Colombia is an FCDO human rights priority country and UK Ministers and senior officials regularly raise human rights issue as well as specific cases of concern with the Colombian Government. Most recently, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad discussed human rights and the security situation in Colombia in his meeting with President Duque on 12 April, and I raised it with Vice-President Ramírez in February.
I am sure that the Minister will join me in congratulating Colombia on electing a new Administration committed to peace and human rights under Gustavo Petro.
According to human rights groups, on 28 March the army killed several civilians in the village of Remanso, in Putumayo, with outgoing President Iván Duque later praising the attack and describing the victims as armed dissidents. Given that the Colombian military has a history of killing civilians then falsifying the record, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that a proper investigation is carried out?
We congratulate Gustavo Petro on his election as President. We look forward to working with him on many shared priorities after his inauguration in August. He has made it very clear that he is committed to the peace process with the FARC. I also congratulate Colombia on a peaceful election.
Bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and Colombia have gone from strength to strength in recent years, particularly in areas of mutual concern such as trade and investment, tackling drug crime and the environment. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we will continue that same high-level engagement with the new Colombian Administration?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have very many areas of shared interest with Colombia, such as trade and the environment. Tackling drug crime is also a major issue. Colombia is a key partner to the UK and Latin America. We will continue to work closely together on a broad range of issues, and we look forward to working with the new President Petro after his inauguration in early August.
Colombia is once again the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a trade unionist, so when the Minister and the Government engage with President-elect Petro and his new Government will they ensure that the peace process, which is focused on the Government and the FARC, also includes the civil society and trade union groups on which we have perhaps taken our eye off the ball?
The hon. Member makes an important point about protecting civil society. Peace in Colombia was always going to be a difficult challenge, but we have been a leading advocate of that peace process. We will continue to prioritise support for the Colombian Government, and the new President has made it clear that he is committed to the peace process with the FARC, so we will continue to work with them.
I have just returned from Colombia as part of a delegation funded by Justice for Colombia, details of which will shortly be declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Gustavo Petro’s victory in Colombia’s presidential election should provide new impetus towards the full implementation of the peace agreement in that divided country, but the UK Government have sat idly by as violence against social activists and indigenous peoples has raged on across the country. As the penholder for Colombia at the United Nations, the UK has a responsibility to play its part, so will the Minister commit to changing course and working with the new Administration to finally bring this appalling violence to an end?
I absolutely refute the idea that the UK has been standing by. To date, we have spent more than £69 million through the conflict, stability and security fund. This is supporting the implementation of the peace agreement, and it has been supporting the Government’s rural developments, reintegration programmes and transitional justice mechanisms and strengthening the security and participation of communities in conflict-affected areas. We have also put in over £240 million of international climate funding in the past decade. That is helping to stabilise particularly vulnerable environmental areas by tackling environmental crime and the issues that affect local people. We will continue to prioritise that work, because stability in Colombia is vital for the whole of Latin America.