What's In Blue

Posted Wed 13 Jul 2022

Colombia: Quarterly Briefing and Arria-formula Meeting

Tomorrow (14 July), there will be two meetings on Colombia. In the morning, the Council will hold its regular quarterly meeting on the situation in Colombia. In the afternoon, Council members will convene for an open Arria-formula meeting (an informal meeting format), which will focus on transitional justice processes in the country.

Quarterly Meeting

Tomorrow morning, the Security Council will convene for 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 26 March to 27 June. Francisco de Roux, the head of Colombia’s Truth Commission, and a woman civil society representative are also expected to brief in the open chamber. 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 a common practice following previous quarterly meetings on Colombia.

Tomorrow’s meeting will take place at a crucial moment for Colombia, which is experiencing a major shift in the political landscape and advances in transitional justice processes. The briefers and Council members are likely to reflect on the opportunities and challenges that these developments pose to 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).

Colombia has concluded its electoral cycle, after holding congressional elections in March and presidential elections in June. Gustavo Petro of the left-wing “Pacto Histórico” coalition was elected president, marking the first time that the country has elected a leftist president. His running mate Francia Márquez will become the first Afro-Colombian woman to serve as Vice President in Colombian history. Petro and Márquez will assume office on 7 August.

Prior to that, on 20 July, the new congress (comprising the Senate and House of Representatives) for the 2022–2026 period will be inaugurated. For the first time, Colombia’s House of Representatives will include 16 additional seats for the “special transitional electoral districts for peace”, which were stipulated in the 2016 agreement with the aim of promoting the participation of historically excluded populations, including members of indigenous communities and representatives of victims’ and women’s organisations. The briefers and some Council members may note that the composition of the new congress presents an opportunity to advance legislation relating to the peace agreement that is currently pending, such as on rural reform and political participation.

Several Council members may also welcome commitments expressed by the President-elect to further the implementation of the 2016 agreement. Among other things, he pledged to make progress on rural reform and address security-related aspects of the agreement, including by reactivating 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. Many members are expected to highlight the importance of following up on these commitments and express their support in this regard.

Petro has also articulated his vision, which he calls “total peace”, for promoting dialogue with armed groups that are not signatory to the 2016 peace agreement, such as the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). In this regard, in a 5 July radio interview Petro called on all armed groups active in Colombia to agree to a bilateral ceasefire and begin negotiations. Since Petro’s election, the ELN has expressed in two separate messages, on 20 June and 4 July, its willingness to engage with the incoming administration in peace negotiations, continuing the peace process that began with former President Juan Manuel Santos in Quito, Ecuador, in 2017. Elected Council members Brazil and Norway were among the guarantor countries of the process, which concluded without agreement in August 2018. One concrete result of the Quito process was a bilateral ceasefire that was observed by the Colombian government and the ELN from 1 October 2017 to 9 January 2018. The Security Council temporarily expanded the Verification Mission’s mandate to monitor compliance with the ceasefire through resolution 2381 of 6 October 2017.

In a 28 June interview, Ruiz Massieu called the government’s willingness to hold dialogue with the ELN “a positive step” and conveyed the UN’s readiness to contribute to the process. He may reiterate similar messages at tomorrow’s meeting. Among Council members, Russia has been the most vocal in calling on the government to conduct dialogue with the ELN, often criticising President Iván Duque for refusing to do so. While other Council members have rarely raised the issue in the open chamber, it seems that some members may reference the recent calls for dialogue with the ELN as a positive step at tomorrow’s meeting.

Transitional justice processes in Colombia—the topic of tomorrow afternoon’s Arria-formula meeting—are also expected to be a key focus of the quarterly meeting. The reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report has witnessed several milestones in this regard. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) for the first time held public hearings on acknowledgement of truth and responsibility within Case 01 (on crimes committed by the FARC-EP such as hostage-taking and other serious deprivations of liberty) and Case 03 (on killings and forced disappearances presented by state agents as combat casualties, also known as “false positives”) in June and April, respectively. On 28 June, the Truth Commission presented its final report in a ceremony in Bogotá. (For more information, see our July Colombia forecast brief).

De Roux is expected to describe the main findings of the Truth Commission’s report, which aims to set out the truth about the armed conflict in Colombia between 1958 and 2016. The report outlines the devastating effects of the conflict on civilians, noting that out of every ten people killed in the armed conflict, eight were civilians. It documents crimes and human rights violations committed by the former FARC, paramilitaries, and state security forces. It also provides a narrative of the conflict’s lasting effects on various groups in society, including ethnic groups, children, women, and LGBTI persons. De Roux may also elaborate on the report’s recommendations regarding next steps to promote national reconciliation. Among other things, the report calls on the government to advance the implementation of the peace agreement, address impunity and promote dialogue with armed groups not signatory to the peace agreement such as the ELN.

