posted on Thu 24 Sep 2020 7:18 PM
Colombia Verification Mission Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow morning (25 September), the Security Council is set to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia until 25 September 2021. The Council is expected to vote on the draft resolution in person at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) chamber.

The draft text in blue renews the mandate of the Verification Mission for a period of one year.  It does so without making any changes to the core mandate of the mission that was set out in 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). The mission’s mandate focuses on verifying aspects of the agreement related to the political, economic and social reincorporation of the former FARC-EP combatants, and personal and collective security guarantees which include comprehensive programmes of security and protection measures for communities and organisations in conflict-affected areas.

Since the Verification Mission’s establishment in 2017, its mandate has been renewed annually through “technical rollovers” that contained only minor changes to the text of the resolution. However, the draft resolution set to be adopted tomorrow includes new language in its operative part expressing the Council’s readiness to consider the expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate to include monitoring of the sentences of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 Peace Agreement. In accordance with the Peace Agreement, the SJP has the authority to issue sentences 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. Those who refuse to acknowledge responsibility for crimes will be subject to the Colombian penal code and may face imprisonment of up to 20 years.

The provision in the draft text addressing the possible expansion of the mission’s mandate was added following indications of a wish from the Colombian authorities for the Verification Mission to assume a role in verifying compliance with the sentences of the SJP. In June, a public exchange of letters between the president of the SJP and the government of Colombia, as well as statements by members of the FARC political party, indicated their aspiration for the Verification Mission to undertake 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 had been no request to include this aspect of the agreement in the Verification Mission’s mandate before June 2020, as the SJP had yet to begin issuing sentences.

Although it has not started adjudicating on cases under its authority, the SJP has been conducting preparatory work, including the identification of seven cases it deems representative of the armed conflict in Colombia (these cover, among other things, kidnappings by the former FARC-EP, extrajudicial killings by agents of the state, and recruitment and use of children); collection of information; and the hearing of testimonies from defendants. In April, the SJP issued guidelines on the sentences and the tasks it will impose on those under its jurisdiction, and it is expected to begin handing down sentences in the latter part of 2021.

Council members are generally supportive of the Verification Mission undertaking the additional task of monitoring compliance with the SJP sentences. During the latest quarterly meeting on Colombia, held on 14 July, several Council members, including Belgium, the Dominican Republic, France, and the UK, expressed their support for the mission undertaking this role. In addition, in a 16 July press statement Council members “took note with interest” of the request by the parties for the mission to assume a role in verifying compliance with SJP sanctions. At the 14 July Council meeting, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, Claudia Blum de Barberi, noted in her statement that the Colombian government had “initiated an inter-institutional coordination process in close cooperation with the Verification Mission” to discuss the modalities of the mission’s role in monitoring compliance with the SJP sentences.

It appears that the draft text in blue does not expand the mandate of the Verification Mission to include monitoring compliance with the SJP sentences, only indicating the Council’s readiness to do so in the future, because the Colombian authorities requested more time to conduct further consultations on the matter. Colombian President Iván Duque in a 1 September letter to the Council and the Secretary-General conveyed the request of the Colombian government and the FARC party for the mission’s mandate to be renewed for another year, without requesting any expansion of the mandate. It seems that consultations on the matter are still ongoing between the government, the SJP and the Verification Mission. The draft text in blue therefore indicates the Council’s readiness to consider the addition of the task to the mission’s mandate based on the outcome of the inter-institutional consultations coordinated by the government.

Negotiations on the draft text in blue were smooth overall. The penholder on Colombia, the UK, presented a first draft of the text on 16 September. After two rounds of comments from Council members, the text was put under silence on 22 September. The silence was not broken, and the draft was put in blue the following day (23 September).

It appears that the EU members of the Council (Belgium, Estonia, France, and Germany) requested language demonstrating that the Council should consider the expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate as soon as possible. It seems these members felt the need to emphasise that inter-institutional consultations of the Colombian authorities should conclude within a certain timeframe to allow the mission sufficient time to prepare for undertaking a new role before the SJP begins handing down sentences. It appears that two members of the Council expressed concern that such language may be conceived as rushing the Colombian authorities and therefore the text in blue calls for the consideration of the expansion of the Verification Mission’s mandate in “a timely manner”.

In addition, it appears that a discussion arose among Council members around a request of the EU members of the Council to include a reference to the ongoing violence in Colombia in the preambular part of the draft text. Apparently, these members suggested that the draft resolution should stress the need to address the attacks against former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders and social leaders and to pursue accountability for such actions. Although Council members are generally united in their concern over the persistent levels of violence in Colombia, it appears that several members, including China, preferred not to have additional changes to the draft text. These members expressed the view that wider issues related to the implementation of the Peace Agreement should be addressed in the press statements which are regularly adopted by the Council following the quarterly meetings on Colombia. However, many Council members felt that this issue should be addressed in the draft resolution due to the past year’s high levels of violence. Between August and September alone, four massacres claimed the lives of 21 people. The draft text in blue includes a general reference to the need to address violence in conflict-affected areas, without specifying the groups which are targeted or the need for accountability, as an apparent compromise.