The most critical issue facing Colombia’s peace process is ongoing high levels of violence against human rights defenders, community leaders and social activists in the country, according to the latest report by the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.
In the report, which covers the period 26 September to 26 December 2018, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres details multiple advances and obstacles to the implementation of the peace agreement signed in November 2016 between the Colombian government and the FARC.
Below is an overview of core findings from the 16-page report.
New Colombian government
The government of Iván Duque, which took office in August 2018, has committed to upholding the peace process but also wants to modify certain aspects. Duque says his government has asked the international community to support reintegration projects, rural development and his government’s efforts to advance the peace process.
The government recognises that addressing violence and insecurity in various parts of the country is a matter of national urgency. However, this must be translated into effective action on the ground.
Implementation of agreement
The High Counsellor for Post-Conflict has announced ‘Peace with legality’, a plan to stabilise the most conflict-affected regions. The stated aim of the plan is to improve security across 15 years. This will involve reintegration of former combatants, implementation of crop substitution programmes, rural development and support for conflict victims, all of which are key elements of the peace agreement.
The peace agreement’s stipulation for congressional representation for 16 of the worst-affected regions in Colombia has again failed to gather sufficient congressional support to be implemented. Bills modifying elements of the agreement are still under consideration.
The FARC has been allowed to nominate a interim replacement for congress-member Jesús Santrich, who has been unable to take his seat. Iván Márquez’s seat remains unfilled. The FARC has now filled nine of its ten congressional seats and has participated in plenary debates and in various commissions.
Later this year, the FARC will participate in regional and local elections for the first time. The government has pledged to provide security for FARC candidates and members. The FARC is organising regional committees to strengthen women’s political involvement.
This was inaugurated in late-November, from when it has a three-year mandate to investigate the conflict. The Commission is committed to advancing responsibility and reconciliation and will be active in Colombia and other countries.
Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP)
All actors must respect the independence and autonomy of the JEP. Following a challenge to the JEP’s authority by the attorney general, a court ruling is still pending. A concerted effort is needed to bridge differences between the JEP and the attorney general’s office and to ensure effective cooperation.
The JEP’s first case relates to alleged kidnapping by the FARC, in which 31 former combatants had to submit evidence. All but one met the full requirements.
Altogether, 13,271 people have submitted to the JEP’s jurisdiction: this includes 11,303 FARC members, 1,923 members of the security forces, 33 public officials and 12 people arrested over social protests. Cases under review include alleged FARC kidnapping and multiple human rights abuses carried out by the military.
Illicit crop substitution
Tackling illegal economies in former conflict zones is crucial to reducing violence. So far, 99,096 families have registered for voluntary substitution programmes for illicit crops. Of a total of 51,721 registered hectares of coca plantations, 32,929 hectares have been voluntarily eradicated. Financial support has been successful: 92 per cent of families that received benefits subsequently eradicated their crops. Around 53,000 families have received or are scheduled to begin receiving payments.
However, coca cultivation remains widespread in Colombia, with 171,000 hectares of crops at the end of 2017. The government estimates that the drugs trade represents five per cent of GDP. Government programmes to tackle production will focus on development, substitution and targeting drugs traffickers.
National Liberation Army (ELN) peace talks
The government says that resuming talks depends on the ELN releasing all hostages and ending all illegal activity, a position rejected by the ELN, which says that these are issues for the negotiating table. The resumption of talks therefore is less likely than at any time since they began in 2016. Communities are at risk of suffering repercussions from the failure to agree fresh negotiations.
The High Counsellor for Post-Conflict and the FARC are working together to reintegrate FARC former combatants, with focus on work opportunities, land, food distribution and health. This requires regional and local approaches. Gender-related aspects of the reintegration process are crucial to its effective advancement. Reintegration must be linked to other core elements of the agreement, including rural development, land reform and crop substitution programmes.
