Colombia: Vote on a Draft Resolution Expanding the Verification Mission’s Mandate*
This afternoon (2 August), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution expanding the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to monitor and verify the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) that is set to begin tomorrow (3 August). The draft text in blue also indicates the Council’s willingness to consider mandating the mission to monitor and verify a ceasefire with the Estado Mayor Central Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (EMC FARC-EP), when the Secretary-General “confirms a ceasefire including appropriate verification protocols has been reached” with the armed group.
The penholder on Colombia, the UK, circulated an initial version of the draft resolution to Council members on 25 July and convened one round of negotiations on 27 July. After Council members submitted comments, the penholder circulated a revised draft on Monday (31 July) and placed it under silence procedure until yesterday (1 August) at 1 pm. The silence procedure was then extended three times, eventually until 10 pm, at China’s request. The penholder revised the draft text to address China’s concerns and placed it in blue last night.
In the past year, the administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego has been advancing its 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 Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP).
The government has been pursuing peace talks with armed groups it deems as having a political agenda, while also discussing possible agreements with groups characterised as criminal that focus on ceasing violence in exchange for judicial benefits. In a 14 February letter to the Security Council, Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Álvaro Leyva Durán referenced the government’s dialogue efforts with five such armed groups and indicated the government’s intention to request UN verification of these processes. (For more information, see our April Forecast Brief on Colombia.) On 12 April, the Security Council sent a letter to the Secretary-General requesting him to submit recommendations on the possible role that the UN can play in this regard.
The Secretary-General submitted his recommendations in a 13 June letter, in which he expressed hope that the Security Council will “consider favourably” an expansion of the verification mission’s mandate to participate in the monitoring and verification of ceasefires. The letter said that there are “two most immediate opportunities for the Mission to add value” through monitoring and verification, namely in the processes with the ELN and the EMC FARC-EP, which mainly consists of former FARC-EP dissidents who did not sign the 2016 accord. (The government characterises both groups as political.) It added that ceasefires with the other groups referenced in the government’s 14 February letter are “at either an embryonic stage or not currently in effect” and therefore there is presently “no role for the Mission to play in those ceasefires, although this could change as circumstances evolve”.
The Secretary-General’s 13 June letter presented two options for the possible expansion of the verification mission’s mandate, both of which would require additional personnel beyond the mission’s current ceiling of 120 observers. (For more information, see our July Forecast Brief on Colombia.)
On 9 June, the Colombian government and the ELN concluded an agreement on a six-month national, bilateral ceasefire starting on 3 August, that will be subject to renewal based on the parties’ joint evaluation. The Council previously temporarily expanded the verification mission’s mandate to monitor compliance with a ceasefire observed by the ELN and the Colombian government through resolution 2381 of 6 October 2017. That ceasefire resulted from a peace process that began in 2017 with former President Juan Manuel Santos in Quito, Ecuador, but concluded without agreement in August 2018, when former President Iván Duque assumed office.
The government’s dialogue process with the EMC FARC-EP experienced a setback in May following the killing of several indigenous youths in the southern department of Putumayo by the armed group. This led the government to suspend the ceasefire with the EMC FARC-EP announced earlier in the year in four departments. On 9 July, the Colombian government announced that it has reached an agreement to establish a “dialogue table” with the EMC FARC-EP. According to the announcement, there will be a preliminary phase until the dialogue’s commencement, during which the parties will discuss and approve a bilateral and temporary national ceasefire.
At the Council’s latest quarterly meeting on Colombia, held on 12 July, Council members referenced the government’s dialogue efforts with armed groups operating in the country, with varying degrees of emphasis. Many members welcomed the government’s ceasefire agreement with the ELN. Brazil—which was among the members congratulating the ceasefire agreement—noted the commitments made by the parties about humanitarian relief and expressed hope that the “immediate results of the agreements will renew hope in the territories for the benefit of the most affected communities”. The US, for its part, noted that it was “encouraged” by the ceasefire announcement, while emphasising that the ELN “must halt all acts of violence, extortion, kidnapping and forced recruitment for that ceasefire to result in a genuine improvement to citizen security in Colombia”.
The negotiations on the draft text went smoothly. It seems that most Council members supported a limited expansion of the verification mission’s mandate that only focusses on support for the dialogue process with the ELN and requires further Council authorisation for dialogue processes with other armed groups. Although the Secretary-General’s 13 June letter noted the possible expansion of the mission’s mandate to have a role in the dialogue with the EMC FARC-EP, many members apparently felt that this process was not yet sufficiently advanced and therefore did not want to include this aspect in the mandate expansion.
These general principles regarding the expansion of the mission’s mandate were apparently agreeable to most Council members. The draft text in blue therefore authorises the mission to monitor and verify the implementation of the ceasefire between the government and the ELN. It also indicates the Council’s willingness to consider mandating the mission to monitor and verify the implementation of a ceasefire agreement between the government and the EMC FARC-EP, “when the Secretary-General confirms a ceasefire including appropriate verification protocols has been reached and taking into account an update from the Secretary-General on the progress of implementation of this resolution”.
It seems that the number of international observers that would be added to the mission’s existing quota was a matter of discussion. The initial draft circulated by the penholder proposed adding 70 international observers to the mission. It seems that during the 27 July negotiations, several Council members asked to receive further information from the Secretariat about the proposed number of additional observers, including their potential locations. This information was later relayed to Council members. It seems that China asked to extend yesterday’s silence procedure over this issue. The draft text in blue therefore authorises 68 additional international observers, as well as “an appropriate civilian component, taking into account existing resources where possible”.
It appears that language emphasising that the ceasefire between the government and the ELN should contribute to improving the humanitarian situation in conflict-affected areas was added to the preambular section at the request of one Council member. The draft text in blue also welcomes the Secretary-General’s proposal, contained in his 13 June letter, to “keep the Council abreast of the situation on the ground”, including on “the contribution of the ceasefire to the improvement of the humanitarian situation in conflict-affected areas”. The draft text in blue also welcomes the Secretary-General’s proposal to include information about the implementation of the verification mission’s additional tasks in his regular quarterly reporting to the Council on Colombia.
*Post-script: On 2 August, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2694, expanding the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to monitor and verify the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) that is set to begin on 3 August.