What's In Blue

Posted Mon 12 Jul 2021

Colombia Briefing

Tomorrow (13 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Colombia. Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu will brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission, which covers the period from 27 March to 25 June. The Council will also be briefed by a civil society representative from the Nariño department involved in initiatives promoting the empowerment of youth and women. Colombia will be represented by its Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marta Lucía Ramírez.

As has been the case with previous regular Council meetings on Colombia, tomorrow’s briefing is likely to focus on various aspects of the implementation of the November 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), including the security situation in the country, transitional justice processes and the reintegration of former FARC combatants. Some of the briefers and Council members are likely to note that recent developments have taken place in the context of mounting social unrest in Colombia and may address the possible links between the recent protests and the implementation of the peace agreement.

Widespread demonstrations and a national strike, sparked by criticism of a tax reform proposed by Colombian President Iván Duque, started on 28 April and lasted for over 40 days across the country. The demonstrations evolved as various groups in Colombian society—including labor unions and student, youth and women’s organisations—presented demands for economic, health and educational reform to address longstanding socio-economic challenges aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some demonstrations turned violent, with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) receiving allegations of 56 deaths related to the protests, including those of two police officers.

Talks, aimed at resolving the crisis, between the government and the strike committee—which represents some 40 labour unions, farmer organisations and student organisations—hit an impasse in mid-June. Ruiz Massieu and representatives of OHCHR and the Catholic Church were invited to participate as facilitators in the talks. The strike committee announced on 15 June that it was suspending the protests and expressed its intention to pursue its demands through other means, including by proposing bills to congress; however, it announced that another protest would take place on 20 July.

While some Council members apparently view the recent protests as an internal affair not under the Council’s purview, other members—including European members—take the view that these developments shape the overall environment for the implementation of the peace agreement. These members may express concern that the heightened polarisation between the different political and social actors in Colombia is not conducive to the implementation of the peace agreement. They may call for the demonstrations to be held in a peaceful manner and emphasise the need to resolve disputes through dialogue. These members may be interested to hear more from Ruiz Massieu on ways in which the UN and the international community at large can continue to help foster such dialogue. Some members may also express concern about reports of violent confrontations between protestors and Colombian security forces and allegations of abuses by the security forces during the protests. They may emphasise the importance of upholding the right to peaceful assembly and call on the government to ensure that perpetrators of violence are held accountable.

Some Council members may also want to discuss ways in which the 2016 peace agreement can support dialogue and help to address the underlying issues that contributed to the protests. As the Secretary-General’s report notes, organisations representing youth, women, indigenous peoples and farmers in several regions have included in their demands the comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement. The demonstrations also included calls to address underlying economic inequalities and security concerns and to advance programs such as voluntary crop substitution to help tackle the illegal drug trade. The Secretary-General suggests in his report that greater efforts to implement several provisions of the peace agreement, including progress on development programmes with a territorial focus, could help to promote economic recovery in conflict-affected communities.

Council members may be interested to hear from the civil society representative about how youth and women can be empowered to serve as agents of change in Colombia. Youth participated in high numbers in the protests, calling for enhanced efforts to address inequality and the lack of employment opportunities, especially among young women. Some Council members, including Mexico and Norway, may further emphasise the importance of promoting women’s participation in social and political processes, including through the protection of female social leaders and the equitable participation of women in the upcoming elections planned for 2022.

Another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the recent progress in transitional justice processes in the country. In past months, the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition—which is comprised of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the Truth Commission and the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing—continued to make crucial advances in its work.

In late April, members of the former FARC-EP secretariat responded to the SJP’s (the judicial component of the transitional justice system) January indictment accusing eight former FARC leaders of perpetrating a kidnapping-for-ransom operation that targeted more than 20,000 people during the conflict. The former FARC leaders acknowledged responsibility for the kidnappings, admitted culpability for mistreatment of kidnapping victims and asked for forgiveness.

On 6 July, the SJP issued an indictment relating to the issue of the “false positives” phenomenon, whereby civilians killed in military operations during the conflict were presented as combatants in official reports. (A report issued by the SJP in February implicated the Colombian military in the killing of 6,400 civilians from 2002 to 2008.) The SJP charged 11 military commanders, accusing them of killing 120 civilians and presenting them as combat casualties.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are likely to express their support for the work of the three components of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition. Some members may emphasise the importance of the system taking an even-handed approach to past crimes committed by both parties.

In recent weeks, non-permanent Council members have initiated fresh opportunities for diplomats to interact directly with former FARC representatives. (The Council last engaged with former FARC members during its visiting mission to Colombia in July 2019.) On 2 July, Norway organised a virtual meeting for Council experts on transitional justice processes in Colombia with two former FARC leaders, who are currently members of the Comunes party (which is comprised of former FARC members). Ruiz Massieu and a representative of the International Center for Transitional Justice participated in the meeting. On 7 July, the Irish embassy in Bogotá convened an in-person meeting between members of the Comunes party and several in-country ambassadors of non-permanent members of the Security Council to discuss the formers’ views on the latest Secretary-General’s report on Colombia. It appears that non-permanent members of the Council intend to convene further such meetings. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may emphasise the need for Council to hear the views of both signatories to the 2016 peace agreement on the various aspects of the implementation of the agreement.