Conditions in the FARC training and reintegration camps, where former combatants are based, vary considerably. Of the 24 camps, six have satisfactory conditions, twelve have less than satisfactory conditions and six are inadequate. Currently, the camps will be operational until 15 August 2019, although this will likely be extended. The FARC believes the camps are very important for long-term and sustainable reintegration. The closure of one camp, in Chocó, had a very negative impact on its residents.
There are outstanding issues to resolve: many former combatants will require continued financial support once the monthly allowance expires in August 2019, while legal status and services need to be available for reintegration in rural and urban areas.
There are currently 20 collective projects and 29 individual projects approved for former combatants. Sustainability is vital to their success, along with technical training, access to land and markets and gender focus to ensure that women benefit from the projects. However, the government is falling far behind on making land available.
Access to healthcare is a concern, particularly for pregnant women, children and disabled former combatants. Medical facilities in the FARC camps should be maintained after August 2019.
Many FARC members have undertaken education programmes: 477 former combatants have attained diplomas, while 5,668 have accessed adult education programmes. A long-term educational support strategy is still lacking, however.
Progress has been slow in the area of legal security. While 13,409 former combatants have been accredited, the FARC and High Commissioner for Peace recognise the importance of accelerating the accreditation process for other FARC members. There are 254 FARC members in prison whose accreditation is unresolved. The status of around 1,000 FARC members, who were submitted by the FARC in August 2018 and were not previously registered, is also unclear.
The JEP’s effective operation could be hindered by an insufficient number of lawyers. Other actions threaten to jeopardise the peace process, such as the unsuccessful attempt to pass a bill in congress that would allow the government to reactivate arrest warrants for FARC members, and the imprisonment of former combatants whose legal status is unclear.
Regarding the case of Jesús Santrich, the JEP has restated its request to receive evidence against him. The JEP will rule on Santrich’s extradition in February, which will have a bearing on the broader legal security issue.
Security of FARC members
85 FARC members have been murdered since the peace agreement was signed. There have been successful prosecutions in three cases, while another eight are at the trial stage and 17 are under investigation. Altogether, 27 people have been arrested in relation to the killings. The main perpetrators are paramilitary or criminal gangs, the ELN and FARC dissident groups.
Many FARC former combatants have resettled in areas with high presence of armed groups, making them vulnerable. Security measures also need increased gender-focus and women’s involvement to respond to specific risks.
Security of human rights defenders and social leaders
Attacks on human rights defenders and social leaders continue with impunity. Since the peace agreement was signed, 163 killings have been verified with 454 cases reported in total. Killings are concentrated in the departments of Cauca, Antioquia and Norte de Santander, three of the regions most affected by the conflict and low state presence. Most killings occurred in areas formerly under FARC control.
Indigenous leaders and communities are particularly at risk, with a sharp increase in murders, threats, forced displacement and forced recruitment to armed groups. Awá, Embera and Nasa people are most affected.
The government has drafted new measures to address the crisis, which focus on institutional response, coordination between agencies working in the worst-affected regions and communication strategies. The UN and public institutions support the creation of a special body focused on women’s security.
The Ombudsman issued 86 warnings over threats made to individuals in 2018. Perpetrators are involved in criminal activities such as drugs trafficking, illegal mining and extortion, as well as competition for strategic territories. Victims include land activists, political organisers, people working to implement the peace agreement and those who oppose illegal groups or private interests.
Implementation of the agreement’s core provisions around gender has been slow, especially relating to reintegration and security. The government’s gender forum will convene in early 2019, where it is hoped it will address the slow progress. The UN has identified more than 20 initiatives which could improve women’s economic opportunities.
The UN continues to work with all levels of society to advance the peace process, including ethnic associations, the church, the business sector, research institutes, women’s organisations and universities. Several congress members have visited FARC camps and regions affected by political violence.
The international community is playing an active role, with the UN reconvening regularly with the Security Council and the 17 countries which provide military or police observers to Colombia.
The next UN report is due in March 2019.