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Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2013

Much progress has been made under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos, notably the launch of peace talks. Clearly long-term challenges remain. We will continue to work closely with the Colombian Government to help to overcome them.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the non-governmental organisation Justice for Colombia on bringing together joint representatives from this House to meet the FARC representatives in the peace talks in Cuba? Can he tell us what human rights discussions took place between the Prime Minister and President Santos earlier this month in London?

President Santos not only met the Prime Minister and discussed the peace process; he also met my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and me, and we discussed those issues as well. I will shortly go to Colombia. I offered a meeting on 2 July, before I go, to the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friend, the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). I hope to extend that invitation to his group, the parliamentary friends of Colombia, so that we can go through these things before I go to Bogota early next month.

Is it not the case that under both President Uribe and now President Santos, human rights have greatly improved in Colombia? One of the great success stories is that kidnappings and murders are down, and we have seen a 90% reduction in FARC guerrilla activity, which means that Colombia can make progress.

Yes, and we are very supportive of that. I re-read our annual human rights report yesterday. Key progress is highlighted in that report—the peace talks, the creation of the national human rights system and the work of the national protection unit, which now protects more than 10,000 Colombians—so we think things are moving in the right direction.

18. Given the latest murder by the Colombian army—of a 17-year-old boy—thereby continuing the so-called false positives, and the fact that President Santos has now legislated to allow military courts to deal with its human rights abuses, so continuing army impunity, will the Secretary of State accept that he was wrong to say that the Colombian army no longer carries out extra-judicial murders? (160016)

The Government have assured us that there will be no more impunity for servicemen, and I discussed this with both the vice defence Minister, Jorge Bedoya, during his visit here in March and subsequently with the constitutional court judge, Vargas Silva, who was here on 30 April. I will continue to discuss these matters. We are against impunity for the military, and we make our position on that very clear.

The Government of Colombia are making extensive efforts to counter the dreadful trade in narcotics. Will the Minister assure us that we will give that Government as much support for counter-narcotics as is possible?

Indeed, and narcotics impinges on the human rights of people in Colombia and, unfortunately, of people here in the UK, Mr Speaker. Yes, we will give our full support—we are giving our full support—to the Government of Colombia. President Santos is a keen Anglophile, and we are very supportive as a Government of what he is doing in leading his country from the dark days of the past to a much brighter future.