The head of the new United Nations political mission in Colombia today pledged the world body’s steadfast support for the full implementation of the accord reached by the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People’s Army (FARC-EP), which seeks to bring an end the longest-running conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
“As the United Nations, we are convinced that this long negotiation offers a real chance to close the chapter of war, once and for all. And that opinion is also shared by the parties,” Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Colombia said, meeting reporters for the first time in Bogota, where the mission is located.
In late January 2016, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to establish a political mission of unarmed international observers to monitor and verify the laying down of arms and, as part of a tripartite mechanism, a definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities following the signing of a peace agreement.
The parties, engaged in peace talks in Havana since 2012, agreed on 19 January to jointly request the Council to establish the mission. On 23 June in Havana, they concluded the agreement on the definitive bilateral cease fire and cessation of hostilities and the laying down of arms.
The UN Department of Political Affairs has started the planning process in order to be ready to deploy the mission as soon as the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP is concluded. The first 80 observers arrived in Colombia by the end of July and were engaged in preparatory activities.
In his remarks today, Mr. Arnault stressed: “We do not intend to impose upon you a peace accord. We want to guarantee, to the best of our abilities, to both parties and to all Colombians, that whatever was discussed and was agreed upon in Havana, will in fact be carried out in the field.”
Laying out some of the details of the work ahead, he noted that the observers would hail from civilian and military institutions from Latin American countries.
In addition, he said the Mission’s two primary mandates were “complex,” as one aim would be to very the ceasefire and the other would be focused on disarmament verification.
As such, he explained that while the mission would directly conduct the verification of disarmament, the UN and the parties themselves would be involved in verifying the ceasefire. He went on to note that when compared to previous processes of this sort, this tripartite arrangement is useful, since each individual party will be able to witness the implementation of the accord by the other.
This, Mr. Arnault underscored, would contribute to an “additional layer of trust” between the Government and the FARC. He further spotlighted the Mission’s temporary character and stressed that the presence of military observers in no way should be perceived as a “foreign presence” in Colombia.
“This mission has a different profile both, because of its mandate and also because of its duration. This is a temporary, provisional mission that will remain in the Colombia as longs as the ceasefire and disarmament process is implemented. When these processes are completed, the mission will be withdrawn. And with this, I hope this will help dispel any idea that in any way the UN is attempting to have an extended presence here,” he stated.
Mr. Arnault said it should be possible for the mission to be fully operational on the ground within 15 days of the signing and announcement of the final accord.
“We have taken all the necessary steps so that at the time that the ceasefire is announced; the only pending procedure would be buying air tickets for the remainder of the mission,” he explained, adding: “With the preparations we have made, we hope that it will not take us more than two weeks between the announcement of the final agreement and the time for full deployment on the field.”
Throughout the discussions between the FARC-EP and the Colombian Government, negotiators have reached agreement on key issues such as political participation, land rights, illicit drugs, gender equality and transitional justice.
In an opinion piece for the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said deployment of the mission in Colombia would be an “unprecedented experience” in the country, as well as in the history of UN ceasefire observations.
He stressed that the international observers working under the UN flag would not carry weapons or engage in armed action of any kind, nor would their role be to carry out cooperation projects, as is the case with UN agencies, funds and programmes in the country.
“The sole purpose of this international observation mission is simple: to help ensure that what has been agreed in Havana with respect to the ceasefire and laying down of arms will be carried out in Colombia; and that the commitments made by the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP, to each other and to society are fully implemented,” Mr. Ban said.