What's In Blue

Posted Mon 8 Apr 2024

Colombia: Quarterly Meeting

Tomorrow morning (9 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 2023 to 26 March. The Council will also hear a briefing from Marcela Sánchez Buitrago, director of Colombia Diversa, a non-governmental organisation that promotes and defends the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) persons. Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs ad interim Luis Gilberto Murillo Urrutia will represent his country at the meeting.

Prior to the meeting, Malta’s Deputy Permanent Representative Francesca Gatt will hold a press stakeout together with Sánchez.

Participants at tomorrow’s meeting may reflect on the Council’s 7-11 February visiting mission to Colombia, which provided Council members with a more nuanced understanding of progress and challenges 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). It also allowed them to learn more about the “total peace” policy promoted by the administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro Urrego, which entails the promotion of dialogue with armed groups operating in the country as well as the implementation of the 2016 agreement. (For more information, see our dispatches from the field, dated 7912, and 14 February.)

Speaking at the end of the visiting mission, Ruiz Massieu noted that Colombia is often described as a success story. This is not because all the country’s goals have been achieved, he argued, but rather because Colombians continue to show determination to consolidate peace in the country despite the challenges that they face seven years into the agreement’s implementation.

A key challenge highlighted during the visiting mission, which is also a likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting, is the persistent violence against communities (including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities), former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders. Members witnessed how violence continues to permeate other aspects of the peace agreement’s implementation, including reintegration of former combatants and transitional justice efforts. In the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report, the verification mission verified the killing of ten ex-combatants, bringing to 416 the number of former FARC-EP members killed since the signing of the peace agreement. Violence against social leaders also remained high, with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) receiving 42 reports regarding the killing of such individuals, of which two were verified, 37 were under verification, and three were inconclusive.

The Secretary-General’s report says that the effective investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against former combatants and social leaders is a key component of facilitating security guarantees. In this regard, it notes that the Special Investigation Unit of the Office of the Attorney General has investigated 513 cases since the signing of the 2016 agreement, leading to 71 trials and 75 sentences. The report adds that the fact that most cases remained unresolved underscores “the urgent need for enhanced investigative capabilities in the most affected regions”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to express concern about the effects of the pervasive violence on vulnerable populations, including women, children, and indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The Secretary-General’s report highlights that violence continued to disproportionately affect members of ethnic groups, including killings, kidnappings, and threats against traditional authorities and indigenous guards. Children belonging to these communities continue to bear the brunt of insecurity, as illustrated by the Secretary-General’s latest report on children and armed conflict in Colombia, which covers the period from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2023. That report says that the situation of indigenous children and children of African descent worsened during the reporting period, noting that these children accounted for 43 percent of all cases of grave violations against children in Colombia. (The six grave violations, as determined by the Security Council, are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; abductions; and the denial of humanitarian access.) The report notes that ethnic communities usually reside in areas with limited state authority and investment, in which armed groups often fight for control of revenues linked to drug production and trafficking as well as illegal mining. Recruitment of children remains a particular concern, with 347 such cases recorded across Colombia during the reporting period.

Many interlocutors that Council members met during their visiting mission expressed concern that violence persists despite the observance of bilateral ceasefires between the government and the guerrilla group 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). In this regard, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the verification mission underscores the importance of complementing the ceasefires with immediate protective measures for the benefit of communities. Several members are likely to echo this message at tomorrow’s meeting, while emphasising that deploying an integrated presence of state institutions and services is a key component in eradicating conflict drivers. They might also encourage swift implementation of mechanisms such as the public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups and criminal organisations, which was presented on 7 September 2023 by the National Commission on Security Guarantees, a body established by the 2016 agreement. (For more information on progress relating to dialogues with armed groups operating in the country, see the brief on Colombia in our April 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

Several Council members may commend the political will shown by the government and the approval of policies and programmes for the implementation of various aspects of the 2016 accord, while emphasising the need to move from planning to implementation, underscoring in this regard the importance of allocating adequate resources and enhancing inter-institutional coordination.

The transitional justice process in Colombia is another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. In recent months, Council members heard concerns about the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP)—the judicial component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition established by the 2016 agreement—from the government and signatories to the 2016 agreement. These include concerns about pending amnesties for former combatants and the SJP’s decision to prosecute middle-ranking and rank-and-file former guerrillas instead of only top commanders deemed to be the most responsible for crimes committed during the conflict. In addition, there are concerns about the amount of time it has taken for the SJP to begin handing down restorative sentences. The Secretary-General’s report notes in this regard that the first sentences are expected in 2024 and that the SJP aims to conclude its investigative phase in 2025.

Council members have also been alarmed by the pressures faced by members of the SJP in conducting their work, including challenges to their autonomy and security threats against magistrates as well as victims and those appearing before the court. In this regard, one victim accredited by the SJP and another individual awaiting accreditation were killed during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report. (To date, the SJP has accredited over 9,000 individual victims in the macro cases investigated by the court.)

These and other issues were apparently discussed during an informal meeting hosted by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland this morning (8 April) between Council experts and the SJP’s president, Judge Roberto Vidal. During that meeting, Vidal apparently apprised Council members of the SJP’s work in the past six years, while committing the SJP to conclude its investigative work within the ten-year timeframe allotted in the 2016 agreement. Among other issues, it seems that he elaborated on the rationale for expanding the scope of prosecution beyond top-ranking commanders, noting that the SJP’s investigations revealed that some regional commanders were also responsible for serious crimes. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to express support for the SJP’s work, while highlighting the need to address the concerns posed by signatories to the peace agreement. They are likely to encourage dialogue among the relevant Colombian actors to resolve such issues.

In preparation for tomorrow’s meeting, in-country diplomats of member states serving on the Security Council convened for an informal meeting to discuss the Secretary-General’s latest report with members of the Comunes party, which is comprised of former FARC-EP members, as well as government officials and representatives of the verification mission. At the meeting, which was convened on 4 April by the UK embassy in Bogotá, the Comunes representatives highlighted, among other issues, the need to uphold the architecture established by the peace agreement—including by utilising mechanisms such as the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement (CSIVI)—and to address issues relating to the reintegration of former combatants. In this regard, the Secretary-General’s report notes that the “housing deficit for former combatants remained one of the most significant challenges facing the government”, and that action by the Ministry of Housing is crucial to resolve this issue.

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