Petro, who participated in the 28 June ceremony, said that the report can help end the cycles of armed violence and open dialogue, while noting that this could only happen if the report is not used to create a “space for vengeance”. He further pledged to implement the report’s recommendations. Some Council members may welcome these remarks. They may call on other actors in Colombia to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to national reconciliation and refrain from politicising the report.

Ruiz Massieu and Council members are also likely to express grave concern regarding 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. Four former combatants were killed after the issuance of the report, bringing to 331 the number of former FARC-EP members killed since the 2016 agreement.

Several Council members may also express concern regarding the adverse effects of the violence on children. The Secretary-General’s latest annual report on children and armed conflict, which was made public on 11 July, notes that 31 children were killed, 39 children were maimed, and 123 children were recruited and used in Colombia during 2021. The Secretary-General expressed concern regarding the “continued increase in the number of grave violations against children, notably in the cases of recruitment and use and abduction of children by armed groups, particularly by FARC-EP dissident groups and ELN”. The Secretary-General included in the annexes to his report, which lists parties that have committed grave violations against children, the FARC-EP dissident groups for recruiting and using children in their ranks. In reference to the potential for dialogue between the government and armed groups in Colombia, some members may note that guarantees regarding the protection of children can serve as an early confidence-building measure in peace talks.

Council members are united in their support of the peace process in Colombia. However, members’ attitudes towards the governing administration in the country have at times affected Council dynamics on the file. Russia, for example, has often rebuked the Duque government for insufficient implementation of the peace agreement. More recently, Duque’s public condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have led to Russia adopting a particularly critical tone toward the government at the Council’s 12 April meeting on Colombia, in which Duque represented his country. Following the meeting, members were not able to agree on a press statement, apparently due to Russia’s opposition. It remains to be seen how a new administration in Colombia may influence this dynamic.

Arria-formula Meeting

Tomorrow at 3 pm EST in the ECOSOC chamber, there will be a Security Council Arria-formula meeting titled “A Milestone Year for a Peaceful Future: Transitional Justice in Colombia”. The meeting was initiated by Ireland, in cooperation with Norway and Colombia. The expected briefers are de Roux; Eamon Gilmore, the special envoy of the EU for the peace process in Colombia; Juana Inés Acosta-López, an academic expert in international law, human rights and transitional justice; and Yanet Mosquera Rivera, a social leader, human rights defender and director of the non-governmental organisation Fundacion Mujer Con Valor. The meeting will be broadcast on UN TV.

Ireland has prepared a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, which says that 2022 is a seminal year for the transitional justice system in Colombia. Among other things, it notes the issuance of the Truth Commission’s report and the progress in the SJP’s work, including the recent public hearings on acknowledgement of truth, which constitute a step towards the issuance of restorative sentences to those who acknowledge responsibility. The concept note argues that the international community “has a distinct and important role to play in supporting the Colombian peace process, at this important and sensitive moment for peace”. Tomorrow’s meeting may serve as a platform for Council members to reiterate their support for transitional justice in Colombia and highlight the importance of the transitional justice system’s autonomy—messages they have conveyed consistently, including in their press statements on Colombia.

The concept note proposes several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s meeting, including:

  • How can the international community support the unique contribution to peace made by social leaders and human rights defenders, women, girls, LGBTI+ persons and indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and ensure their safe engagement with, participation in and benefit from transitional justice mechanisms?
  • How can the experience of other transitional justice processes inform the international community’s support to the Colombian transitional justice system at this critical moment?
  • What lessons can the international community, the UN, and its Member States learn from the Colombian transitional justice system? How can lessons from the Colombian experience be applied to conflict resolution and reconciliation efforts in other contexts?

De Roux may elaborate during the Arria-formula meeting on the next steps with regard to the Truth Commission’s final report. 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 report’s recommendations. De Roux may also highlight the importance of the international community’s support to transitional justice in Colombia. In his speech during the 28 June ceremony, he noted the international community’s “solidarity with the victims and support for the peace process in the face of the indifference of large sectors of our society that seem unaware of the suffering of millions of compatriots because of the war”. He also thanked international interlocutors, such as the UN and its agencies and the Security Council for their support.

De Roux might also share lessons from the experience of transitional justice in Colombia. He has previously briefed the Council during an open debate on transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations, which was organised by then-Council member Belgium during its February 2020 Council presidency. At that meeting, he emphasised the importance of a victim-centred approach, discussed the contribution of truth commissions to the non-repetition of conflict and underlined the need for reconciliation to sustain non-repetition. Acosta may draw lessons from other peace processes and describe how these can apply to the transitional justice process in Colombia. Rivera, who also works with victims of the conflict, may describe the experience of victims in the context of transitional justice processes.

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