Colombia: Quarterly Meeting
Tomorrow (12 April), 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 28 December 2021 to 25 March. President Iván Duque of Colombia will represent his country at the meeting, which will be chaired by Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK Minister of State for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.
This month’s quarterly Council meeting will take place during a crucial juncture, as Colombia is in the middle of an electoral cycle. Colombia held legislative elections on 13 March, while presidential elections are scheduled for 29 May. (The new Congress and presidential administration will be inaugurated on 20 July and 7 August, respectively.) During these legislative elections, for the first time, voters in 167 conflict-affected municipalities elected representatives for the 16 “special transitional electoral districts for peace”, which were stipulated in 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). As part of this provision, 16 additional seats in Colombia’s House of Representatives were added for the 2022–2026 and 2026–2030 congressional periods and are reserved for members of indigenous communities and representatives of victims’ and women’s organisations.
Members may express concern about the instances of violence and intimidation against candidates from across the political spectrum which were reported in connection with the legislative elections. Some may emphasise the difficult conditions in the 16 “special transitional electoral districts for peace”, which were established in areas that have historically experienced high levels of violence against political and social leaders. The Secretary-General’s report, which was issued on 28 March, notes that several candidates from the 16 districts withdrew from the race, citing the lack of security guarantees. Additionally, it says that voters in several rural areas “faced obstacles while trying to exercise their right to vote” due to the activities of illegal armed actors. Several members may call on the authorities to ensure that the presidential elections are held in an inclusive and safe manner, allowing all citizens to cast their votes.
Members may also emphasise that any incoming presidential administration should commit to the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. Some may note as a positive development that political parties have not questioned the need to implement the peace agreement or any of its aspects in their electoral campaigns. During the 2018 elections, some political parties expressed scepticism about the peace agreement. For example, Duque campaigned on the promise to alter the 2016 accord, including aspects relating to transitional justice. In 2019, after his inauguration, Duque delayed the signing of the statutory law governing the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP)—the judicial component of the transitional justice system stipulated in the peace agreement—by proposing a legal reform that would have significantly modified the SJP’s mandate. Duque eventually signed the statutory law of the SJP in June 2019 after Congress rejected his suggestions for legal reform.
Tomorrow’s meeting takes place ahead of several milestones in the transitional justice processes established by the peace agreement. The Truth Commission is set to issue its final report by 28 June, after which the commission will work on familiarising the public with the report until its mandate expires on 27 August. Following the end of the Truth Commission’s mandate, a committee is set to be established to follow up on the recommendations of the final report. While the Truth Commission’s final report will be submitted under the current administration, the new administration will oversee the process of familiarising the public with the final report and following up on its recommendations. Some members are likely to highlight that the issuance of the final report is expected to be a seismic event with significant effects on Colombian society. They might note the importance of the next administration supporting this crucial process, including by facilitating adequate resourcing for the committee that will follow up on the implementation of the final report’s recommendations.
Another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders. Eleven ex-combatants were killed during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report, bringing to 315 the number of former FARC-EP members killed since the 2016 agreement. Colombia’s constitutional court on 28 January declared an “unconstitutional state of affairs”, citing the grave threats faced by former combatants, and ordered the government to implement the security guarantees of the 2016 agreement. Among other things, it called on authorities to ensure the effective functioning of 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. The National Commission on Security Guarantees met on 7 March for the first time in close to a year and unanimously adopted its internal regulations. At tomorrow’s Council meeting, some members may call on the commission to meet regularly and to make progress in devising a plan to dismantle criminal organisations in the country.
Some members may highlight the dangers faced by Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The Secretary-General’s report expresses concern about the activities of illegal armed groups in ethnic territories, which endanger indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, while emphasising the severity of the situation on the Pacific coast. During the reporting period, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received information about the killings of 43 human rights defenders and social leaders, including six Afro-Colombian and 13 indigenous leaders. On 28 March, after the cut-off date of the Secretary-General’s report, 11 people were killed in an incident in the town of Puerto Leguizamo in the Putumayo department. Colombian authorities described the incident as an operation by the security forces against members of a FARC-EP dissident group. However, local witnesses and civil society organisations have claimed that civilians were killed in the operations, including a local indigenous leader and a 16-year-old youth. In a 30 March tweet, the OHCHR office in Colombia said that it is following up on this incident, where “civilians, community and indigenous leaders reportedly lost their lives”, and called on the authorities to investigate and clarify the facts of the incident.
At tomorrow’s meeting, several members may call for increased dialogue between various parties on issues relating to the implementation of the peace agreement, especially considering the uncertainties that may arise after the inauguration of a new administration and the progress in transitional justice processes. In this regard, they may encourage the sides to utilise mechanisms established by the 2016 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, along with Cuba—participates in CSIVI meetings, while representatives of other member states, such as the UK, join these meetings as observers.
In a 1 April tweet, the Comunes party (which is comprised of former FARC-EP members) criticised the government for failing to convene regular sessions of the CSIVI. In addition, it accused the government of not inviting the Special High-Level Instance for Ethnic Groups (IEANPE) and the Special Instance for a Gender Approach—which were created by the peace agreement to monitor the implementation of provisions related to ethnic and gender issues—to attend meetings of the CSIVI since October 2020 and April 2021, respectively.
Tomorrow will be the first time that Duque addresses the Security Council. (Colombia is usually represented by its foreign minister during the quarterly Council meetings). In a 10 April tweet, Duque said that he will present at the meeting the “achievements obtained and our commitment to the implementation of the policy of peace with legality”. The government’s “peace with legality” strategy has been criticised by several actors in Colombia—including the IEANPE and former FARC-EP members—as a narrow interpretation of the 2016 peace agreement. It seems that some of these actors have expressed concern that Duque’s intervention at tomorrow’s meeting will not adequately reflect areas where implementation is slow, including the ethnic and gender provisions of the agreement. While Council meetings on Colombia often feature a briefing by a civil society representative, it appears that this is not foreseen tomorrow.