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Volume 538: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2012

10. What representations he has made to the President of Colombia on protection for trade unionists and human rights activists in that country. (89814)

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary discussed human rights with President Santos during his visit to the United Kingdom in November. I chaired a discussion between the President and non-governmental organisations, which included the security of human rights defenders in Colombia, and the President reiterated his commitment to improving Colombia’s human rights situation.

There is real concern that people are still being imprisoned in Colombia for trade union activity. What assessment has the Minister made of that situation, and what representations have been made?

I share the hon. Lady’s observation that there are real concerns about human rights abuses in Colombia. We do not pretend otherwise, and we actually spend a lot of time and money on trying to improve the situation. The President has made that point, and he acknowledges our concerns. It is fair to recognise that improvements have been made in recent years, but many further improvements still need to be made and we are actively working to try to bring them about.

Is it not the case that the greatest human right of all is the right to life and that under the Administration of President Uribe and now that of President Santos the demobilisation of the FARC guerrilla group, reducing it from tens of thousands to 9,000 today, has brought about a new era of peace and prosperity in Colombia that is good not only for Colombia but for Latin America and for our bilateral relations?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The murder rate in Colombia has fallen dramatically. It is still very high by European standards, but it is nevertheless a lot lower than it previously was. I am delighted that the Colombian President signed a joint declaration on human rights when he was in London a couple of months ago, and we had the opportunity to talk about how we can enhance Colombia’s prosperity and trade opportunities, which are also important for its development.