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Expected Council Action  

In September, the Council is expected to discuss recommendations and adopt a resolution on the size, operational aspects and mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, which is set to start its activities on 26 September.

The mandate of the current UN Mission in Colombia expires on 25 September 2017, and the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia expires on 26 September 2018.

Key Recent Developments  

On 10 July, the Security Council adopted resolution 2366, which established the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, a successor mission to the current UN Mission in Colombia. The request for a successor political mission was incorporated into the November 2016 “Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace” between the government of Colombia and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), under item 6.3.3. While the agreement specified that the mission be authorised by the UN General Assembly, the parties decided to make their request to the Security Council, as they did with the first political mission. A 5 June letter to the Council and the Secretary-General from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón conveyed the request of the parties to establish the Verification Mission and outlined the elements of the new mandate envisioned in accordance with the agreement.

The Verification Mission is expected to verify implementation of several elements of the agreement at the national, regional and local levels. These include political, economic and social reincorporation of the FARC-EP; personal and collective security guarantees; and comprehensive programmes on security and protection measures for communities and organisations in conflict-affected areas. The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to initiate preparations, including on the ground, and to present detailed recommendations to the Security Council for its consideration and approval regarding the size, operational aspects and mandate of the mission.

The resolution calls on the UN Mission in Colombia to start “provisional work anticipated by the Verification Mission…within its current configuration and capacity” up until the time its mandate ends. This is in keeping with the 23 June Secretary-General’s report, which recommended that the verification tasks be moved forward to coincide with the start of the reintegration process. On 1 August, the 26 zones and points for normalisation in the country became “territorial spaces for training and reintegration”.

A ceremony marking the completion of the laying down of individual weapons took place on 27 June. On 30 June, Jean Arnault, the Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in Colombia, briefed the Council on the final stages of the implementation of the mission’s mandate. Most of the weapons and explosives stored in 949 caches throughout the country were expected to be extracted and destroyed by 1 September. As of 15 August, this had happened with 510 caches. According to a joint communiqué agreed to by the parties on 29 May, the responsibility to dismantle the remaining caches will be with the government of Colombia as of 1 September, with the support of FARC-EP members. On 15 August, the mission finished extracting containers with armaments and scrap ammunition that were stored in 26 zones.

As a result of the new tasks in its mandate, the mission expressed its concerns on 13 July over the continuing imprisonment of FARC-EP members despite the adoption by Congress of amnesty law 1820 on 31 December 2016 and different governmental decrees to speed up the process to reintegrate them into civilian life. (The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the amnesty law.) It also raised concerns about the vulnerability of FARC-EP members outside the 26 zones, as shown by recurring physical attacks against them and their families.

Challenges to the implementation of the agreement continue. Some of the supporters of the “no” vote in the October 2016 plebiscite have continued to criticise the agreement despite the changes made to it after the vote. This is particularly relevant given the legislative and presidential elections upcoming in 2018.

Non-state armed actors, including paramilitary groups, have taken control of some of the areas vacated by the FARC-EP. The security environment also constitutes a challenge for the UN. On 6 August, a UN team along with national police and FARC-EP members who were deployed to extract and destroy material from a cache were attacked in El Cauca. A member of the national police was wounded as a result of the attack. A UN official who had been kidnapped on 3 May in Guaviare by a group of FARC-EP dissidents was released on 5 July.

Over the last six months, the parties have emphasised their different priorities in implementing the agreement. While FARC-EP representatives urged progress on physical protection for their members as well as guarantees of their socioeconomic and political reintegration, the government emphasised the importance of delivering on the commitment to lay down weapons and abide by the established timelines. Now that the laying down of individual weapons has been completed, the FARC-EP has criticised delays in the reintegration process. On 24 July, the FARC-EP announced that it would launch a political party on 1 September.

Key Issues and Options 

The Council was planning to receive by the end of August the recommendations of the Secretary-General regarding the Verification Mission’s functions, size, structure and operational aspects and is expected to adopt a resolution approving them. While some civil society members who met with the Council in Colombia argued for the inclusion of elements such as the verification of human rights-related measures, no Council member has so far proposed to add a mandated task that goes beyond item 6.3.3. of the agreement. Depending on how the Secretary-General reconciles what “the market can bear” financially and the requirements on the ground, some Council members are likely to prioritise budgetary restraint when negotiating the resolution.  

During their visiting mission in May, Council members emphasised the importance of securing the gains made as part of the peace process and ensuring their irreversibility, particularly in the context of a polarised political environment.

In a context in which key governmental demands have been met as part of the process to lay down weapons, it is important to ensure that the agreement is fully implemented. Hence the role of the Council might become more relevant in the next period. The upcoming elections are likely to make it difficult for the government to proactively address issues related to the reintegration and protection of FARC-EP members. In that context, the role of the Council, through its oversight of the Verification Mission, is expected to provide guarantees that the agreement will be implemented in full.

An important issue for the Council is the volatile security situation in some areas and the high level of impunity for violence against community leaders and human rights defenders in rural areas, often related to the presence of non-state armed groups in the territories vacated by the FARC-EP.

Given that the mandates of the two missions in Colombia were sequenced and prioritised responding to the needs on the ground and to the timing agreed to by the parties, the Council could ask the Secretariat to draw lessons learned from the integrated planning process in order to incorporate them into the Council’s mandating practices.

Council and Wider Dynamics 

Given the priority that some Council members attach to budgetary issues, these are expected to feature prominently in the negotiations of the resolution. Part of the mandate of the UN Mission in Colombia, particularly the tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, was funded through a cost-sharing agreement with the Colombian government that is not envisaged for the second mission. Also, the need for fewer military observers and more civilian personnel and the geographic scope of the mission are also expected to drive up the costs compared with the first mission.

The two-step mandating process for the Verification Mission is consistent with the recommendations of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. It is also consistent with what the Council did when it adopted resolution 2261 of 25 January 2016, which established the UN Mission in Colombia and requested the Secretary-General to present detailed recommendations regarding the size, operational aspects and mandate of the mission.

The UK is the penholder on Colombia.

UN DOCUMENTS ON COLOMBIA

Security Council Resolutions
10 July 2017 S/RES/2366 This was the resolution establishing the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, a successor mission to the UN Mission in Colombia.
13 September 2016 S/RES/2307 This was a resolution approving the Secretary-General’s recommendations on the size, operational aspects and mandate of the UN Mission in Colombia.
25 January 2016 S/RES/2261 This was a resolution establishing a political mission to monitor and verify the laying down of arms and the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP.
Security Council Presidential Statement
11 May 2017 S/PRST/2017/6 This was a presidential statement following the Council’s visiting mission to Colombia.
Secretary-General's Report
23 June 2017 S/2017/539 This was the last report on Colombia.
Security Council Letter
7 June 2017 S/2017/481 This attached a letter by President Santos regarding the second special political mission.

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