Colombia: Quarterly Meeting
Tomorrow (20 January), the Security Council will hold an open briefing 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 25 September 2021 to 27 December 2021. A woman civil society representative will also brief. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing. Council members are expected to issue a press statement in connection with tomorrow’s meeting, as has been the practice following previous quarterly meetings on Colombia.
Tomorrow’s meeting follows the fifth anniversary, on 24 November 2021, of the signing 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). It also precedes the commencement of electoral processes in Colombia, as the country prepares for congressional and presidential elections in March and May, respectively. In addition to discussing developments during the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, the briefers and Council members may reflect on the importance of these milestones. In this regard, they may urge Colombian actors to avoid politicising the peace agreement during the electoral period. Some members may also emphasise that any new elected administration should commit to the comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement, including through supporting the transitional justice processes stipulated in the agreement.
Council members are likely to call for the elections to be inclusive and safe. Several members are expected to underscore the importance of supporting the 16 “special transitional electoral districts for peace”, which were stipulated in the 2016 agreement with the aim of promoting the participation of historically excluded populations in conflict-affected areas, including members of indigenous communities and representatives of victims’ and women’s organisations. Sixteen additional seats in Colombia’s House of Representatives will be open for the 2022–2026 and 2026–2030 congressional periods solely for members of these groups: representatives of the main political parties are not allowed to run for these seats.
Council members may express concern regarding the potential for an increase in violence against candidates, especially in the “special transitional electoral districts for peace”, which were established in areas that experience high levels of violence against political and social leaders. As such, speakers may emphasise that there is great urgency to implement the security guarantees set out in the 2016 agreement and to consolidate state presence in conflict-affected areas. At the same time, some may express the view that the consolidation of state presence in such areas is a process that may take some time.
The Secretary-General’s report, which was published on 27 December 2021, says that despite initial reductions in conflict-related violence following the signing of the 2016 agreement, violence continues to surge in some regions which are characterised by the absence of an effective state presence. According to the report, since the signing of the agreement, attacks against human rights defenders and former combatants, large-scale killings, and mass displacements have mostly been concentrated in 12 of Colombia’s 32 departments and were largely linked to violence by illegal armed groups and criminal organisations.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Ruiz Massieu and several speakers are likely to condemn the continued violence in different parts of the country. Ruiz Massieu may note that attacks and threats against former combatants continue to undermine their reintegration into society. The verification mission verified the killing of ten ex-combatants during the latest reporting period, bringing to 303 the number of former FARC-EP members killed since the signing of the 2016 agreement. In addition, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received information about the killings of 34 human rights defenders, of which seven were verified and 27 are under verification.
Some members may emphasise the dangers faced by Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The Secretary-General’s report warns that “[t]he insecurity facing ethnic communities, especially on the Pacific coast, continues to worsen”. In 2021, Afro-Colombians and indigenous people accounted for 41 percent and 15 percent of victims of forced displacement, respectively.
Some speakers may express concern regarding the recent escalation of violence in the Arauca department, which is located in the Colombia-Venezuela border area, across from Venezuela’s Apure state. After the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, between 2 and 6 January, clashes between two groups which did not sign the 2016 peace agreement, Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and a faction of FARC dissidents known as the Tenth Front, resulted in at least 27 deaths and the internal displacement of some 400 people. In response, the Colombian authorities reinforced the security presence in the area, while noting that the dispute between the groups relates to criminal activity such as smuggling and drug trafficking. Colombian president Iván Duque accused the Venezuelan government of abetting the activities of armed groups in the region—accusations which Venezuelan officials denied.
Tensions in the border area persist; as at 19 January, continued violence in Apure state in Venezuela has led approximately 500 Venezuelans, many of whom belong to indigenous communities, to seek refuge by crossing into the Arauca department in Colombia, according to Human Rights Watch. Over the years, armed groups’ activities have periodically sparked violence in the Colombia-Venezuela border area, with adverse effects on the civilian population on both sides of the border. For example, a military campaign launched by Venezuela in March 2021 against Colombian armed groups in Apure prompted more than 5,800 people to flee from Venezuela to Colombia. At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members may express concern regarding the humanitarian effects on the civilian population along the border and note the need to address the structural issues which allow armed groups to operate in the area. Some members, most notably Russia, have consistently urged the Colombian government to conduct a dialogue with the ELN. The Colombian government has stated that it would only engage with the ELN once the group ceases kidnappings and other violent activities and releases hostages.
In preparation for tomorrow’s meeting, Council members engaged with representatives of both the government and the Comunes party (which is comprised of former FARC-EP members) to discuss their views on the Secretary-General’s latest report. On 13 January, Council experts participated in a virtual meeting with Comunes representatives, which was organised by Norway. The following day, they took part in a virtual meeting with Presidential Counsellor for Stabilisation and Consolidation Emilio Archila, which was organised by the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the UN. Yesterday (19 January), the Mexican embassy in Bogotá convened an in-person meeting between representatives of the Comunes party and several in-country ambassadors of non-permanent members of the Council. Similar meetings were convened ahead of the Council’s July 2021 and October 2021 quarterly Colombia meetings. At tomorrow’s session, some members may highlight the importance of the Council hearing a broad array of voices address various aspects of the peace agreement’s implementation.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first on Colombia for incoming members Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Brazil, which borders Colombia, can provide a regional perspective and might wish to play an active role on the file, similarly to Mexico. In 2021, the “A3 plus one” Council members (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) sought to highlight issues relating to the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, including by emphasising the need for Council products to reflect the challenges faced by these communities. It remains to be seen whether Gabon and Ghana will join Kenya in highlighting such issues.