posted on Mon 13 Jul 2020 4:50 PM
Colombia Briefing

Tomorrow morning (14 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Colombia. Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu is expected to brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission. The Council will also be briefed by Clemencia Carabalí Rodallega, a representative of the Municipal Association of Women (ASOM) in the north of the Cauca department. Council members may also convene for closed consultations after the open briefings. The meeting on Colombia, as well as the preceding adoptions of two resolutions (one renewing the mandate of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement and another on youth, peace and security) are expected to take place in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) chamber, making tomorrow’s morning session the first time Council members will meet in person since 12 March. However, the briefers and the representative of Colombia, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia Claudia Blum de Barberi, will make their interventions via videoconference from Colombia due to travel restrictions.

A key focus of the meeting is likely to be the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the overall 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 guerrilla organisation Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). Council members will also be interested in hearing from Ruiz Massieu on how the lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus have affected the Verification Mission’s ability to monitor the implementation of the two sections of the agreement relating to the reintegration of former combatants and the security guarantees for former combatants, social leaders and communities. As of 12 July, Colombia had 150,445 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and had reported 5,307 fatalities from the virus, with national lockdown measures currently extended until 1 August.

The security situation in Colombia is likely to feature prominently in the discussion, as Council members may raise concerns regarding continuing violence against former combatants, human rights defenders, social leaders, and indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other communities. The Secretary-General stated in his 26 June report that since lockdown measures were instituted in Colombia on 24 March, the targeting of these groups, which was already high before the pandemic, has continued unabated. According to the Secretary-General, this trend underlines the “urgency of immediate and concrete measures to address this issue”.

The Secretary-General’s report illustrates the continuously high security concerns, especially in areas with weak state presence such as the Cauca, Meta, Putumayo, Chocó, Nariño, and Antioquia departments. Illegal armed groups have been taking advantage of the lockdown measures to strengthen their control over strategic illicit trafficking routes, including through attacks against security forces, increased threats against ex-combatants and social leaders, and the forced displacement of communities. At the same time, the quarantine has also made it more difficult for vulnerable communities to report security issues and to access governmental response mechanisms. The Verification Mission recorded the killings of 13 former combatants during the reporting period, bringing to over 200 the number of former combatants killed since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement. As of 19 June, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had verified the killing of 32 social leaders since the beginning of the year, with 47 additional cases currently under investigation.

The precarious security situation in some former territorial areas for training and reintegration (TATRs) and threats against former combatants have led to their relocation, including in the Antioquia and Cauca departments. Council members may underline the need to prevent these relocations heightening the insecurity of local communities that remain in these areas, due to a reduction in state presence.

Clemencia Carabalí Rodallega, who is a defender of ethnic and territorial rights and a survivor of an attack on social leaders by illegal armed groups, is likely to express her views on actions that need to be taken by the Colombian government and the international community to help address the grave security risks posed to social leaders. Members of the Security Council met Rodallega at the Cauca department during the Council’s July 2019 visiting mission to Colombia. Cauca continues to record the highest levels of violence against social leaders; since the institution of lockdown measures, there have been five massacres, several killings of social leaders and their families and the killing of women and children from the area. This has occurred despite a doubling of the security forces in Cauca since the beginning of the year.

Rodallega may highlight the heightened threats faced by female social leaders, as well as indigenous women and girls, while emphasising the urgent need to implement government programmes such as the Comprehensive Programme of Safeguards for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders. According to the Secretary-General’s report, since the beginning of the quarantine, there has been a marked increase in sexual and gender-based violence: the reporting period saw a 150 percent increase in reports of domestic violence to the country’s national hotline. The report warns that “women continue to be at risk of sexual violence by illegal armed groups and criminal organizations, particularly in rural areas”. The briefers may also note the 25 June arrest of seven soldiers from the Colombian armed forces charged with the rape of a 13-year-old indigenous girl from the department of Risaralda, while highlighting the need to combat sexual abuse in the country.

In expressing concern about the continuing violence against ex-combatants, social leaders and vulnerable communities, Council members may call for the implementation of programmes stipulated in the 2016 peace agreement for security guarantees for these groups. In this regard, they may reiterate their calls for the regular convening of the National Commission on Security Guarantees, the body charged under the peace agreement with developing a public policy on the dismantling of criminal organisations and their support networks. The commission was last convened by President Iván Duque on 9 January. Some Council members, such as Belgium and Germany, may highlight the need for effective protection of children, especially due to the increased risks of recruitment and use of children by illegal armed groups during the quarantine.

Some Council members may also call on all armed groups in the country to cease hostilities, referring to Security Council resolution 2532 which was adopted on 1 July and called on parties to conflict to adopt a 90-day ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ruiz Massieu issued a statement welcoming this resolution and calling on armed groups to cease hostilities, while noting that the one-month uniliteral ceasefire observed by the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) during April led to reduced violence in some areas of the country and helped ease conditions for several conflict-affected populations. On 7 July, the ELN cited resolution 2532 in a statement that called on the Duque government to participate in a 90-day bilateral ceasefire. A subsequent tweet by president Duque, widely perceived as rejecting the ELN’s proposal, reiterated the government’s longstanding position that the release of all hostages and the end of kidnappings and attacks by the ELN are preconditions for engagement with the group.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Ruiz Massieu is likely to discuss the three priorities outlined in the Secretary-General’s 26 March report for the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement: protecting social leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC combatants; guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the reintegration process of former FARC-EP combatants; and placing the needs of communities affected by violence at the centre of all peacebuilding efforts. He is also expected to outline steps that need to be taken if these processes are not to be hindered because of the pandemic. In this regard, he may emphasise the effects of the halt in economic activity on the productive projects of former combatants, while calling for more support to these projects and for greater progress in allocating land to former combatants.

The mandate of the Verification Mission, which was last renewed in resolution 2487 of 12 September 2019, is set to expire on 25 September. As tomorrow’s meeting will be the last Council meeting ahead of the mandate’s expiry, Council members are likely to express their support for the work of the mission and the representative of Colombia may present her government’s positions on the mandate renewal. The Verification Mission was established in accordance with the 2016 peace agreement, which stipulated an initial three-year duration for the mission, “renewable if necessary”. While that initial period will end in September, President Duque has already expressed his wish for the mission to continue through his term in office, which ends in 2022.

Another issue that may come up during tomorrow’s meeting is the Colombian government’s request that the mission’s mandate be expanded to include monitoring the implementation of sanctions imposed by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 peace agreement. The peace agreement tasks the SJP to issue sanctions against those who acknowledge responsibility for crimes committed during the conflict, which can include up to eight years of confinement to one municipality to carry out work and activities that count as reparations for victims.

The government’s request to expand the Verification Mission’s mandate was made following a letter sent by the president of the SJP: noting that the SJP is soon set to start issuing sentences, the president’s letter requested that the Verification Mission be granted the task of monitoring the sanctions contained in the sentences. Members of the FARC political party have also indicated their support for the mission taking on this additional task.

While the 2016 agreement stipulated that the SJP will have the support of an international mechanism, to be part of the UN political mission, there have not been requests to include this aspect of the agreement in the mandate of the Verification Mission thus far, because the SJP has not issued any sanctions as of yet.