United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia - Report of the Secretary-General (S/2021/603)



1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2574 (2021), by which the Council extended and expanded the mandate of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, and Council resolution 2366 (2017), in which it requested the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the mandate of the Mission every 90 days. The report covers the period from 27 March 2021 to 25 June 2021. Progress and challenges are presented within the framework of the five priorities for the comprehensive implementation of the Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace as recommended by the Secretary-General for 2021, namely protection and security for former combatants, conflict-affected communities, social leaders and human rights defenders; the sustainability of the reintegration process; the consolidation of the integrated presence of the State in conflict-affected areas; the reinforcement of a constructive dialogue between the parties; and the promotion of reconciliation.

Major developments

2. Heightened social unrest in Colombia and polarization surrounding nationwide protests and associated violence marked the reporting period. The events drew serious national and international concerns, along with appeals for non-violence, respect for human rights and the resolution of differences through peaceful dialogue.

3. On 28 April, a national strike accompanied by widespread demonstrations mostly concentrated in urban settings was carried out with the support of several civil society actors, including unions, students, peasants, women’s, indigenous and AfroColombian organizations. Protests also featured an unprecedented level of participation by young people. Protesters voiced demands revolving around a wide range of issues, especially a tax reform proposed by the Government (which it withdrew on 2 May), as well as issues related to health care, education, a guaranteed basic income for the most vulnerable in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and agrarian development. Opposition parties and movements echoed the demands made in the context of the strike. Youth, women’s, indigenous peoples and peasants’ organizations in various regions also cited the comprehensive implementation of the Final Agreement as part of their demands.

4. The national strike was mostly characterized by peaceful protests, but it also led to violent clashes between public security forces and protesters, abuses by public security forces, acts of vandalism against public infrastructure and roadblocks. Some of the most serious incidents of violence were reported in the cities of Bogotá, Cali and Popayán. From 28 April to 16 June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) registered allegations of 56 deaths, 54 civilians and two police officers, in the context of the protests; hundreds more were wounded. Various statements by the United Nations called for respect for human rights and peaceful protest, the de-escalation of violence and dialogue to find a solution to the crisis. Civil society organizations alleged extensive police abuses in the context of the strike, which led to increasing demands for enhanced security guarantees for protesters, as well as police reform. The President of Colombia, Iván Duque, condemned the violence and the roadblocks hindering mobility and the flow of essential goods and assured that all cases of abuse by members of the public security forces would be investigated. On 6 June, he announced a series of police reforms. Government officials and the Attorney General stated that illegal armed groups could have been linked to some of the violence during the strike.

5. At the request of the Government and the National Strike Committee – which brings together many of the civil society actors engaged in the prote sts – the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Colombia and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, along with the representative of OHCHR and a representative of the Catholic Church, facilitated dialogues aimed at reaching a negotiated solution to the strike at the national level. Similar efforts were supported through good offices in the regions most affected by the strike, including Cali, the third largest city in Colombia. The Mission and members of the United Nations country team have also lent their support to facilitate the establishment of life -saving supply corridors and OHCHR monitored compliance with human rights standards during protests.

6. On 15 June, in the absence of a negotiated solution to the strike, th e National Strike Committee announced the temporary suspension of mobilizations and stated that civil society actors would continue to voice their demands, including through draft bills to be introduced to Congress.

7. Colombia reached an important milestone in the peace process in April, when former members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) secretariat indicted in January by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Case 01, on hostage-taking and other severe deprivations of liberty, provided their response to the indictment, including information in response to specific requests made by victims accredited in this case. Following their response, the former commanders acknowledged the existence of a policy of kidnapping within the former guerrilla group and assumed their responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes. They also said that they failed to exercise effective control over their subordinates and that they were responsible for the ill-treatment of kidnapping victims. Furthermore, the former FARC-EP leaders asked for forgiveness and pledged to help to locate the remains of victims of kidnapping who were killed or died in captivity.

8. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace also received comments on the indictments by accredited victims and the Office of the Inspector General. The observations will be instrumental for the next step in the process, whereby the Judicial Panel for Acknowledgement of Truth, Responsibility and Determination of Facts and Cond uct of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will assess if the response by the former members of the FARC-EP secretariat constitutes a full acknowledgement of responsibility and an exhaustive contribution to the truth.

9. The response was widely commended, including by the Special Representative, as an important step for truth, justice and reconciliation, as well as for the satisfaction of victims’ rights and as an important demonstration of the commitment of former FARC-EP members to the Final Agreement.

10. On 17 June, former FARC-EP commanders indicted by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace provided the Special Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing with information to begin the search for 55 civilians and members of the security forces who were kidnapped by the FARC-EP. They also pledged to provide information on another 136 victims. According to the Unit, 192 victims linked to Case 01 are still missing.

11. In May, after a series of legal actions, the Constitutional Court ruled that Congress had, in a disputed vote held in 2017, approved a bill creating 16 special transitional electoral districts for peace, which were provided for in section 2 of the Final Agreement. The new electoral districts are meant to promote the participation of historically excluded populations in areas affected by conflict, including members of victims’ and women’s organizations. The Court ruled that the 16 additional seats in the House of Representatives would be open for the 2022–2026 and 2026–2030 congressional periods.

12. Also in May, President Duque replaced ministers and senior officials who had resigned. He appointed the Vice-President, Marta Lucía Ramírez, to serve concurrently as Minister for Foreign Affairs. There were also changes in the Ministries of Finance, Commerce and Culture and the appointment of a new High Commissioner for Peace.

13. On 15 June, a car bomb was detonated on an army base in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander Department, leaving 36 people wounded. The attack was widely condemned by political actors and civil society. No illegal armed group has taken responsibility for the attack and investigations are ongoing.

14. The reporting period was also marked by the third, and most severe, wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of 103,321 persons as at 25 June. The Government-led vaccination strategy is moving forward and some 16 million vaccines have been administered.