Colombia — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 15th July 2021.

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Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Labour, Hemsworth 3:27 pm, 15th July 2021

Thank you, Mrs Miller, for your guidance on the four minute limit, which I will try my very best to adhere to. I congratulate my hon. Friend Kate Osborne for securing this debate, and for the House authorities for allowing it to take place.

Colombians are a good-natured and democratic people, who love liberty and life. However, they are experiencing a prolonged crisis, the roots of which lie deep, both in Colombian society, but, above all, in the current failing economic model. The economy is in freefall, and the Government wanted to raise taxes on the hardest hit, so social cohesion is breaking down as inequality accelerates in this wonderful country.

Almost half of all Colombians now live in poverty—15% in the most extreme conditions. Meanwhile, the richest 10% in Colombia earn two fifths of all the country’s income. Many Colombians will speak of endemic elite corruption, and of the power of the cartels in the economy. There is little surprise that throughout the country, civilians, in very large numbers, have become increasingly active in fighting for justice. I am sure that all parts of this House express our solidarity with all those citizens fighting for a just settlement in Colombia, or anywhere else in the world.

Undoubtedly, wealthier Colombians, and the international corporations that have become implanted there, have felt threatened by this citizen activity. Therefore, this very right-wing Colombian Government have done what such Governments always do, everywhere, which is to defend extreme privilege, wealth and power, even at the expense of their own people’s freedoms and, sadly, at the expense of some people’s lives.

The Colombian criminal justice system has, too often, been used as a Government tool to attack human rights in an attempt to supress this insipient citizen movement. We have heard the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow about the number of deaths: 5,000 cases of police violence; 44 police killings; 2,000 arbitrary arrests; 77 protesters who have been disappeared—and that is only in the last three or four months. The ITUC —International Trade Union Confederation—and Amnesty have declared that Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist fighting back or an environmentalist. They might have added being an indigenous activist or an LGBTQ rights activist.

Let me turn to the involvement of the British Government. The UK’s College of Policing has been training Colombian police officers. Our very own Crown Prosecution Service provided so-called criminal justice advisers. The British Government spent £2.3 million training specialised cadres of police in Colombia. There are other programmes as well, too lengthy to mention. British policing, however, is meant to be based on the principle of consent, so what on earth have we, the British, been doing, apparently in cahoots with a Government that seems to remove civil liberties and human rights from what ought to be a central role in their criminal justice system in Colombia?

Finally, I turn to the Minister. The British Government need to come off the fence and to do so clearly. There is no evidence that the situation in Colombia is improving—in fact, it is deteriorating—so there can be no justification in offering words of good will, in effect, to a President who is a human rights abuser on the grandest scale. Minister, please condemn the abuse of civil rights in Colombia and ensure that all UK programmes either comply totally with democratic values henceforth or cease immediately.