House of Representatives members from a full spectrum of political parties—including the ruling Centro Democrático, the FARC Party, the Green Alliance, the Radical Change Party, and the Polo Democrático, among others—revealed differences in historical perspectives on the main challenges and the root causes of Colombia’s conflict. The center right tended to focus on drug trafficking as the key issue, while the left-leaning parliamentarians considered the phenomenon of paramilitary forces as the main legacy that needed to be faced.
In the meeting with civil society organisations, representatives of human rights, peace, women’s rights, child protection, religious and ethnic groups highlighted concerns related to the implementation of the peace accord in the context of their respective organisations’ focus. A shared message that came across from most presentations was the concern that the government had prioritised some aspects of the peace accord’s implementation, in particular the reintegration of former combatants, but largely neglected others, such as those related to political participation, agrarian reform (including crop substitution), and creating the institutional conditions needed for the implementation and monitoring of the agreement. The civil society representatives urged members of the Council delegation to reflect these concerns in their future decision-making on Colombia, with some recommending expanding the scope of the verification conducted by the mission.
The delegation held a meeting with the individuals leading the institutions responsible for justice, truth, and reparation issues. The comprehensive system of justice, truth and reparation constitutes one of the key elements of the implementation of the accord, but it is also among the most divisive aspects of the process. Francisco de Roux, President of the Truth Commission; Patricia Linares, President of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace; and Luz Marina Monzón, Director of the Unit for the Search for Persons deemed as Missing, participated in the meeting. They explained the different aspects of their work and engaged with Council members in a dialogue about the importance of ensuring that all the elements of this comprehensive system have longevity and solid legal standing, stressing that the Council could be very helpful in this respect.
In the middle of the day of meetings in Bogotá, the delegation paused for a working lunch with some 20 members of the UN Country Team. Acting Resident Coordinator Jessica Faieta provided an overview of the UN’s work in Colombia and introduced the different components of the Team. (The Country Team comprises 22 resident and 5 non-resident agencies, has offices in 67 locations, and consists of over 3,000 staff members, of whom 94% are national.) She described sharp differences between regions and economic classes in Colombia. It is a middle-income country with strong institutions, economic stability and growth, a growing middle class, and falling poverty rates. Its burgeoning midsize cities have high numbers of poor, but also increasing connection to productive hubs. The underdeveloped rural areas in Colombia have the highest poverty rates, most excluded populations, greatest humanitarian needs, and are most affected by armed conflict. Faieta pointed to the sharp differences in life expectancy depending on the region, ranging between 70 and 78 years.
Some members of the Country Team elaborated on the main aspects of their work. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlighted the high rates of attacks against human rights defenders and the deficient accountability for such attacks. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) referred to the establishment of institutional architecture to address illicit crop substitution with alternative development and comprehensive rural development, but pointed out that the voluntary eradication of illicit crops is slow and difficult. The Food and Agriculture Organization highlighted some successful agricultural programs underway with potential for sustainability. UN Women underscored the continuing high level of sexual violence, among other issues related to its mandate. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) touched on issues related to the growing presence of Venezuelans in Colombia and the challenges of differentiating between refugees and migrants.
Throughout the day, the Colombian interlocutors repeatedly expressed their appreciation for the visiting mission. Several expressed their belief that the Council’s role in establishing the monitoring mission and its ongoing close attention would be key to eventual success in implementing the peace accord.
Colombia is for the Council a rare matter where members are in agreement on the approaches needed and achieving consensus on decisions is smooth. The prospects of improvements in the peace and security of the country and the life of its population are recognised. Some Council members found in the different aspects of the Colombian situation—and in the stories conveyed by different interlocutors—elements that resonated with their own country’s experience in the not too distant past: for Indonesia, it was the overall challenges of implementing a peace process; for South Africa, it was devising and implementing transitional justice; for Kuwait, particularly poignant was the issue of missing persons, and the praise the Council received in one of the meetings for the recent adoption during Kuwait’s presidency of resolution 2474 on missing persons in armed conflict.
Members of the delegation found Friday’s meetings useful in providing background on many issues being tackled as part of the peace process. The different perspectives and topics highlighted set the stage for their visit to the rural areas today, where they will observe the implementation of the different aspects of the peace process.