Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the political and human rights situation in Colombia.
Some of you have asked me to sign Early Day Motion 4. Unfortunately my shadow front bench role prevents me from doing so, but I am very happy to share my thoughts here.
I am deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Colombia, including the police response to protests over recent weeks. Reports of excessive use of force, sexual abuse and the use of firearms are incredibly worrying, and I know that at least 41 civilian deaths are now being investigated by the human rights ombudsman. The Colombian people’s right to protest peacefully must be respected and the Colombian authorities should make every effort to investigate reports of excessive force and human rights abuses and hold those responsible to account.
I know that questions have been raised about UK support for the Colombian police in terms of training and the export of certain items, such as riot control equipment. My colleague the Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament has written to the Foreign Secretary for further information from the Government about the steps it is taking to ensure that Colombian police who have received training from the UK are not involved in human rights abuses. The Government also ensure it is closely monitoring the situation in Colombia and that all arms export licence applications are carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis.
I also share concerns more widely about the political situation in Colombia. For more than five decades the people of Colombia have endured violent armed conflict, resulting in more than 260,000 deaths and over nine million people displaced. The 2016 peace accord between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was therefore a historic milestone. However, it is clear that further efforts must be made to ensure the safety of Colombia’s people and to secure the country’s long-term stability.
The surveillance and targeting of social leaders by paramilitaries is a clear violation of the peace accord and must be directly tackled by the Colombian Government. It should do all it can to ensure that the violence against human rights defenders, activists and trade unionists is brought to an immediate end. The Colombian Government must also seek to end the discrimination of its indigenous people and ensure they are protected from deforestation processes and the effects of climate change.
I recognise the responsibility the UK has as penholder on Colombia at the UN. The UK Government should therefore ensure it plays an active role in encouraging the implementation of, and adherence to, the 2016 peace accord. While the progress that has been made in Colombia is commendable, significant challenges remain and the need for a lasting and sustainable peace is clear.
My Labour colleagues and I will continue to press the UK Government to support Colombia in this process.