United Nations support to the peace process between the Government of Colombia and the former Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejercito Popular (FARC-EP) guerrillas has been instrumental in helping to bring 50 years of armed conflict in the country to an end. The peace process still faces challenges, and confrontation continues between the Government and the ELN group. But, as the top UN envoy in the country, Jean Arnault, told the Security Council today, “at the highest level of the Colombian government and within the leadership of the FARC, the commitment remains to move forward with the peace process regardless of the many difficulties that have been in evidence, and sometimes dramatically so, in the past few months.”
Mr. Arnault headed the UN Mission in Colombia, which from mid-2016 to September 2017 monitored and verified the laying down of arms and, as part of a tripartite mechanism, a definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities between the Colombian armed forces and the FARC-EP. On 26 September 2017, that operation morphed into the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, which is accompanying the parties and verifying their commitments regarding the social and political reintegration of former FARC-EP members, and the implementation of measures of protection and security for communities in territories most affected by the conflict.
The success of the first mission and the tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) could potentially serve as a model for other peace processes around the world, according to General Javier Pérez Aquino, Chief of Observers, who spoke about his work as he completed his assignment in Colombia. General Aquino recalled that the MVM hosted 592 visits by different heads of State and Government and other senior government and public figures. Below, we have excerpted General Aquino’s presentation on the MVM and its groundbreaking work.
“Based on the experience from this first Colombia mission, a tripartite mechanism is highly recommended because it generates trust between the parties. It served as confidence-building measure between the Government of Colombia and the FARC. The tripartite mechanism allows for more efficient, credible and trustworthy verification. Even though it made it a bit more difficult at times, the fact that the rules of the mechanism dictated consensus to carry out any activity meant that the strength of decisions was greater and had much more credibility, having been taken and agreed upon by all parties. But that also meant, that verifying events quickly was usually very difficult. At the local level, a joint team would verify and send a report to the regional and national offices of the mechanism. These local verification reports needed to be signed by the three parties, which took time and negotiating.”
“The aim was to build confidence through working, verifying and monitoring together. That was a key element to success. One lesson learnt is that confidence building is a gradual process. Before the mission was set up, a seven-day training was organized with international, Government and FARC participants. At first there was hesitance, but the training helped break the ice between these different groups. At all levels, confidence building measures and team building exercises were key to ensure a good working environment. With a total of 45 courses delivered, there was a strong focus on continuous education to participants.”
“The three different components of the mechanism – the international, Government and FARC observers worked very closely together. It was a great asset to have these diverse teams with different cultures, skill sets, capabilities. Team and confidence building takes time, and some teams experienced challenges along the way. But the experience of truly working jointly as one team was very positive.”
“Decision-making and cost-sharing were the main challenges of the mission to be able to implement the mandate in time. The mechanism was set up with a 50/50 United Nations-Government of Colombia cost-sharing system, and monthly reporting on its activities was required. As a lesson learnt, the system of cost-sharing delayed the logistical decision-making process and put personnel at risk in operations, because deployment started with minimal standards regarding medical support, evacuation and security, which affected staff morale. Logistics needs to be able to keep pace with operations as well as any permanent changes in an initiated process.”
“It is important to give gender aspects priority. Female participation in the mission was extremely valuable, even though it was only 20%. It would have been impossible to have the same kind of access to the female population if the mechanism hadn’t had any women in their teams. In order to increase the number of women in such operations, there needs to be flexibility of rank/experience requirements on the side of the hiring agency.”
Other factors that contributed to the successful operation of the MVM, said General Aquino, included:
- Very positive that most observers deployed were from Latin America, so no language barriers.
- Security was the responsibility of the public forces: the Armed Forces and the Special Police Unit for Peace, which ensured that there were no incidents, despite multiple threats.
- Continuous engagement between civil society organizations and the MVM and the Mission.