The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia has released its latest quarterly report into the main challenges and developments around implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. The report by UN Secretary-General António Guterres covers the period 21 July to 26 September 2018 and addresses issues ranging such as the ongoing human rights crisis in rural regions which has seen hundreds of social leaders killed since 2016.
The Secretary-General identifies key developments since the previous UN report in June. Chief among this is the election of Iván Duque to the Colombian presidency and subsequent appointments made to government positions in the peace process. While there have been widespread concerns that Duque, who campaigned on a platform broadly opposed to the agreement with the FARC, will seek to impede or reverse implementation of the deal including the UN Mission’s mandate, the report recognised that the new government did ultimately renew the mandate.
Whilst the report adopts an optimistic tone in relation to the new government, it also identifies major obstacles to the implementation of the agreement, with slow progress, lack of political clarity in core areas and ongoing violence amid proliferation of armed groups among the most pressing. These are detailed as follows:
Reintegration of FARC former combatants
There are several concerns relating to the reintegration of FARC members into civil society. Many FARC members have left reincorporation camps owing to lack of security and opportunities. The difficulties around reincorporation are exacerbated by ‘weak or absent State institutions, the impact of illegal economies and the relentless efforts by armed groups to lure former FARC-EP members into their ranks’. Successfully transitioning FARC members into civil society is central to the peace process. Productive projects designed to facilitate the transition so far have not been allocated sufficient resources or funds to move ahead in full, even though they ‘can be turned into viable income-generating ventures if provided with better access to technical and marketing advice, land and overall support from the Government, local authorities and the private sector’.
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP)
The JEP court was created to establish truth and justice around the armed conflict and to hold the worst human rights violators to account. The report says that the JEP has now clarified the issue of political participation: lighter sentences should not preclude entry or continued participation in national politics, whereas more serious offences should. The JEP also banned the formation of civilian armed groups, which previously have developed into paramilitary organisations that conducted human rights violations and atrocities. The JEP has now opened several investigations into the armed conflict, while it has met with FARC representatives and senior military officials.
Voluntary crop substitution
The peace agreement recognises the need to support manual eradication of coca plantations by communities which rely on them for survival due to the impact of conflict and international trade deals which decimated traditional agriculture. Since the agreement was signed, coca production has reached record levels of 171,000 hectares. According to the report, ‘[i]llicit economies, which include mining and drugs, are a continued source of violence in the country and a threat to the peace process’. So far, 77,659 families have registered on voluntary substitution programmes, with just over 20,000 hectares having since been substituted for other crops. A source of major alarm is the high number of killings of people working on crop substitution programmes.
Negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN)
The latest round of talks between the government and the ELN, Colombia’s last remaining guerrilla organisation, concluded in August. Although little concrete advances were made, there was consensus that civil society participation in peace-building is important. The ELN has called for the continuation of talks along lines established in 2016, but the new government says this depends on the ELN ending military activity. This, says the ELN, is an issue to be discussed in negotiations, rather than a condition for holding them. Currently, the future direction of negotiations is unclear.
The FARC has only filled eight of the ten seats it is guaranteed under the terms of the peace agreement, owing to the imprisonment of Jesús Santrich and the legal insecurity that has also prevented Iván Márquez from entering the senate. Other FARC senators and representatives have participated in various congressional committees on national governance, including issues relating to the peace agreement.
FARC prisoners and legal status
At the end of August, 232 FARC members remained in prison. Some of these cases are being reviewed by the JEP. A lack of funding is holding up resolution of outstanding FARC cases and impacting on the reintegration process. A list of around 1,000 FARC members who were not previously registered has been submitted to the High Commissioner for Peace. The report recommends determination of their status as a priority for the new government.
Killings of FARC members
At least 71 FARC members have been killed during the reintegration process (the FARC political party puts the figure at 77), in addition to a number of close relatives of former guerrillas. Security has deteriorated for former combatants outside the transitional camps, as was evidenced by the massacre in El Tarra, Norte de Santander, in July in which ten people were killed, including four FARC members inside the reincorporation process. Three quarters of killings have been concentrated in five departments: Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño, Norte de Santander and Caquetá. Attacks have also occurred inside specially-designated FARC territorial zones.
Killings of social activists and human rights defenders
Violence against civil society is widespread and shows no sign of ending. The report cites factors detailed by the National Ombudsman such as ‘involvement in defending land and natural resources; in implementing parts of the Peace Agreement, in particular the coca substitution programme and the formulation of rural development plans; in land restitution and the return of displaced persons; in defending their land against private interests; in denouncing drug dealing, the presence of illegal armed actors and the use of children and adolescents in marginalized urban areas; in protesting against specific investments of public resources; and in political participation’. The most targeted groups are members of local village councils indigenous and African-descendant leaders and people working on crop substitution programmes. A range of armed groups now operate across rural parts of Colombia. Effective response to the high levels of violence should be an absolute core priority for the government.
Gender and ethnic perspectives
Women-led productive projects form part of the reintegration process but security remains a concern. A series of programmes address specific risks faced by women in conflict regions and the need for special training for security forces. The UN and FARC are working with local NGOs to promote women’s political participation and improve women’s rights and gender equality. Indigenous and African-descendant communities continue to suffer disproportionately from violence, with protection programmes now adopting an ethnic approach in recognition of the risks.