Colombia: Quarterly Meeting
This morning (13 April), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, 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 December 2022 to 26 March. The Council will also hear briefings from Ambassador Ivan Šimonović (Croatia), chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), and Rodrigo Londoño, president of the Comunes party, which is comprised of former members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Álvaro Leyva Durán will represent his country at the meeting.
The briefers and Council members are expected to discuss steps taken by the government of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego to advance the policy of “total peace”, which entails the promotion of dialogue with armed groups operating in the country as well as the implementation of the Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace signed in 2016 between the government of Colombia and the former rebel group FARC-EP. Several speakers are expected to highlight as a key challenge the persistent violence against some communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders.
Many developments during the first quarter of the year took place against a backdrop of the government’s dialogue efforts with armed groups operating in the country. On 31 December 2022, Petro announced that five armed groups had agreed to bilateral six-month ceasefires with the government. Among these groups, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN)—which has been holding peace talks with the government—said shortly after the announcement, on 3 January, that it had not agreed to a ceasefire, emphasising that this issue should be discussed at the negotiating table. Regarding the other four groups, to date only one, the Estado Mayor Central (EMC)—which mainly consists of former FARC-EP dissidents who did not sign the 2016 accord—has officially signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. (For more information, see the Colombia brief in our April Forecast.)
In a 14 February letter to the Security Council (S/2023/112), Leyva referenced the dialogue with the ELN and shared decrees issued by the government in December 2022 announcing bilateral ceasefires with the four other groups. In the letter, he indicated that the government intends to request UN verification of these processes, adding: “[w]e trust that the Security Council will consider favorably the possible expansion of the role of the verification mission in Colombia”. Yesterday (12 April), Council members agreed on the text of a letter to the Secretary-General requesting him to submit within 60 days recommendations to the Security Council on the possible role that the UN can play in this regard, including “implications for the configuration of the verification mission”. The letter notes that this should be done by “taking into account the opinions of all relevant Colombian stakeholders and of Security Council members”—language which was apparently proposed by Russia.
Some actors in Colombia, including members of the Comunes party, have expressed concerns that armed groups with which the government has conducted or explored dialogue have continued committing violent acts in the past months, which has affected the security of signatories of the 2016 agreement. They have also voiced concerns that the government has prioritised outreach efforts to armed groups operating in the country and weakened the government bodies charged with implementing the 2016 peace accord.
In a recent relevant development, on 14 March, ex-combatants from the former territorial area for training and reintegration (TATR) in the Mesetas municipality in the Meta department announced that more than 200 families of former combatants had received threats from the EMC demanding that they leave the area. This message came a day after the government said that it would soon start peace talks with the dissident group.
On 29 March, Petro visited the Mesetas TATR, where he pledged to facilitate the safe relocation of the 200 families and to provide them with 1,400 hectares of productive land within three months. Petro also announced that the government is working on mechanisms to expediate the implementation of the 2016 agreement. Londoño, who was present during the president’s visit to the TATR, welcomed these developments, noting that they reaffirm the government’s commitment to the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 accord. The government has since announced that it would re-establish the position of a high counsellor to oversee the implementation of the peace agreement with the former FARC-EP, thus separating those functions from the dialogues with armed groups operating in the country, which have been overseen by the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda. To date, the government has yet to announce who will be appointed to this position.
At today’s meeting, members are likely to be interested in hearing updates from the briefers regarding the status of dialogues with the armed groups operating in the country. The second round of negotiations between the government and the ELN was held in Mexico between 13 February and 10 March, at the conclusion of which it was announced that a third round is scheduled to take place in Cuba in April. A 29 March attack in the Catatumbo region which was claimed by the ELN and resulted in the deaths of ten soldiers has been denounced by many actors in Colombia and created uncertainty around the process. However, yesterday (12 April), Rueda reportedly announced the government’s intention to hold a third round of negotiations, noting that the date will be disclosed in the coming days, and adding that the issue of bilateral cessation of hostilities will be raised at the upcoming meeting. Also yesterday, media outlets reported that the EMC and the government will announce the formal start of their dialogue on 16 March.
The Secretary-General emphasised in his latest report on Colombia that the consolidation of peace in the country depends on “both the comprehensive implementation of the Final Agreement and the authorities’ ability to curb ongoing expressions of violence”. He noted in this regard the mutually reinforcing nature of the processes entailed in the “total peace” policy, saying that the pursuit of ceasefires, if carried out properly, can contribute to alleviating obstacles to the implementation of the 2016 accord. The Secretary-General further stressed the need for dialogue efforts to be accompanied by actions to enhance the integrated presence of the state in conflict-affected areas. Several Council members are likely to echo these messages at the meeting, while underscoring the importance of promoting the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 accord as the core of the “total peace policy”. Some Council members may also stress that armed groups that are engaging in dialogue with the government should cease all violent acts to demonstrate good faith.
Today’s meeting will mark the second time that a former FARC-EP member briefs the Security Council. The Council was briefed at a Colombia meeting in January 2022 by Luz Marina Giraldo—a signatory of the 2016 agreement and social leader—who highlighted challenges faced by family members of former combatants and social leaders who were killed. Member states serving on the Security Council have interacted informally with members of the Comunes party, including Londoño, by organising meetings at their embassies in Bogotá to discuss the findings of the Secretary-General’s quarterly reports. The latest such meeting was organised by the UK embassy in Bogotá on 11 April. Today will be the first time that Council members will receive a briefing from a high-level Comunes party representative in a formal meeting in New York. Londoño was the former FARC-EP’s commander-in-chief and the main counterpart from the former rebel group to sign the 2016 accord. Members may be interested in Londoño’s recommendations on how the Council can better support the implementation of the 2016 agreement. He is likely to stress the need for more progress on security guarantees and sustainable reintegration for ex-combatants, including through facilitating their access to land and housing.