posted on Tue 13 Oct 2020 7:03 PM
Colombia Briefing via Videoconference

Tomorrow afternoon (14 October), the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Colombia via videoconference. 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, which covers the period from 27 June to 25 September. Council members may also convene for closed consultations after the open briefing.

The Secretary-General’s latest report provides a mixed picture of 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). In addition to identifying challenges to the implementation of the 2016 agreement, the Secretary-General suggests ways in which the agreement can support Colombia’s efforts to recover from the economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report further contains recommendations on steps that can be taken in the remaining months of 2020 to facilitate progress on the three priorities outlined in the Secretary-General’s 26 March report: 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 ensuring the centrality of the needs of communities affected by violence in all peacebuilding efforts.

The security situation in Colombia is likely to feature prominently in tomorrow’s meeting. Violence against communities, including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and the killing of former FARC-EP members, human rights defenders, and social leaders, have continued unabated during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 90-day period covered in the Secretary-General’s latest report, the Verification Mission verified the killings of 18 former FARC-EP combatants, bringing the number of ex-combatants killed since the beginning of the year to 49. The report highlights the increased risks faced by former combatants residing outside of the former territorial areas for training and reintegration (TATRs), while noting that 30 percent of killings of ex-combatants in 2020 took place near new reintegration areas that are characterised by limited state presence.

Despite a decrease in national homicide rates in the first half of the year, the levels of violence in conflict-affected areas have remained high, according to the Secretary-General’s report. A spate of violent attacks during the months of August and September illustrated the precarious security trend in rural areas of Colombia, which feature weak state presence, high levels of poverty and the presence of illegal armed groups. Three massacres between 10 and 16 August in the Nariño and the Valle del Cauca departments claimed the lives of 15 people, most of whom were minors. In addition, a massacre on 20 September in the municipality of Buenos Aires in the Cauca department resulted in the death of six young people. As at 25 September, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had verified 42 incidents in which a high number of civilians were killed since the beginning of the year, with an additional 13 under investigation.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Ruiz Massieu may echo the Secretary-General’s call to implement measures aimed at protecting social leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC combatants. In this regard, he may note the importance of adequate resourcing for the National Protection Unit to address over 400 outstanding requests by ex-combatants for protection measures. In addition, Ruiz Massieu might repeat the call in the Secretary-General’s report for the National Commission on Security Guarantees, the body charged under the 2016 Peace Agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling criminal organisations and their support networks, to finalise this policy and advance towards implementing it in 2021. Civil society organisations and judicial institutions in Colombia have also called on the National Commission on Security Guarantees to make progress in devising such a policy, as well as to increase the frequency of its meetings. Colombian President Iván Duque convened a plenary session of the commission on 12 August and three regional sessions of the commission were held in the Nariño, Córdoba and Cauca departments during the reporting period.

On 30 July, in an unprecedented move, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 Peace Agreement, expressed alarm over the gravity of the security threats faced by former FARC-EP combatants and called on several state institutions, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace and the Office of the Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation, to implement mechanisms for the protection of ex-combatants contained in the 2016 agreement. Among other things, the SJP called for the National Commission on Security Guarantees to present guidelines and an action plan for the policy it has been tasked with developing by 30 September. As these have yet to be presented at the time of writing, Council members may be interested to hear from the briefer what progress has been made in this regard.

The need to facilitate the long-term sustainability of the reintegration process is another issue that is likely to be raised by Ruiz Massieu and several Council members. Ruiz Massieu may highlight the need to increase former combatants’ access to land, including for productive projects. In his report, the Secretary-General welcomed the fact that the government purchased a plot of land for the former TATR in the Icononzo municipality in the Tolima department in August and expressed hope that the authorities would purchase additional such spaces by the end of 2020. Ruiz Massieu may also emphasise the need for increased technical assistance for the productive projects of former combatants due to the halt in economic activity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In discussing the priority of supporting conflict-affected communities, Ruiz Massieu may underscore the need for a holistic approach which promotes the implementation of security mechanisms for communities, while also aiming to address underlying drivers of violence such as the lack of lawful economic opportunities. In this regard, he may call for further progress in comprehensive rural reform, including development programmes with a territorial focus (PDET), and in the National Comprehensive Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops. Ruiz Massieu may further note that conflict-affected rural areas have been especially hard hit by the economic, security and social ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. He may therefore emphasise that the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement can assist in recovery by increasing economic opportunities and state presence in these areas.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern over the high levels of violence in the country. Some members may also call on all armed groups in the country to cease hostilities to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with Security Council resolution 2532. Several Council members, such as Belgium and Germany, may highlight the need for effective child protection measures, especially due to the increased risks of recruitment and use of children by illegal armed groups during the quarantine. The 20th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security may also be referenced in the context of highlighting the need to increase women’s participation in decision-making processes and economic reintegration initiatives in Colombia. Some members may note the importance of addressing risks to women social leaders, including through greater implementation of the action plan of the Comprehensive Programme of Safeguards for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders.

Council members may express their support for the three components of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition: the SJP, the Truth Commission, and the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing. On 30 September, three former FARC commanders sent a letter to the SJP in which they claimed responsibility for six murders that took place between 1987 and 2002, including the murder of politician Alvaro Gomez Hurtado in 1995. In addition, on 14 September members of the former FARC-EP secretariat issued a public apology for kidnappings they have carried out during the conflict and asked for forgiveness from the victims and their families. Some Council members may refer to these developments and call for additional such steps to promote transitional justice in Colombia.

On 25 September, the Security Council adopted resolution 2545, which extended the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia for another year. The resolution did not make changes to the core mandate of the mission that was set out in the 2016 agreement. The resolution recalled that the 2016 agreement envisaged a role for the Verification Mission in monitoring compliance with the sentences handed down by the SJP. The resolution expresses the Council’s readiness to consider, in a timely manner, adding this task to the mandate of the Verification Mission, based on the conclusion of an inter-institutional consultation process coordinated by the Colombian government on the matter.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the representative of Colombia, Minister for Foreign Affairs Claudia Blum de Barberi, may update Council members on the progress of the inter-institutional consultations with the SJP and the Verification Mission. Some Council members, including the EU members of the Council, may express the hope that the internal deliberations on modalities of a possible mandate expansion of the Verification Mission be concluded as soon as possible to provide the mission sufficient time to prepare for undertaking a new role before the SJP begins handing down sentences. The SJP is reportedly expected to begin handing down sentences in the latter part of 2021.