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Colombia

Volume 490: debated on Monday 30 March 2009

The UK Government’s work in Colombia makes a significant and positive impact. To make it more effective and relevant, we are changing the way we deliver our objectives. I wish to inform the House of these changes.

Colombia’s strengths and progress over recent years are being undermined by continuing problems of abuse of human rights, poverty and inequality, impunity and the drugs trade. The Colombian people do not want conflict. Illegal armed, terrorist and guerrilla groups continue to kill and abuse, and have no place in a democratic society. We support the Colombian Government’s determination to tackle these groups in accordance with international humanitarian law, including addressing the drugs trade that causes significant health, social and environmental harm to both of our countries.

Our policy needs to take full account of these challenges. We have therefore reviewed and are reprioritising what we are doing in Colombia. The changes we are making will give new focus to the UK’s contribution to peace, prosperity and justice for Colombia’s people, to the mutual benefit of both our countries.

Counter-Narcotics

We will continue our important counter-narcotics work in Colombia, including supporting projects totalling over £900,000 of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Bogota. Our capacity building work in Colombia is helping to bring down trafficking networks, put those involved in jail, seize cocaine destined for the UK, disrupt traffickers’ financing networks, and seize the proceeds of their crimes. It is vital that we continue it.

Impunity

We will make tackling impunity a priority, and have allocated £250,000 next financial year for projects in this area implemented by the UK and other partners. Too many people in Colombia commit crimes without fear of justice or punishment, and our work will aim to help the Colombian criminal justice system develop its ability to tackle impunity.

Human rights and humanitarian demining engagement with the Colombian armed forces

We have achieved our objective of helping the Colombian Government develop a roadmap to promote their military’s adherence to international humanitarian law. The Government share the concerns of many in the House that there are officers and soldiers of the Colombian armed forces who have been involved in, or allowed, abuses. The challenge for the Colombian Government is to ensure the strategic human rights principles we have helped to promote are embedded and consistently practised by all members of their armed services. We will continue to offer our political, and, where possible, financial and practical support to UN projects that aim to help promote human rights adherence within the Colombian armed forces. Our bilateral human rights projects with the Colombian Ministry of Defence will cease.

The UK’s humanitarian demining training has contributed significantly to the removal of the landmines that kill and maim innocent Colombians. We now plan to integrate this work more fully with that of international governmental and non-governmental partners.

Human rights and promoting civil society

We will continue our work on strengthening human rights, promoting civil society and supporting human rights defenders. We support a large number of projects in areas such as freedom of speech, democracy and tackling discrimination. For example, we have recently supported a UN project to improve criminal prosecution of sexual crimes committed against women and girls, and we are working with journalists in Colombia to improve capacity for investigative journalism in conflict and peace issues. Projects already approved for the next financial year and beyond total almost £1 million and a further £170,000 is to be allocated for human rights projects. With British trade union partners, we will continue to look at ways in which the UK can promote labour relations in Colombia. The Department for International Development’s (DFID) Latin America Partnership Programme Arrangement, worth £13 million per year for the region, will also focus on promoting more accountable public and political systems and on HIV and AIDS, climate change and giving poor and marginalised people a greater voice. DFID also provides substantial contributions to the European Commission and international financial institutions’ aid programmes in Colombia—in 2007-08 this totalled £3.l million.

Working with EU and other partners, we will continue to encourage a stronger relationship between the Colombian Government and civil society. Our staff in Colombia meet with many who have received threats, and will continue to do so.

Our ongoing work in Colombia on other issues, including addressing climate change (where our regional projects that include Colombia total £900,000) and promoting trade and investment, will continue.