Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Bogotá
Yesterday (8 February), the Security Council began its visiting mission to Colombia with a full day of back-to-back meetings in Bogotá. Council members met with various Colombian actors involved in 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). There was also discussion of elements of the government’s “total peace” policy, which entails the promotion of dialogue with armed groups operating in the country, as well as the implementation of the 2016 agreement.
Throughout the day, the different interlocutors expressed appreciation to the Council for visiting Colombia and emphasised the importance of the international accompaniment to the peace process in the country. Several of them said that the peace agreement would not have reached its seventh anniversary without the steady attention of the international community, particularly the Council, which helped the agreement to withstand changes in the country, including the priorities of different governments.
Meeting with UN Agencies Operating in the Country
The delegation started the day with a breakfast meeting with Special Representative and Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu and representatives of the UN Country Team (UNCT). Speakers in this session highlighted the importance of the 2016 accord, noting that its signing was a watershed moment in Colombia’s history and calling it a roadmap for the future of the country. It was observed that peacebuilding necessitates more than the laying down of arms, requiring the establishment of justice and rule of law institutions and the promotion of social and economic inclusion. The root causes of conflict are still affecting the country, said one speaker, as Colombia remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with 70 percent of its population under the poverty line.
It was noted that Colombia’s biggest challenge remains the violence perpetrated by armed groups and the social control that these groups exert over conflict-affected communities. Despite the government’s political will and efforts, it is still struggling to extend its reach to rural communities. A speaker emphasised that there are many policies in place that are aimed at addressing aspects of the 2016 agreement, including security guarantees, and that 2024 should be the year when these are translated to concrete action on the ground. This would require greater institutional cooperation within the government, which currently appears to be lacking, the speaker observed. The Council’s greatest added value, it was argued, is to keep the focus on the need to implement the 2016 accord.
Meetings with Government Officials
Council members held three meetings with high-level government officials. The first such meeting was with heads of government entities involved in the implementation of the agreement. Among the participants were Vice Minister of Multilateral Affairs Elizabeth Taylor Jay; Director of the Implementation Unit of the Peace Agreement Gloria Cuartas; and High Commissioner for Peace Otty Patiño, who oversees dialogue efforts with armed groups as part of the “total peace” policy.
The speakers described the government’s efforts related to the reintegration of former combatants, the provision of security guarantees, and access to land. On the last point, it was noted that land was at the center of the conflict and is therefore now at the heart of the peacebuilding efforts of the administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego. The government has purchased over 288,000 hectares of land for peace signatories and their families and is also working on promoting the sustainability of former combatants’ productive projects. In this regard, one speaker acknowledged that armed groups still operating in the country will have no incentive to lay down their arms if the reintegration of signatories of the 2016 agreement is not sustainable.
Council members engaged actively with the officials, asking about the difficulties in the reintegration of groups such as women and indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, who suffer from systematic inequalities, and the government’s efforts to address such challenges. There were also questions about steps taken by the government to address the persistent violence and impunity.
Council members then had an audience with Petro. In a press conference after that meeting, the president lamented the time that was “lost” in terms of implementation of the agreement during the administration of his predecessor Iván Duque Márquez. Petro stated that the entire budget of the country is aimed at solving the problem of social inequality in Colombia; therefore “the great coordinator of the implementation of peace is the President of the Republic”. In March 2023, the president pledged to establish an office within the presidency dedicated to advancing implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, but he has yet to do so.
The Council also held a meeting focused on the “total peace” policy with Patiño and other government officials who lead or are involved in the negotiations with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the dissident group of the former FARC-EP that identifies itself as the Estado Mayor Central Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (EMC FARC-EP). The officials provided an overview of the dialogue efforts with the two groups, identifying challenges and opportunities in the processes. One official emphasised that an important way to achieve peace is through “territorial transformation”, which includes working with local communities and leaders to address their concerns and support their aspirations. In this regard, it was noted that five areas were prioritised for humanitarian action in the process with the ELN, which can in turn foster trust. It was also underlined that the ceasefires reached with the armed groups are not an end in of themselves, but rather a condition to develop the participation of citizens in the process.
Meeting with Signatories of the Peace Agreement
The Council’s meeting with signatories of the 2016 agreement was one of the most interactive sessions of the day. The meeting featured participation from representatives of the Comunes party—which is comprised of former FARC-EP members—including its president Rodrigo Londoño.
The interlocutors expressed their commitment to the 2016 peace agreement, promising Council members that whatever difficulty may arise, they will not return to arms. Among other issues, the speakers expressed concern about the persistent violence against former combatants, 418 of whom have been killed since the signing of the accord, as well as social leaders and human rights defenders. They decried the high levels of impunity for such acts and encouraged the Council to call on the government to implement the security guarantees mechanisms outlined in the peace accord. The signatories highlighted the need for increased institutional coordination in the government to implement the various aspects of the agreement, emphasising in this regard the need to establish a dedicated entity within the presidency to oversee implementation.
The speakers also raised certain concerns about the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 agreement. Among other issues, they said that although the peace agreement provides for the broadest possible amnesties, there are more than 6,000 amnesties pending. They also argued that the SJP’s decision to prosecute mid-level managers and former rank-and-file guerrillas has created legal uncertainty. These concerns were outlined in a letter the signatories to the agreement sent to Petro on 6 February, shortly before the Council’s visiting mission, and to which the president referred during his press conference after meeting with Council members. In a 7 February response to the letter, the SJP called for respect for its autonomy.
At the session, Council members thanked the signatories for their optimism, and asked about such issues as addressing insecurity and promoting the sustainability of reintegration.
Meeting with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace
Council members met with representatives of the SJP, who explained the different aspects of their work, including the implementation of a unique model of restorative justice and its victim-centred approach, and emphasised the importance of maintaining the court’s independence. The SJP representatives also described actions they have taken to protect the security of those appearing before the court, including by issuing precautionary measures to the state ordering it to make progress on implementation of security guarantees mechanisms contained in the 2016 agreement. There was also discussion on the issue of amnesties, and the SJP’s representatives explained the division of responsibilities between the court and the government in this regard.
Meeting with Parliamentarians
A meeting with a group of some ten senators and House of Representatives members from a full spectrum of political parties—including the ruling Pacto Histórico, Centro Democrático, and the Radical Change Party, among others—revealed differences in historical perspectives on the root causes of Colombia’s conflict and the role of the 2016 agreement in shaping the country.
The day concluded with a reception at the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where members of the Security Council were joined by representatives from the diplomatic community in Bogotá and signatories of the peace agreement. The event featured a performance by a choir comprised of children of former combatants. As the children sang John Lennon’s “Imagine”, asking listeners to imagine a world without war, some audience members could not help but tear up. The symbolic strength of the performance, representing the dividends of a peace that once seemed unimaginable, was palpable.
Today (9 February), the delegation is travelling outside Bogotá to visit one of the 24 former territorial areas for training and reintegration (TATRs), where some former FARC-EP members have been relocated with their families following the peace accord.