Challenges and risks for monitoring and verification of the end of the conflict in Colombia

Currently, there is sufficient political will from the Government and the FARC, as well as support from society, that the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism has the capabilities to be effective. Español

Daniel Pardo Calderón Alana Poole Eduardo Álvarez Vanegas
24 January 2017

Women hug during a rally in support of the peace process with rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.AP Photo/Ivan Valencia. All rights reserved.

After Colombian Congress approved the new Peace Acccord between the government and the FARC, a new debate emerged about D Day. This day marks the beginning of implementation of the Havana agreement, specifically as regards the guerrillas moving to the 27 sites where they will come together in order to surrender their weapons over a period of 180 days.

While for the Government, "D" day became effective once the Final Agreement was signed - on November 30 - for the guerrillas it would only be activated once the Constitutional Court approved the "fast track", the legislative mechanism that enables more expedited address of the laws that are needed to implement the Agreement - which took place on 12 December. In the end, the differences were settled and the parties confirmed in a joint communiqué that agreement was the starting point to then apply schedules and procedures related to the ceasefire and surrender of arms.

Nor was this discussion an obstacle to progress in one of the most relevant aspects of the peace process: the activation of the Tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM), created to facilitate and guarantee compliance with the definitive bilateral cease-fire and end of hostilities, as well as the surrender of arms.

From limbo to normality

It bears remembering that after the rejection of the first peace agreement  at the polls on October 2, its implementation came to a halt. In practice, however, progress was made in the implementation of operational and logistical aspects such as the cease-fire, pre-concentration of the guerrillas in certain areas, as well as in the monitoring and verification of these processes. The Government, the FARC and the opponents of the peace process agreed that the MVM should be sustained as a guarantee of security and confidence while a new agreement was reached. In fact, the scope of the UN Political Mission's mandate, which coordinates the MVM, was broadened.

Congress's approval of of a new agreement, the product of a renegotiation that included contributions from different social and political sectors of the country, allowed the formal implementation of the MVM, which sets out 23 protocols for the bilateral ceasefire and end of hostilities and for the abandonment of arms. These, basically speaking, are: the exchange and flow of information between the parties before and during the execution of the processes, the exact times in which they must be carried out, the actions prohibited as part of the ceasefire and hostilities, the rules that will govern the operation of the zones and transitional points where the whole process will be carried out, the protection and security schemes that will accompany the parties, logistic issues, a detailed description of each phase of disarmament, and the deployment of the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM).

What is it and how does it work?

Monitoring and verification of the ceasefire and surrender of arms: what is it and what implications does it have for Colombia?

In this report recently published by Fundación Ideas para la Paz – FIP (Ideas for Peace Foundation), we put forward the main characteristics of MVM as follows:

  1. It is one of two supervisory systems covered by the Peace Agreement and will focus exclusively on definitive bilateral ceasefire and end of hostilities, and on the surrender of arms.
  2. It is a tripartite mechanism, that is to say that it comprises the Government, the FARC and an international component, represented by a Special Political Mission of the UN.
  3. The Mission is composed of nearly 400 international observers, mainly from countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC): Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay, among others. It is estimated that there will be 40 at the national level, 90 at the regional level and 320 at the local level, which will be accompanied by national civilians. Although they will be military observers, they will not have weapons or uniforms, which means that the Mission will have an exclusively civilian vocation.
  4. The MVM has three levels: one national, eight regional and several local monitoring teams in the 20 temporary transitional normalisation areas and 7 transitional normalisation points, where the laying down of weapons will take place over 180 days.
  5. It will have functions of observation, inspection, collection and analysis of information on the 36 prohibited offensive actions, recommendation and mediation in case of non-compliance.
  6. It will liaise with the authorities and communities to obtain information, so that they can contribute to the dissemination of their reports and to act as overseers of their tasks. 

What is good and what is new about it?

There will be a different methodology for monitoring and verification. A novel element in the view of the FIP regards the creation of a Tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) in which the Government, the guerrillas and a neutral third party, the UN, participate. This makes it different, since it is unusual for these types of instances to be set up and when they occur they almost always arise spontaneously and informally. The fact that it is tripartite avoids supervisory responsibility falling only on the neutral side and serves to strengthen trust.

