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Colombia (Human Rights)

Volume 561: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2013

We recognise the progress made by the Colombian Government to address human rights problems but continue to raise issues of concern when they arise. On 4 March I met Colombia’s Vice-Minister for Defence, Jorge Enrique Bedoya, in London. We discussed various issues, including human rights and military justice reform.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Does he recognise that there can be no real peace in Colombia until the rights of the democratic opposition and mass social movements, such as the Patriotic March, whose leaders will visit Parliament tomorrow, are recognised? Its members are regularly brutally murdered by both the Colombian Government and right-wing paramilitary groups. Will he assure me that the UK Government will do everything possible to stress to the Colombian Government that democratic opposition is part of a civilized society?

Yes, we absolutely will. We recognise the efforts made by President Santos to date. In fact, our 2012 annual human rights report, which was launched on 15 April, gives our assessment of the key areas where the Colombian Government have made progress and the areas where human rights concerns remain. We believe that the President is making the right moves and that he needs greater encouragement. I welcome the interest shown by Members across the House in holding the Colombians to their word.

I am sure the Minister shares my hope that the latest round of peace talks with the FARC will succeed. Can he update the House on his assessment of what progress has been made in those talks and tell us what representations, if any, the UK has made to President Santos regarding his five-point plan, particularly the fifth point, which is on victims’ rights?

As I said, we are hugely supportive of what President Santos has done to date and very much welcome the talks that have been going on in Havana, which we understand are due to restart in May. We stand by to offer any help we can. I think that it is worth paying tribute to his Government for getting to where they are. It has been a long time since Colombia has been as peaceful as it is today, but there is still a long way to go.