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Colombia: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (10 January), the Security Council will receive a briefing on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia and the situation in the country from Special Representative Jean Arnault. The briefing will be followed by consultations. The discussion will largely focus on the Secretary-General’s first 90-day report (S/2017/1117) on the mission, which was released in late December 2017.

Council members are unified in their support for the work of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia and for the peace process in the country. Some members view engagement in Colombia as a rare bright spot for the Council, which has struggled to play an effective role on several other agenda items in recent years. However, members realise that the challenges of implementing the peace agreement are significant and success cannot be taken for granted.

One of the main issues that will be discussed is the reintegration of the former fighters of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). According to the Secretary-General’s report, there has been some progress in this direction. Former fighters have opened banks accounts and received reintegration allowances and stipends that have been used to initiate farming projects. Some 2,800 former FARC-EP members have been released from custody, and the government is reviewing the cases of 454 others. The FARC was registered as a legal political party on 31 October 2017, and it is fielding candidates in Colombia’s parliamentary and presidential elections this year. In spite of these efforts, concerns have been raised about the lack of an overarching national strategy for reintegration. For example, during a press conference near the end of his 13 to 15 November 2017 visit to Colombia, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman expressed concern “at the lack of an overall strategy for reintegration matched by concrete plans and resources to enable its success”. This is an issue that may be raised by some Council members, especially considering that verifying reincorporation of the FARC-EP is a key task of the UN Verification Mission’s mandate.

Another major topic of discussion will be security in areas that were formally occupied by FARC-EP fighters. The Secretary-General has reported “an increase in homicides in 11 areas from nine departments located in former conflict zones particularly affected by illegal economies”. The violence has included killings of human rights activists, social leaders, and former FARC-EP leaders and their family members. Council members will most likely express their concern about this violence. They may further be interested in learning more about Plan Horus, the government’s revised plan to enhance security in critical areas.

The temporary, bilateral ceasefire between the government and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) rebel group will be another topic discussed in the meeting. Representatives of the government and the ELN reconvened in Quito yesterday (8 January) to negotiate a possible renewal of this ceasefire, which expired today. The UN Verification Mission in Colombia was mandated in resolution 2381 of 5 October 2017 to participate in and coordinate the work of the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire, but this aspect of the mission’s mandate expired today as well, as the parties have yet to renew their agreement. Assuming that the parties renew the ceasefire, the Council will most likely renew this aspect of the mission’s mandate at a later date. In the interim, there may be discussion of the pace of withdrawal of the 70 additional international observers that the Council mandated to monitor and verify the temporary ceasefire. Some members may advocate a slower (or delayed) withdrawal schedule, given the possibility that the ceasefire will be renewed by the government and the ELN in the coming weeks, thus paving the way for the Verification Mission to again take up its tasks as outlined in resolution 2381.

A further matter that may be raised in the meeting is transitional justice in Colombia, given its impact in the reintegration of former combatants. According to the Secretary-General’s report, some human rights advocates have expressed concern that legislation has been adopted which excludes magistrates who have defended those involved in the conflict in the past five years from participating in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), a provision that is currently being reviewed by Colombia’s Constitutional Court. Another concern that has been raised by some FARC-EP members is that the Court has upheld legislation that allows the right of appeal to the regular justice system of decisions made by the SJP. Members may be interested in Arnault’s assessment of these legislative and judicial developments and what effect they may have on the implementation of the peace agreement.

Council members are likely to emphasise the progress that has been made toward peace in Colombia, and to commend the government and the FARC-EP for working toward this end. Furthermore, some members may further encourage the government and the ELN to redouble their efforts to work toward a renewal of their bilateral ceasefire. The pace of implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the FARC-EP is especially relevant considering the fluid political environment in Colombia. The agreement has been controversial, and it is unclear how the results of upcoming elections for parliament (March 2018) and the presidency (first round in May 2018, possible second round in June 2018) will impact the government’s commitment to the peace agreement.