Clear ground rules have been defined. The FIP has insisted that the success of these processes depends to a large extent on the existence of clear parameters and guidelines for their design, implementation and evaluation that are binding on all parties. This is true for the Colombian case, through operational protocols agreed by the government and FARC that have a high level of detail, which will allow progress in the normal and expeditious development of the process. For example, prohibited offensive actions, the schedule and procedures for the abandonment of weapons over 180 days and the handling and flow of information, among others.

The UN is the multilateral body with the most experience in monitoring and verifying peace agreements. The participation of the UN in the MVM through a Special Political Mission in Colombia is a guarantee of trust, credibility and legitimacy for both negotiators and local and international public opinion. An example of this is the Policy Missions deployed to monitor the end of the conflict in countries such as Nepal, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau and Libya, among others.

In Colombia, a Special Political Mission will be deployed and not a Peacekeeping Operation. This means that those in charge of monitoring and verifying the end of the conflict will be observers who are experts in military matters, but will not have weapons or uniforms. Therefore, there will be no contingents armed with "blue helmets", which are usually deployed as part of operations that seek to create minimum security conditions to foster peace talks or impose peace through deterrence.

Effective accountability schemes give credibility and transparency to the process. These schemes are dealt with precisely in the 23 protocols on cease-fire and arms withdrawal agreed by the Government and the FARC. They seek to provide a multifunctional role to authorities and communities to source information for monitoring the process, seek progress and compliance with objectives, disseminate information and encourage ideas for improving the process.

Effective protection and safety schemes for those carrying out the process will be a guarantee for the process's success. The Government and the FARC defined specific protocols for the safety of MVM mission staff. This is important since the members of the mission will be disarmed and will fulfill their mandate in highly volatile environments arising from threats such as the ELN guerrillas and other armed groups.

Clear procedures for the dissemination of information. The Government and the FARC established a series of protocols regarding the exchange and management of information within the MVM (Protocol of introduction), a reporting system with periodic reports and briefs (MVM information flow protocol), and the installation of a public relations and strategic communications office that will coordinate the activities of the field team (Strategic Communications Protocol). This will allow for a constant supply of timely and accurate information at the internal and external levels that will help to monitor the activities of the mechanism.

Equitable participation of men and women in the MVM. The MVM deployment protocols provide for the active participation of women's organizations as sources of information, observation and registration to feed into their processes. In addition, for the formation of the UN Mission, priority was given to the recruitment of women to reach a 20% participation target. This is fundamental, considering that women represent about 50% of victims of the conflict and that 30-40% percent of guerrilla fighters are women. In view of this, the needs and interest of this population group will be taken on board to provide equitable and differentiated treatment.

What risks does it face?

Presence of other illegal armed groups. At FIP, we have pointed out the risks presented by the continued operations of other armed groups, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), the People's Liberation Army (EPL) in the north-east of Colombia, different configuations of organized crime and, in general, different criminal economies (drug trafficking and illegal mining). The presence of these groups in zones and transitional points for cease-fire and surrender of weapons MVM presents a serious challenge for the monitoring and verification tasks in two senses. First, they could launch attacks against areas or observers to the detriment of their security and the development of the process, and secondly, they could carry out actions in the name of the “FARC”, thereby creating tensions and mistrust. An adequate assessment of these risks and compliance with the protocols prepared by the Government and the FARC to manage them will determine the normal progression of the tasks of the mechanism.

Recently, for example, it was learned that the transit zone would be moved from the El Carmín road, Antoquia, to La Plancha road due to the presence of the ELN and the high risk that this represents in terms of safety. Other events evidenced that risk on 'D Day' (December 1): the activation of an explosive device installed in a ball that took the life of a minor in Chocó, the death of an army corporal at the hands of a sniper in Norte de Santander, and an attack on the oil system in the department of Boyacá. All acts were attributed to the ELN.

