UN Mission report on Colombian peace process, December 2019

In its latest quarterly report on Colombia’s peace process, covering the period 27 September to 26 December 2019, the United Nations Verification Mission has said that violence against social activists and FARC former combatants constitutes a serious risk to the future of peace in Colombia. Despite the signing of the agreement between the Colombian state and the FARC a little over three years ago, the country continues to see alarmingly high levels of human rights violations, particularly in regions affected by state abandonment and conflict. Several armed groups are active in these regions and the state response to the crisis has been insufficient.

The report by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said violence is concentrated in ‘rural areas affected by a limited State presence and persistent poverty, and where illegal armed groups and criminal structures continue victimizing populations, especially ethnic communities, to control illicit economies.’

Here is an overview of the report’s key points.

Reintegration of FARC former combatants

There are many unresolved issues around the reincorporation of FARC former combatants. Around 70 per cent of FARC members accredited by the authorities (9,225 people) are living outside of the 24 designated transitional zones and face difficulty accessing essential services. There has been insufficient land provided for productive projects for former combatants, which has impeded the reincorporation process. Of 47 approved productive projects, 77 per cent are on rented land, which affects their sustainability. Only 18 per cent of former combatants have received financial support for productive projects. More than 5,000 FARC former combatants are enrolled on educational programmes and 3,475 on vocational training programmes. However, there remains limited access for former combatants to access educational opportunities in some isolated regions such as Chocó. There is a lack of clarification over the long-term status of the transitional zones, raising further concerns over the future of former combatants.

Government and congress

In a statement to mark the third anniversary of the peace agreement’s signing, the Presidential Counsellor for Stabilisation and Consolidation, Emilio Archila, said the government was committed to full implementation. Congress approved the use of hydrocarbon royalties for investment in conflict-affected regions. Opposition parties and civil organisations said this was still inadequate. Congress also rejected two proposed reforms to the peace agreement’s JEP truth and justice mechanism.

National Strike

Since 21 November 2019, Colombia has witnessed major mobilisations of diverse social groups, including student movements, trade unions and ethnic organisations. Core National Strike demands include withdrawal of tax reforms and pension reforms, full implementation of the peace agreement and an end to violence against social activists and FARC former guerrillas. Although mainly peaceful, some mobilisations have resulted in violence between security forces and protesters, with at least one death in Bogota and two in Valle del Cauca. The UN has called for dialogue to resolve the dispute and for all sides to refrain from violence. President Duque has opened talks with different sectors on issues such as growth, transparency, the environment, peace and education. Opposition parties, social movements and trade unions have asked the government to negotiate directly with each sector to engage with their specific concerns. In addition, they have proposed that restarting peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla movement should also be on the agenda.

October 2019 elections

In October, Colombia staged its first municipal and regional elections since the signing of the agreement, with an increase of 13 per cent more polling stations than in the previous elections in 2015. Overall, pro-peace candidates performed strongly and large cities such as Bogota and Medellin elected pro-peace mayors. There were a series of defeats for right-wing candidates affiliated to the governing Democratic Centre party. Two former FARC guerrillas now representing other parties were elected as mayors. However, the electoral campaign was marked by violence that saw at least seven candidates murdered.

Security of FARC former combatants

173 FARC members were murdered between the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016 and the end of 2019. In October, a FARC former combatant, Alexander Parra, was murdered inside a transitional zone for the first time, raising fresh concerns over security risks. Worrying levels of impunity affect cases of murders of FARC members, with only 21 convictions and 13 ongoing trials up to the end of December 2019. Out of 67 arrested suspects, only nine are the intellectual authors. The UN has emphasised the importance of implementing security measures in new settlements outside the designated transitional zones. A lack of funding has meant that security details for FARC members are insufficient and do not match what was stipulated in the peace agreement.

Security of social activists and community leaders

High levels of violence are impacting communities in a number of regions. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has registered 303 murders of human rights defenders and social leaders since the peace agreement was signed, with 86 cases in 2019 (including 12 women victims). The police report investigative advances in 39 per cent of cases from 2019. Indigenous and African-Colombian communities in the regions of Chocó and Cauca are the worst affected and their communities have suffered killings, displacement, confinement and threats. Armed groups are believed responsible for much of the violence but the National Commission on Security Guarantees, which is responsible for dismantling criminal groups, met only twice during the entire year. The institutional response has been insufficient.

Rural reform

The peace agreement’s first point focuses on comprehensive development of specific rural regions to improve infrastructure, services and conditions, as well as to mitigate the causes of conflict. The government says that 780 works have been implemented from a planned total of 1,207, with 315 underway and 112 pending. Civil society organisations have said that consultations with local communities should continue throughout the development period.

Illicit crop substitution

The peace agreement addresses drugs production as a major generator of conflict and provides support for communities to transition from coca farming to traditional and legal crops. Almost 100,000 families have enrolled on voluntary crop substitution programmes in which they coordinate removal of coca and other illicit crops. According to the UN, 95 per cent of families have complied with the programmes. There are concerns over delays in establishing economic alternatives and investment for communities which depend on coca production.

Truth, justice and reconciliation

The JEP truth and justice tribunal is investigating seven cases, including state extrajudicial killings, the ‘political genocide’ of the left-wing Patriotic Union party and human rights violations in specific regions. Military personnel and FARC members have provided testimony. The JEP has accredited more than 60,000 conflict victims, while also designating ethnic communities as collective victims for the first time. The JEP extended the deadline to receive reports of human rights violations committed during the conflict. The Truth Commission has conducted more than 7,500 interviews with conflict victims to date.

National Liberation Army (ELN)

The ELN remains active in various regions where it continues to engage in confrontation with security forces and other armed groups. Communities in these regions, as well as the Catholic Church, have called for peace talks to resume. The government has refused to enter negotiations unless the ELN complies with certain conditions.

The next UN Mission report is due in late-March 2020.