Colombia Meeting via VTC
Tomorrow afternoon (21 April), 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 29 December 2020 to 26 March 2021. Council members may also convene for closed VTC consultations after the open briefing.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Ruiz Massieu is likely to update Council members on progress in the five priorities to promote 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) in 2021. These priorities, which are outlined in the Secretary-General’s 29 December 2020 report, are: ensuring protection and security for former combatants, conflict-affected communities and social leaders; ensuring the sustainability of the reintegration process; consolidating the integrated presence of the state in conflict-affected areas; reinforcing constructive dialogue between the parties; and strengthening conditions for reconciliation.
The security situation in the country is likely to be a key focus of tomorrow’s meeting, as has been the case in previous Council meetings on Colombia. The Secretary-General’s 26 March report notes that despite measures taken by the Colombian authorities to address the situation, violence against former combatants, conflict-affected communities, social leaders, and human rights defenders continued unabated during the first quarter of 2021. During the reporting period, 14 former FARC combatants were killed, bringing to 262 the number of ex-combatants killed since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement.
Speakers at tomorrow’s meeting are also likely to raise concerns regarding the persistent violence against conflict-affected communities—including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities– social leaders, and human rights defenders. During the reporting period, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received information about the killings of 24 human rights defenders and social leaders; 23 of the killings are currently being verified.
Some members, such as Ireland, may highlight the need to address gender-based violence, which continues to hinder the reintegration of female former combatants and the work of women social leaders and human rights defenders. Council members such as Estonia, Ireland and Norway (the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict) may highlight the need to facilitate the protection of children and to prevent their recruitment and use. Some may also call on the Colombian government to make further progress on relevant programmes addressing the needs of children, such as the establishment of child-friendly spaces in former TATRs. Members may address other threats to the security of civilians in Colombia, including those resulting from the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and the threat of explosive hazards. According to the ICRC, there were 389 victims of explosive hazards in Colombia in 2020, the highest number in four years.
Some Council members may seek more information from Ruiz Massieu on recent progress by the National Commission on Security Guarantees, which is charged under the peace agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and their support networks. In late March, the government shared proposed guidelines for the plan with the entire National Commission on Security Guarantees (which is comprised of government officials and six civil society representatives). According to the Secretary-General’s report, the civil society representatives expressed the view that the government’s proposal “still requires a specific action plan and regional prioritization for implementation”.
Several Council members and Ruiz Massieu are likely to welcome recent dialogue between the parties. They may reference the 10 March meeting between Colombian President Iván Duque and Rodrigo Londoño, president of the “Comunes” party. (The FARC party decided to change its name to “Comunes” during its national assembly, which took place in January). At that meeting, the sides agreed to work on designing a road map for the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. Council members may encourage the sides to make progress on the envisioned road map and to continue promoting dialogue, including through mechanisms established by the agreement, such as the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement (CSIVI). Council member Norway, which serves as a guarantor of the 2016 peace agreement with Cuba, participates in meetings of the CSIVI.
Another likely topic at tomorrow’s meeting is the transitional justice process in Colombia. Some members might welcome the recent progress made by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system, in cases relating to kidnappings by FARC-EP members and to the involvement of the military in the killings of civilians during the conflict. Several Council members may express support for the three components of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition (the SJP, the Truth Commission, and the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing) and emphasise the need to facilitate their autonomy.
On 19 April, the three components of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition issued a statement decrying the insecurity faced by former combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders. They maintained that the lack of measures guaranteeing the safety of former combatants and victims hinders their participation in the transitional justice process. They called on the Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia to draft a report detailing the extent of the human rights violations against former combatants and social leaders and to issue recommendations to state institutions on how to address the security situation.
Some Council members may also express their support for the expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate to include the monitoring of compliance with SJP sentences. (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 to victims). At the time of writing, Council members were negotiating a draft resolution expanding the Verification Mission’s mandate. The UK, the penholder on Colombia, circulated a zero draft of the resolution on 15 April.
An issue that might be raised at tomorrow’s meeting is the recent tensions along the Venezuela-Colombia border. On 21 March, Venezuela launched a military campaign against Colombian armed groups in the Venezuelan State of Apure, which borders Colombia. According to media reports, the campaign included airstrikes and has been aimed at a faction of FARC dissidents known as the Tenth Front. According to the UN Refugee Agency, by 15 April the clashes had prompted more than 5,800 people—the majority of whom are women and children– to flee from Venezuela to Colombia.
In a 3 April letter to the Council, Venezuela accused Colombia of being unable to prevent armed groups from operating in the border area. It further requested that the Security Council invoke article 34 of the UN charter and investigate the activities of Colombian armed groups who carry out armed attacks against Venezuelan territory during its upcoming quarterly meeting on Colombia. Colombia rejected Venezuela’s allegations in a 13 April letter to the Council. Council dynamics surrounding Venezuela are difficult, and most Council members hold the view that Council discussions on Colombia should remain separate from those on Venezuela. As such, the majority of Council members are unlikely to address the developments on the Venezuela-Colombia border at tomorrow’s session. Russia had previously convened a meeting on Venezuela under “any other business” on 22 April 2020, following a request made by Venezuela in a 3 April 2020 letter to the Council.