posted on Fri 5 May 2017 8:40 AM
Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Meetings in Bogotá, Colombia

BOGOTÁ. On Thursday (4 May) Council members, who landed in Colombia the night before, had a busy day in Bogotá, which included meetings with President Juan Manuel Santos and his cabinet, members of Congress, representatives of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), and members of civil society.

The Council’s arrival coincided with an announcement by the FARC-EP of the commitment to lay down an additional 500 weapons by 5 May. This announcement was welcomed by the UN Mission in Colombia, which stated that the Mission will as a result have received and stored in its containers 1,000 weapons from FARC-EP combatants, engaged in tasks related to the implementation of the peace agreement. (These tasks include participation in the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism of the ceasefire, training for security functions, crop substitution, humanitarian demining and peace education).

In their public and private interactions, Council members, who are led in this visiting mission by the UK and Uruguay, stressed their support for the peace agreement and encouraged the parties to maintain their cooperation and momentum in implementing it. Council members repeatedly emphasised the positive example that the Colombian peace process provides to countries around the world and indicated that challenges it faces are common to the implementation of any peace agreement.

After meeting Council members, President Juan Manuel Santos publicly thanked the Council for its help in verifying the ceasefire and highlighted the absence of ceasefire-related violence. In addressing the press, Ambassador Elbio Rosselli (Uruguay) underscored that peace processes are never linear, and even if they often face difficulties and setbacks, what matters is to maintain the effort. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft (UK) encouraged Colombians to seize this once in a lifetime opportunity by making sure that all parties fulfill their commitments.

In their meetings with government interlocutors, who included Vice-President Óscar Naranjo and several cabinet ministers in addition to President Santos, Council members were able to learn about the governmental initiatives to implement the agreement, both through presidential decrees and the fast-track legislative procedures in Congress. Council members commended President Santos and the other members of the cabinet for the courage demonstrated throughout the negotiation of the peace agreement and its implementation to date.

While engaging with members of Congress, Council members reiterated that, despite the upcoming legislative and presidential elections in 2018, progress in the implementation of the agreement should continue. Even though members of Congress expressed a variety of views regarding the agreement and highlighted different priority areas for its implementation, the large majority supported the agreement and the social transformation that it implied. Senator Claudia López posited two contrasting views of the agreement in Colombia: one that sees it as “peace as transformation” and another as “peace as surrender and military victory”. Senator Alfredo Rangel of Centro Democrático, an opposition party that supported the ‘No’ vote in the October 2016 plebiscite, expressed his party’s intention to adjust some provisions of the agreement that they consider uphold impunity for the FARC-EP. At that meeting, several Council members emphasised the importance of securing the gains made as part of the peace process and of ensuring their irreversibility.

In a meeting which was most emblematic of the peace process, Council members engaged with the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification Commission (CSIVI), which consists of representatives of the former warring parties: three from the government and three from the FARC-EP. Council members heard from the parties of the challenges of implementing the agreement, particularly regarding the short timeframe for completing the laying down of weapons; according to the agreement, this should be finished by 1 June.

FARC-EP representatives urged progress on legal and security protections for the guerrillas as well as guarantees of their socioeconomic reintegration, ahead of the deadline for the laying down of weapons. Some FARC-EP members are particularly concerned about their physical security and have requested the investigation of alleged crimes by paramilitary groups, partly as a result of a recent trend of assassinations of guerrilla members and their families. This worrying phenomenon is not new. After a failed ceasefire in the mid-1980s, thousands of members of the Unión Patriótica, a political party formed by the FARC-EP, were killed by paramilitary groups. As the FARC-EP advance towards the laying down of weapons, this historical precedent continues to shape their fears and was mentioned several times during the meetings with Council members.

Government representatives emphasised the importance of meeting the 1 June deadline and described the government’s efforts to address some of the priorities of the FARC-EP. In particular, they explained how the division of power between the executive and the judiciary branches account for some of the delays in the implementation of the amnesty law.

Council members also held a meeting with representatives of civil society and non-governmental organisations. One of the key issues raised at the meeting was the increased assassinations of community leaders and human rights defenders in rural areas. The absence of state authority in the areas vacated by the FARC-EP is being taken advantage of by FARC-EP dissidents; the Ejército de Liberación Nacional guerrilla movement; successors of former paramilitary groups; and other groups linked to organised crime (mostly drug trafficking and illegal mining). Council members were also briefed on the conflict’s disproportionate impact on women and the need to ensure that women’s rights are considered a central part to the implementation process.

Throughout the day, Council members had several interactive discussions with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission in Colombia, Jean Arnault, and other senior Mission staff, including the Chief Observer, Major General Javier Pérez Aquino. During these discussions, they were briefed on the procedures for the laying down of weapons and the complex operation to tackle hard-to-reach FARC-EP caches, which involves the destruction of unsafe material as well as the extraction, registration and storage of any arms found in them. Council members also met with the agencies, funds and programmes of the UN Country Team.

One of the issues that came up in several meetings was the sequencing and mandating for a second UN mission in Colombia. In the agreement, and at the request of the FARC-EP, the parties asked the UN to deploy a second, follow-on political mission with a mandate to verify the reintegration of ex-combatants and their protection, including from paramilitary groups. According to the agreement, this mission, which would be deployed after the current mandate ends, would have a duration of three years. Several members of Congress raised the importance of starting the planning now for the second mission in order to avoid any gaps in between the two mandates. This sentiment of urgency was also echoed by the representatives of the FARC-EP. Civil society members suggested that the successor mission should deploy a strong field presence throughout Colombia and be given a mandate to monitor commitments in the agreement such as human rights and women’s participation. Even though the agreement specifies (point 6.3.3.) that the mission is to be authorised by the UN General Assembly, the parties may decide to go through the Security Council, as they did with the first mission.

Today, the Council members will be visiting the Transitional Local Zone for Normalization of “La Reforma” in the Department of Meta, where they will get a field perspective regarding the procedures for laying down weapons and engage with key actors in this process, including local communities.