Colombia — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:32 pm on 15th July 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale 3:32 pm, 15th July 2021

I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend Kate Osborne for securing the debate and for introducing it so skilfully. What she outlined matters; it matters to anyone who respects things such as the right to peaceful protest or even the most basic human rights. What has been going wrong in Colombia in recent months is shocking, even for a country that is used to shock.

The demonstrations against Government policies have, in sheer scale, been unprecedented over the many years that I have known Colombia, and yet those demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful. That has been acknowledged by the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the European Union. Even the Colombian Government have accepted that they were, overwhelmingly, peaceful demonstrations.

As my hon. Friend said, however, that was met by the Defence Minister calling the demonstrations a “terrorist threat” by “criminal organisations”. That is not simply ludicrous, but dangerous, because that has led to the death toll following the protests, which my hon. Friends talked about, and to the arbitrary arrests and use of massive levels of violence by the Colombian police who, frankly, have been out of control. That included 28 sexual assaults on people held in custody, as my hon. Friend pointed out, including the sad case of 17-year-old Alison Melendez who was raped by the police and then went home to commit suicide. Nothing can bring back Alison or undo that damage to her family. It matters, and it matters to those of us who care about Colombia, as we should.

The peace accords in Colombia were a wonderful step forward, but as we have seen in the use of violence by police against the demonstrations, we have seen in effect in a denial for those who gave up guerrilla warfare: 278 members of FARC have been murdered since the peace accord was signed and there has been a lack of progress on land reform and on things such as funding those who give up the growing up of coca leaf for manufacture into cocaine. Those are deliberate policies of the Colombian Government and, being deliberate, they are sabotaging the peace effort.

Like my hon. Friend Jon Trickett, I must say to the Minister, I have seen condemnation from different sources—the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned such levels of violence recently and even in the United States, there have been calls for restraint—but few words from Ministers in the British Government. The Minister must stand up and make it clear that we denounce the kind of violence we are seeing from the Colombian police and military.

We need to look at our relationship in terms of police reform. Yes, it is right and proper that we push for police reform and, as penholder at the UN, the British Government have a unique role in bringing forward verification missions to see that that takes place. However, the big prize has got to be that we look at the capacity under the democratic clause in the UK-Andean pact, which makes it clear that human rights violations trigger certain consequences. It is about time that our Government looked at that human rights clause and considered whether now we have got to trigger it.