It should be stated that these risks may vary according to the region of the country. While in some areas the main risk may be the presence of guerrilla groups such as the ELN, in others it may be organized crime, whose dynamics may be accentuated depending on whether they are near to border areas, strategic corridors for illicit trafficking or social conflicts . There are other cases where the main threat to MVM will be deserters, who may join other groups or continue to extort and threaten the population in a personal capacity.

Dissidents and possible dissents. One of the most critical risk factors in the medium and long term is FARC dissidents, who in their eagerness to sabotage the process because it does not benefit them either for political or economic reasons, decide to undertake armed action on behalf of that organization either against state institutions or communities. This occured on the day of the peace referendum (October 2), when a polling station in San José del Guaviare was attacked by the dissents of Frente 1. That same faction has carried out several hostile actions in municipalities of the department Of Vaupés, according to the Office of the Ombudsman.

This situation could be aggravated after the No victory in the referendum, which provoked distrust in some sectors of the guerrillas and also because some units are very involved with drug trafficking, as is the case of the Mobile Column Daniel Aldana.

Other factors that could lead to the emergence of more dissidents are organizational, such as the State military pressure that forced many FARC fronts to strengthen ties with criminal groups to maintain their war economy, or the dynamics of the armed conflict, such as the concentration of criminal elements in many territories with which the State can not compete, as well as the pressure exerted by transnational crime structures. Under these variables, Frentes 33, 57, 32, 48 and 30 are at high risk of becoming dissents.

Added to this are some desertions that, although they can not be considered dissent in the strict sense (this requires more than four people), they can provide clues about factions that could be experiencing a gradual process of fragmentation. Such is the case of four combatants of the Frente 19, attached to the Bloque Martin Caballero, that have left from the structure taking arms and money. Another recent case is that of the alias "Don Y", which has separated from the Column Daniel Aldana along with an indeterminate number of fighters, to continue intimidating and threatening the population of the Tumaco municipality in Nariño.

In departments such as Nariño, Vichada and Bajo Cauca in Antioquia, there also have been desertions of members of different FARC units that are linked to new groups such as the so-called "Nuevo Orden” (New Order) and "El Renacer" (Rebirth). In Antioquia there are also reports of deserters from Frente 18 and Frente 36, who have left pre-concentration areas due to the slow progression of the process, to join groups operating criminally in nearby municipalities.

Violation of the ground rules. The success of the monitoring and verification process will depend to a large extent on the level of the parties' commitment to adhere to the guidelines and parameters that guide it. Since comprehensive procedures and protocols have already been set down, the challenge will be for all parties involved to internalize what has been agreed and to respect it in order to avoid issues that could delay the process. Otherwise there will be incidents such as the one in southern Bolivar in which two alleged guerrillas died and according to the MVM constituted a violation on the part of both the Government and the FARC of the protocols established for the cease-fire. While this happened in the midst of the renegotiation of a new Peace Agreement, it will depend on the effectiveness of the MVM going forward that such events do not compromise the development of the process.

Collaboration between the Mission and the UN Country Team. The work of the UN Special Political Mission can be complementary and reinforcing as long as an effective inter-agency collaboration is achieved between the Mission and the offices that are part of the Country Team, that is, the entities that form part of the UN and that are present in Colombia. The challenge is that this can be consolidated to maximize the different agencies that have been present during the conflicts' experience, installed capacity and knowledge of the Colombian context.

MVM's relationship with ethnic groups and indigenous communities. As agreed, there will be constant and effective input of the different players present in the territories into the MVM. This process poses a serious challenge, especially in the case of ethnic communities and indigenous peoples, bearing in mind that the implementation of the agreements should be based on respect for the right to the prior consultation of these communities. There have already been voices rejecting the presence of the Mission, such as the case of the Yukpas community in the municipality of La Paz, Cesar, where one of the guerrilla concentration zones will be installed.

MVM's success will be determined by making use of the opportunities awarded by a peace agreement which has strong provision for end-of-conflict monitoring, as well as by efficiently managing the different challenges and risks posed by the context in which it will be implemented. For now, there is confidence that there is sufficient political will from the Government and the FARC, as well as support from society, to assist in the process, and that MVM has the capabilities to be effective in its tasks.

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