posted on Mon 17 Oct 2016 6:26 PM
Consultations on Colombia Following the Referendum

During consultations tomorrow afternoon, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in Colombia, Jean Arnault, will brief Council members. General Javier Perez Aquino, the mission’s chief observer, will also be present. This will be the first Council discussion on Colombia following the 2 October referendum, in which a narrow majority of 50.2 per cent of voters rejected the 24 August peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP).

The implications of the outcome of the referendum for the UN Mission in Colombia is expected to be the key focus of the discussions. The mission was authorised by the Council in two resolutions adopted this year. First, in resolution 2261 of 25 January, the Council decided to establish a political mission for a 12-month period as the international component and coordinator of the tripartite mechanism foreseen by the parties to monitor and verify the definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. It requested the Secretary-General to start preparations for the establishment of such a mission and to present detailed recommendations to the Council regarding the size and operational aspects of its mandate. On 13 September, the Council adopted resolution 2307 welcoming the 24 August final peace agreement and approving the recommendations presented by the Secretary-General in an 18 August report (S/2016/729) to deploy 450 unarmed observers and an appropriate civilian component in 40 locations. The peace agreement was formally presented to the Council on 21 September by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (S/PV.7773).

According to resolution 2261, the mandate of the UN mission commenced with the signing of the final peace agreement. Deployment of the mission was therefore already well under way prior to the referendum, but has now effectively been on hold in anticipation of further clarification from the parties about what role the mission is expected to play. A request in this regard was formally communicated to the Council last week, in a letter transmitting a joint communiqué from the Colombian government and FARC-EP.

The 7 October joint communiqué confirmed the parties’ commitment to the 24 August peace agreement and, with reference to the outcome of the referendum, stated their intention to engage in a consultative process and take into consideration proposals for adjustments and clarifications of the agreement. They reiterated their commitment to maintaining the bilateral and definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities decreed on 29 August and the monitoring and verification of the tripartite mechanism, noting that they had agreed on a protocol aimed at ensuring implementation of the ceasefire, and that the tripartite mechanism would be responsible for monitoring compliance with the protocol. Moreover, the communiqué requested the Secretary-General and the Security Council to authorise the mission to execute the relevant tasks set out in resolution 2261 and invited those countries contributing observers to the mission to continue with their deployment. On 13 October, Santos announced that the ceasefire would be maintained until the end of the year, following an earlier extension until 31 October.

In light of the request contained in the joint communiqué, Council members are likely to be interested in further details about the new ceasefire protocol and the role of UN Mission in this context. (It appears that some of the details of the protocol have not yet been agreed.) As originally envisaged, the mission’s mandate would involve not only monitoring of the ceasefire, but also verifying the laying down of arms by the FARC-EP and monitoring the redeployment of FARC-EP and army units to transitional zones. At this stage, however, the mandate will be limited to monitoring of the ceasefire, and Council members may therefore be keen to get a better understanding how this will impact the overall configuration and staffing of the mission. They may also have questions about the risk of an outbreak of violence and the capacity of the mission to respond. In a recent statement, Aquino said that UN observers remain in eight regions in Colombia as well as at the national headquarters in Bogotá, while the mission continues its preparations to coordinate the tripartite mechanism that will monitor and verify the bilateral ceasefire in response to the 7 October communiqué.

Council members will also be keen to hear Arnault’s overall assessment of the political situation and current efforts to salvage the peace agreement. In a 10 October press conference in Bogotá, referring to the outcome of the referendum, Arnault said that “Colombian society is responding with maturity”, noting in particular the opening of a structured dialogue with those opposing the peace agreement, the extension of the ceasefire, the implementation of confidence-building measures aimed at humanitarian relief and peace consolidation, as well as the “constructive attitude” of the opposition. He said there was strong support for the UN mission’s role during what he termed the “transition period” of the peace process, and that his message to UN headquarters was that the mission should be authorised to fully participate in the verification of new measures to comply with the ceasefire. The briefing tomorrow will provide an opportunity for Arnault to convey this message directly to Council members.

Council members also expect Arnault to be able to provide updated information on recent developments in the dialogue involving the government, FARC-EP and those opposing the peace process that was launched following the referendum. President Santos recently announced that his government is considering proposals from the opponents of the agreement and will discuss these with FARC leaders, who have said they are willing to consider new ideas. Led by former president Alvaro Uribe, those opposing the peace agreement believe it is too lenient towards the rebels and have said that rebels found to be guilty of crimes should have to serve prison time and be barred from public office. Arnault apparently met with FARC-EP and government representatives in Havana last week and will therefore be able to share his impressions of the current status of the talks. Council members may also be interested in Arnault’s assessment of the significance of the 11 October announcement by the Colombian government and the country’s second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army,that they had agreed to begin formal peace talks on 27 October in Ecuador.

Looking ahead, the briefing tomorrow is expected to be followed by a formal response to the request in the joint communiqué from the Colombian government and the FARC-EP on the role of the UN mission. At press time it was still unclear what form the response would take, but it seems that an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council would be one option. The discussions tomorrow will provide an opportunity for an initial discussion on the Council’s response.