UNSC Visit to Caquetá and Buenaventura

As ABColombia previously reported, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) visited Colombia between 7 and 11 February 2024. The delegation’s visit took them out of Bogotá, to Caquetá and Buenaventura, where they met with different groups of civil society members.

UNSC Visit to Caquetá

On 9 February, the delegation travelled to the Caquetá department to visit Agua Bonita – a former territorial area for training and reintegration (TATR). After the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord, some former FARC combatants moved to Agua Bonita. This area is now home to around 520 people, including 191 signatories to the Peace Accord and their families.

The purpose of the visit to Agua Bonita was to review progress in the economic, social and political reintegration of former combatants – one of the points monitored by the UN Verification Mission in Colombia – as well as their security. The delegation met with community representatives as well as representatives of national and local authorities. Upon discussing reintegration with these representatives, it was emphasised that a lack of security guarantees for former combatants hinders progress for the other aspects of reintegration. Therefore, despite Agua Bonita being a positive example of a TATR, the area still faces security concerns due to activities by the presence of illegal armed groups in the Caquetá department.

Many of those involved in the discussions with the UNSC delegation also believed that social reintegration was key in achieving a “dignified life” for former combatants and their families. This includes access to education, health and other public services – something that is not easy in Agua Bonita, where the nearest health facility is located four hours away and some children need to walk for an hour to get to school.

UNSC members also listened to a presentation from Humanicemos – an organisation comprised of former combatants that contributes to its employees’ economic and social reintegration and focuses on demining in the area. This presentation impressed the delegation and revealed the unique skillset that former combatants possess.

Despite Humanicemos’ notable work, community representatives reiterated the need for increased state presence due to the security risks and lack of access to public services in the area.

Meeting with Civil Society and Women’s Organisations

Upon returning to Bogotá, the UNSC delegation met with around 20 representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs), academics and think tanks. Many of these representatives discussed the low levels of implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, mentioning the gender perspective and the ethnic chapter in particular. While many praised the government’s attempts at peace dialogues with illegal armed groups, some stated that this had shifted the focus away from implementing the 2016 Peace Accord. If the Accord is to be effected it requires integrated implementation.

Matching what was said in Agua Bonita, many representatives called for increased state presence in rural areas of Colombia – stating that a lack of access to education and health services fosters desperation among young people, in turn increasing their vulnerability to recruitment by armed groups. Finally, representatives asked that reparations for victims must be facilitated – something that has not been done since the Duque administration.

The women who met with the UNSC members shared moving testimonies about the increased and unique risks that they face as women leaders and human rights defenders. Many of the women also drew attention to the importance of accelerating the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord and applying a gender lens to each chapter, that takes into consideration the diverse needs of women from different communities. In terms of the ongoing peace talks with armed groups, it was emphasised that female representation in these talks is of utmost importance, and that ceasefire agreements should include prohibition of sexual violence and attacks on women civil society representatives, as well as a prohibition on military activities.

UNSC members asked about Colombia’s National Action Plan on the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (WPS). This has been developed but is yet to be adopted by the government. The women expressed strong support for the WPS agenda.

UNSC Visit to Buenaventura

The following day, 10 February 2024, the delegation headed to Buenaventura – one of the most conflict-affected areas of the country, where 80% of the city lives in poverty. While here, UNSC members spoke to Afro-Colombian and Indigenous representatives, as well as Vice President Francia Elena Márquez Mina among other officials.

The city’s mayor, Ligia del Carmen Córdoba Martinez, emphasised the importance of tackling the underlying reasons for the high levels of violence in Buenaventura and similar cities, namely a lack of employment, education and access to basic services.

The Vice President discussed what the government has done to promote the implementation of the ethnic chapter of the Peace Accord (land distribution, water sanitation projects, establishing higher education institutions in the territories), but acknowledged hurdles to substantive progress including a lack of tools at municipal level, complicated bureaucratic procedures and systemic racism in state institutions. She also recognised that a lack of state presence allows for increased violence, and noted that the government aims to reduce violence through the dialogues with armed actors.

Afro-Colombian and Indigenous representatives mentioned that, despite the hope that came with the ethnic chapter of the Peace Accord, the slow implementation of this chapter is worrying and that their communities continue to face disproportionately negative livelihoods. They stressed the need for better indicators to measure the implementation of the ethnic chapter, and called for ethnic communities to be represented in the peace talks with the armed groups.

The delegation also met with three youth leaders, who discussed the difficult realities and trauma that the youth face in cities like Buenaventura. As mentioned, lack of employment and education continues to place young people in a precarious situation in front of the armed groups.

In their final meeting, the UNSC members met with victims and families who have suffered from acts of sexual violence and forced disappearances. These representatives called for better measures to eradicate both of these issues that continue to persist in Colombia today. A need for a gender perspective in seeking justice for victims was also mentioned and, to this end, the opening of Macrocaso 11 was celebrated.

Coming midway through the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, the UNSC’s visit to Colombia has highlighted several significant issues that many continue to face throughout the country. One of the overarching issues is the slow implementation of the Peace Accord, and it is therefore essential that the continued implementation is monitored thoroughly, with special attention given to the ethnic and the gender perspective.