Colombia Briefing via Videoconference
Tomorrow afternoon (21 January), the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Colombia via videoconference (VTC). 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, which covers the period from 26 September to 28 December 2020. Council members may also convene for closed VTC consultations after the open briefing.
The Secretary-General’s latest report, released on 29 December 2020, describes the complex challenges facing Colombia at the outset of the year, while identifying ways in which the implementation of the 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) can facilitate positive developments, including in recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Ruiz Massieu is likely to provide an overview of the five priorities to promote the implementation of the peace agreement in 2021 outlined in the Secretary-General’s report. A top priority remains addressing the persistent violence against former combatants, conflict-affected communities, social leaders, and human rights defenders. The Verification Mission verified the killing of 73 former combatants in 2020, bringing to 248 the number of ex-combatants killed since the signing of the peace agreement in 2016. The Secretary-General noted in his report that the security situation in the border area between the Meta, Caquetá and Guaviare departments has deteriorated sharply in recent months, as FARC-EP dissident groups expanded their reach and are increasingly threatening and attacking former FARC-EP combatants who laid down their arms.
Attacks against social leaders, human rights defenders and communities—including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities—continued unabated in 2020. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received information about the killing of 120 human rights defenders in the past year, 53 cases of which had been verified. In addition, it recorded 69 incidents with large numbers of civilian casualties in 2020, accounting for the deaths of 269 civilians, including 24 children and 19 women.
The Secretary-General stated in his report that violence against former combatants, social leaders, human rights defenders and communities continues to be concentrated in impoverished rural areas that are characterised by limited state presence, the heightened activity of illegal armed actors and illicit economies. The report noted that violence was particularly prevalent in several regions, with the most killings of former combatants occurring in the Meta, Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments, while most of the killings of social leaders and human rights defenders took place in the Cauca, Norte de Santander and Putumayo departments.
The Secretary-General noted in his report that the regional dynamics of the violence highlight the importance of tailored strategies to address the risks in these areas. He further emphasised the importance of deploying public security forces: the report noted that army and police units deployed in former territorial areas for training and reintegration (TATRs) help protect former combatants, whereas 35 percent of the killings in 2020 took place in new reintegration areas or in their vicinity, around which there are no dedicated security deployments. In addition to calling for the effective deployment of public security forces in these areas, he stressed that strengthening local judicial capacity, particularly in the regions most affected by violence, is key to addressing impunity.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to voice grave concern over the continued violence and express support for the measures outlined in the Secretary-General’s report to address Colombia’s precarious security situation. Many members are expected to join the Secretary-General’s call for the National Commission on Security Guarantees, the body charged under the 2016 Peace Agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and their support networks, to finalise this policy and advance towards implementing it in 2021.
Some members may welcome the recent dialogue that took place between the parties in Colombia, including on issues relating to the security situation. On 6 November 2020, President Iván Duque met with representatives of the FARC party, following demonstrations that took place in late October 2020 in which hundreds of former FARC-EP members protested the continued insecurity faced by ex-combatants. After the meeting, the government announced its intention to deploy officials to territories where ex-combatants live to tailor better regional security arrangements. Duque also committed to personally visiting, during his term, all 20 former TATRs that he had not yet visited. On 12 January, the Colombian government announced the signing of a cooperation agreement with the UN Multidonor Fund for an investment of $3.1 million to develop a prevention and protection strategy aimed at facilitating the safety of former combatants, leaders of illicit crop substitution programs, social leaders, and human rights defenders in three regions: Chocó, Catatumbo and the Pacific coast of Nariño.
Ruiz Massieu might also emphasise the need to enhance the sustainability of the reintegration process, which is the second priority articulated in the Secretary-General’s report. The Secretary-General has often described the issue of land allocation for former combatants as one of the most pressing matters for the reintegration process and as key to its sustainability. During the 6 November meeting between Duque and the FARC representatives, the government committed to accelerating efforts to buy land in former TATRs for allocation to former combatants, as well as building or improving housing in those areas. In addition, the sides agreed to hold seven sessions of the National Reintegration Council outside Bogotá, with the objective of defining local action plans for reintegration. On 17 December 2020, Duque visited a TATR in the municipality of Dabeiba, department of Antioquia, and announced the purchase of 17 hectares of land for housing plans and productive projects to benefit former combatants and their families.
A third priority highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report is to consolidate an integrated state presence in conflict-affected areas. Such a presence, said the Secretary-General, can reinforce the implementation of aspects of the peace agreement pertaining to security guarantees and reintegration, and help close the gap between urban and rural areas. To that end, he encouraged the government to ensure adequate resourcing for programmes outlined in the peace agreement, such as the development programmes with a territorial focus, the comprehensive security and protection programme for communities and organisations in the territories, and the National Comprehensive Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops.
Ruiz Massieu may also discuss the fourth priority included in the Secretary-General’s report: reinforcing constructive dialogue between the parties as a means of promoting the implementation of the peace agreement. The Secretary-General urged the parties to make more use of mechanisms established by the agreement, such as the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement (CSIVI), which is the main forum for dialogue between the parties on the implementation of the peace agreement. The Secretary-General noted that although the CSIVI met more often in the past year than previously, not all key senior Government officials attend the meetings regularly, which affects the commission’s ability to hold substantive discussions. Incoming Council member Norway—which serves as a guarantor of the 2016 peace agreement along with Cuba, and participates in meetings of the CSIVI—may provide its own perspective on the importance of the commission’s work.
Ruiz Massieu and several Council members may discuss the fifth priority outlined by the Secretary-General, on the need to strengthen conditions for reconciliation between the parties. Speakers are likely to express support for the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition established by the 2016 peace agreement, which comprises the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the Truth Commission, and the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing. Several milestones related to transitional justice are set to take place in 2021, as the Truth Commission is expected to submit its final report which will be based on testimonies from different sectors of Colombian society. In addition, the SJP is expected to begin handing down sentences in the later part of 2021. The SJP has the authority to issue sentences against those who acknowledge responsibility for crimes committed during the conflict, which can include up to eight years of confinement to one municipality to carry out work and activities that count as reparations for victims. In light of the milestones expected in 2021, the Secretary-General’s report urged that all actors who were involved in the conflict acknowledge their responsibilities, and that all institutions cooperate fully with the three components of the comprehensive system.
Another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting will be the possible expansion of the mandate of the Verification Mission to include monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. In resolution 2545, the most recent mandate renewal, the Council expressed its readiness to consider adding this task to the mission’s mandate, based on the conclusion of an inter-institutional consultation process coordinated by the Colombian government. On 13 January, Duque sent a letter to the Security Council conveying the government’s official request for the expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate to include monitoring of the SJP’s sentences. The letter requests that in monitoring the compliance with the sentences, the Verification Mission should verify: (1) whether those who have been sentenced had carried out their sentences, and (2) whether the national and local authorities had provided the necessary conditions for the implementation of the SJP’s orders. The letter further noted that the FARC was consulted on the matter and agreed to the terms stipulated in the letter.
Council members may welcome the recent progress that was made by the Colombian government through the sending of the letter and express their support for the Verification Mission undertaking the additional task of monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. Looking ahead, the Council will need to adopt a resolution authorising the expanded mandate for the Verification Mission. Ahead of that decision, Council members may request information from the Secretariat on relevant operational issues, such as which sentences will be verified or whether the mission will require specific additional expertise. If the Security Council makes such a request, it will take place at a date after tomorrow’s meeting, after members have had time to examine the contents of the Colombian government’s letter.