Colombia: Quarterly Meeting
Tomorrow afternoon (12 October), 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 June to 26 September. A woman civil society representative is also expected to brief in the open chamber. Colombia’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Álvaro Leyva Durán, will represent his country at the meeting, which will be chaired by Gabon’s Foreign Minister Michaël Moussa-Adamo. Norway will be represented by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anniken Huitfeldt. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first quarterly meeting on Colombia since the administration of President Gustavo Petro assumed office on 7 August. Petro has since taken steps to advance his vision of “total peace”, vowing to further 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), while seeking to expand dialogue with non-signatory armed groups. Speakers are likely to reflect on the challenges to the implementation of the 2016 agreement and discuss opportunities for the new administration to address them.
Ruiz Massieu and Council members are likely to highlight as a major challenge the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders. During the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report, 15 former FARC-EP combatants were killed, bringing to 342 the number of ex-combatants killed since the signing of the peace agreement. Eleven former combatants were killed in July alone, making it the deadliest month for ex-combatants since 2019. In addition, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented 39 large-scale killings (12 verified, 26 under verification and one inconclusive). OHCHR received allegations of 45 homicides against human rights defenders, of which eight are verified, 27 are under verification and ten are inconclusive.
The new administration has promised to tackle the violence in conflict-affected regions in the country, including by increasing the presence of the state. On 3 September, the government announced that it will be establishing “unified command posts for life” as part of an emergency protection plan for human rights defenders and former combatants. These “unified posts” will be established in 65 municipalities in 14 conflict-affected departments. They are foreseen as inter-institutional mechanisms to coordinate preventive responses and will include state entities, local authorities and civil society, and be accompanied by international actors.
During the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report, the government installed 23 “unified command posts” in ten departments, including the Chocó and Nariño departments, which have long experienced heightened levels of violence. Members may welcome this development, while emphasising the importance of consulting with local communities and civil society actors during such processes. They might note that increasing state presence in conflict-affected areas should entail not only security measures, but also support to civilian infrastructure, such as construction of roads and hospitals.
On 2 October, Petro convened a meeting of the National Commission on Security Guarantees, which is charged under the 2016 peace agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and their support networks. On the same day, he also convened a meeting of the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement (CSIVI), the main forum for dialogue between the parties on the implementation of the peace agreement. Council member Norway—which serves as a guarantor of the 2016 agreement, along with Cuba—participates in CSIVI meetings, while representatives of other member states, such as Ireland and the US, join these meetings as observers. The 2 October meetings served as an opportunity for the government to re-launch the activity of the two mechanisms, which were convened infrequently during the administration of former President Iván Duque.
Council members are expected to note that the president’s convening of the two mechanisms demonstrates positive political will. They may encourage the administration to appoint its official representatives to the two mechanisms and convene regular meetings in a timely manner, in order to address crucial outstanding matters, including the devising of a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups.
Members are also likely to emphasise the need for progress on the implementation of the gender and ethnic chapters of the 2016 agreement, which has been slow. On 3 October, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced during a ceremony in Bogotá that the US will become the first international partner to the ethnic chapter of the 2016 peace agreement. He was joined by Vice President Francia Márquez, who leads the newly established Ministry of Equality, which aims to address issues related to gender, ethnic communities, youth, and children. Blinken noted in his statement that the ethnic chapter “recognises that there can be no lasting peace without justice and equality for the Afro-Colombian and indigenous people, who have been disproportionately harmed by this conflict”. At tomorrow’s meeting, the US may elaborate on the steps that it will take to support the implementation of the ethnic chapter.
The civil society representative may speak about the experiences of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people and describe efforts by civil society actors to defend and promote these groups’ rights. The Secretary-General has consistently warned in his reports that Afro-Colombian and indigenous people are disproportionately affected by violence. His most recent report describes indigenous communities across the country as also “facing increasing risks of losing their territories owing to the expansion of agriculture, energy and extractive industries and the presence of illegal armed groups”.
Another expected focus of the meeting is the recent steps taken by the Petro administration to advance dialogue with armed groups that are not signatory to the 2016 peace agreement, such as the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). On 4 October, the government and the ELN announced that they will start formal negotiations after the first week of November. The talks will be a continuation of the process which was begun by former President Juan Manuel Santos in Quito, Ecuador, in 2017. Cuba, Norway and Venezuela are expected to serve as guarantor countries in the upcoming negotiations. In a 4 October statement, Secretary-General António Guterres commended the decision by the two sides, urged them to “fully seize this opportunity to bring an end to a deadly conflict that has lasted for decades”, and expressed the UN’s readiness to provide assistance as required in “the dialogues and implementation of agreements”. Tomorrow, several members are expected to note positively the recent developments with the ELN. Some may recall that guarantees regarding the protection of children can serve as an early confidence-building measure in peace talks.
In preparation for tomorrow’s meeting, the Norwegian embassy in Bogotá, in cooperation with the embassies of Ireland and Mexico, organised on 29 September a meeting between representatives of the Comunes party (which is comprised of former FARC-EP members), the Colombian government (represented by Leyva Durán at the meeting) and several in-country ambassadors of Security Council members. The meeting served as a platform to discuss the findings of the Secretary-General’s latest report. 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.
Looking ahead, the Council will need to renew the verification mission’s mandate ahead of its 31 October expiry. Members may use tomorrow’s closed consultations to have a frank discussion with Ruiz Massieu on whether any alterations to the mission’s mandate would be helpful in support of the upcoming negotiations with the ELN. As a result of the Quito process, the Colombian government and the ELN observed a bilateral ceasefire 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. The Council may consider a similar expansion should future negotiations with the ELN produce an agreement on a ceasefire.