What's In Blue

Posted Wed 7 Feb 2024

Security Council Visiting Mission to Colombia

This afternoon (7 February), Council members will depart New York to begin a visiting mission to Colombia that concludes on 11 February. The UK (the penholder on Colombia), Guyana, and Switzerland are co-leading the mission.

The overarching goal of the visit is to reaffirm the Council’s commitment to peace in Colombia, including through its support for 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) and for the Bilateral, National and Temporary Ceasefire Agreement between the government of Colombia and the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). This will be the Council’s third visit to Colombia, demonstrating the body’s ongoing focus on this file, which came on to its agenda in 2016 at the request of the Colombian government. The previous visiting missions took place during the early stages of the 2016 accord’s implementation, in May 2017 and July 2019, with the 2017 visit focusing on the laying down of arms phase. (For background, see our 3 May 2017 and 11 July 2019 What’s in Blue stories.)

The upcoming visit takes place soon after the agreement’s seven-year anniversary, which marks the halfway point in the 15-year timetable envisioned for its implementation. It also comes as the administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego, who took office in August 2022, continues to promote the “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. The visit will provide Council members with an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the interplay between the two processes and to hear directly from Colombian actors about the advances made in the peace agreement as well as the challenges facing the accord’s implementation.

On Thursday (8 February), the first full day of the visit, the delegation will meet in Bogotá with high-level government officials, including Petro and representatives of government entities overseeing the implementation of the 2016 agreement; parliamentarians; and representatives of the signatories to the 2016 accord, including members of the Comunes party, which is comprised of former FARC-EP members.

On Friday (9 February), the delegation will travel 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. This is expected to allow members to witness first-hand the progress and challenges related to the reintegration of former combatants.

The last day of the visiting mission, Saturday (10 February), which will also take place outside Bogotá, will feature meetings with representatives of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The Secretary-General has highlighted in several of his quarterly reports on Colombia that these communities, which have endured long-standing exclusion and inequality, continue to be disproportionately affected by violence. Members are likely to be keen to hear the experiences of these individuals and to seek their views on priority areas to address in the slow implementation of the 2016 agreement’s ethnic chapter. On 20 November 2023, the government signed a pact pledging to complete at least 60 percent of the chapter by 2026.

Throughout the three-day visit, Council members are expected to interact on several occasions with representatives of civil society and women’s organisations. Some Council members are likely to use these exchanges to seek more information on cross-cutting issues such as women, peace and security (WPS) and the protection of children.

Members are likely to be interested in hearing from government officials about their strategy to tackle longstanding issues in the implementation of the peace agreement, such as the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders. They may seek more information about steps that are being taken to increase state presence in conflict-affected areas, while welcoming progress that has been made on such issues as rural reform.

Council members’ public statements have often welcomed the political will demonstrated by the Petro administration to advance the 2016 peace agreement. More recently, as Petro approaches a year and a half in office, there has been more emphasis on the need to move from the planning phase to concrete implementation. In a related matter, Council members noted in a press statement issued following the 11 January meeting that they look forward to “the realization” of the intention, expressed by Petro in March 2023, to establish an office within the presidency dedicated to advancing implementation of the 2016 peace agreement.

Progress in the work of the transitional justice system, whose design had been one of the most controversial elements of the 2016 peace agreement, is another issue of particular interest for Council members. In Bogotá, members will have the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 agreement. In a 19 December 2023 interview, the SJP’s president, Judge Roberto Vidal, said that in the first quarter of 2024, the court expects to hand down the first sentences against defendants appearing before the SJP and the restorative projects that they will undertake as part of their sentences.

Members are likely to be interested in hearing updates about the preparations for the handing down of sentences and the work government entities are doing to ensure that conditions are in place for the sentences to be implemented. There may also be discussion about recent government criticism of the court’s work. (For more information, see the brief on Colombia in our January 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

During the visit, Council members expect to learn more about the government’s dialogue efforts with armed groups operating in the country. A meeting on the matter is planned in Bogotá with the heads of the government delegations to the dialogues with the 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).

On 5 February, the ELN and the government announced a further six-month extension of their bilateral ceasefire, with the guerrilla group committing to cease kidnapping for ransom, among other things. The non-governmental organisation International Crisis Group (ICG) has argued that the monitoring and verification mechanism of the ceasefire, in which the UN Verification Mission in Colombia participates, has faced obstacles because the ELN has yet to appoint representatives to the mechanism’s regional and local bodies, which complicates adjudication of reported ceasefire violations. Council members may seek more details on such issues in their interaction with the government representatives to the dialogue with the ELN.

The visit may also inform Council members’ deliberations on the potential expansion of the verification mission’s mandate to monitor compliance with the ceasefire between the government and the EMC FARC-EP. Resolution 2694 of 2 August 2023, which expanded the mission’s mandate to monitor the ceasefire between the government and the ELN, indicated the Council’s willingness to consider a further expansion of the mandate to monitor the ceasefire between the government and the EMC FARC-EP when the Secretary-General “confirms a ceasefire including appropriate verification protocols has been reached” with the armed group. Some Council members, most notably the US, have expressed the view that this dialogue process currently lacks the maturity witnessed in the ELN process before the Council decided to expand the mission’s mandate to support that dialogue.

The Council’s travel to the country comes at a time when the body is grappling with crises in Ukraine and Gaza, where peaceful resolutions currently seem far from reach. In a 31 January interview about the upcoming visiting mission, Special Representative and Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu said that Colombia represents a “global success story” that gives a positive message about the possibility of resolving conflict through dialogue and of continued implementation of peace agreements despite challenges.

Colombia remains a rare file on the Council’s agenda that enjoys consensus. It has largely remained insulated from difficult dynamics among Council members on other files. The Council also has a positive relationship with the host country, which stands in stark contrast with recent developments in countries like Mali and Sudan, which have asked the UN peace operations present on their territory to leave. The mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, on the other hand, has been expanded three times since 2019 at the request of the government.

Actors from Colombia, such as some civil society representatives, have apparently maintained in their interactions with Council experts in New York, including in preparation for the visiting mission, that the Council’s positive rhetoric on Colombia does not always correspond to some difficult realities on the ground. The upcoming visit may allow Council members to assess critically such claims.

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