Colombia: Vote on Draft Resolution Expanding the Verification Mission’s Mandate*
Tomorrow afternoon (11 May), the Security Council president (China) is expected to announce the results of the written voting procedure on a draft resolution expanding the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to include monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP). The draft in blue also extends the Verification Mission’s mandate until 31 October 2021.
The SJP is the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by 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 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. Those who refuse to acknowledge responsibility for crimes will be subject to the Colombian penal code and may face imprisonment of up to 20 years. The SJP is expected to begin handing down its sentences in the latter half of 2021.
The penholder on Colombia, the UK, circulated an initial version of the draft resolution to Council members on 15 April. After passing silence today (10 May), the draft resolution was put in blue this morning. The 24-hour written voting procedure commenced today at 3 pm and is expected to conclude at 3 pm tomorrow.
Negotiations on the Draft Resolution
The Council began discussing the expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate following an official request by Colombian President Iván Duque contained in a 15 January letter to the Council. At the request of the Council, the Secretary-General subsequently submitted his recommendations on the possible mandate expansion in a 24 February letter. Council members held two expert-level meetings with the UN Secretariat, on 5 March and 14 April respectively, to discuss the Secretary-General’s recommendations, and held two rounds of virtual negotiations on the draft resolution.
The negotiations appear to have been generally smooth, as the Council overall supports the Verification Mission undertaking the additional task of monitoring compliance with the SJP’s sentences. However, it seems that while most Council members preferred a straightforward text and a swift adoption of the resolution, the negotiations took longer than initially expected because of concerns by some permanent members about the budgetary implications of the possible mandate expansion.
The Secretary-General’s 24 February letter noted possible changes that may be needed to the mission’s configuration, including a dedicated headquarters capacity in Bogotá and increased mobility to areas where restorative works will be carried out. It appears that the letter did not include a concrete assessment of the additional resources which may be required, as the full scope of needs will only become clear once the SJP begins handing down sentences.
It appears that the circulation of the zero draft resolution was delayed because the US had additional questions on the potential budgetary implications, which were then addressed during the 14 April expert meeting with the Secretariat. It seems the US did not have additional questions or input regarding budgetary implications after the negotiations on the draft text commenced. However, China apparently proposed several amendments relating to budgetary issues during the negotiations. China’s proposals seem to have included language specifying that the Verification Mission would undertake its new task within existing resources through the end of 2021 and referencing the possibility of funding the new requirements through other channels, such as the establishment of a trust fund. This language was unacceptable to most Council members, who felt that it was too prescriptive and that such issues should be addressed through the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee.
There seems also to have been discussion around the methodology of the Verification Mission’s monitoring of compliance with the SJP’s sentences. The Secretary-General’s 24 February letter said that the mission’s tasks—which were formulated in consultation with the Colombian government—would be to verify that those individuals who have received restorative sentences comply with them, and that the government provides the necessary conditions (such as budgetary allocation for the restorative projects and security support) for the sentences to be implemented. The letter notes that the mission would undertake these tasks in a strategic approach, focusing its monitoring on “overall trends in compliance and on select individual cases”. It also affirms that the mission would integrate gender and ethnic dimensions when performing the additional verification task, including through “fostering conditions that allow for the gender-sensitive implementation of restorative sentences and a differentiated approach for ethnic communities”.
It appears that China requested that the draft text include language specifying that the mission would focus its monitoring on overall trends and on select individual cases. In addition, China seems to have suggested requesting the Secretary-General to develop terms of reference on the mission’s verification tasks, including selection criteria for cases to be monitored. These suggestions appear to have been opposed by several Council members, including the European members of the Council, who again felt that such language would be too prescriptive. These members also seemingly initially wanted to add language referencing the need to integrate gender and ethnic dimensions into the verification activities but eventually agreed that a general reference to the Secretary-General’s letter was sufficient.
The UK placed a draft text of the resolution under silence on 3 May and China broke silence the following day, noting that its suggestions were not included in the draft. After bilateral negotiations it appears that compromise was reached, and an amended draft was placed under silence on 7 May. The amended draft passed silence on 10 May and was put in blue the same day. The draft text in blue does not include references to budgetary implications or financing for the mission’s additional task. It does, however, retain language proposed by China stating that the mission would focus its monitoring on overall trends and on select individual cases. The draft text in blue also notes in its preambular part that the SJP’s sentences will have the aim of realising victims’ rights and will have the greatest restorative and reparative function in relation to the harm caused. Such language was seemingly supported by several members of the Council, including the UK and other European members.
Developments in Colombia
Tomorrow’s vote comes amid heightened tensions in Colombia. Since 28 April, widespread demonstrations have been taking place across the country, with protests spreading to at least 247 cities and towns to date. The protests were sparked by criticism of a tax reform which was proposed by Duque and presented to parliament on 15 April. The protests turned violent, especially in the western city of Cali, resulting in at least 38 deaths, according to Human Rights Watch.
Although Duque has retracted the proposed tax reform, protestors reportedly continue expressing grievances on such issues as health reform, economic inequality, and the police’s heavy-handed response to the protests. On 10 May, Duque announced that the issues raised by the protestors will be included in national discussions aimed at addressing the situation.
In a 7 May statement, the UN system in Colombia called for the right of peaceful assembly to be guaranteed and insisted that “any action by the security forces must fully observe the protection and respect for human rights”. It condemned any type of violence, stating that all protests should be held in a peaceful manner and that perpetrators of violence should be held accountable.
*Post-script: On 11 May, the Council unanimously adopted S/RES/2574, which expanded the UN Verification Mission in Colombia’s mandate to include monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by SJP and extended it until 31 October 2021.