Colombia — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:40 pm on 15th July 2021.

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Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck 3:40 pm, 15th July 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate my hon. Friend Kate Osborne on securing this timely debate. I will continue on the theme of the recent abuses committed by the Colombian police against protesters, which are absolutely appalling. Millions of Colombians—mostly young people—came on to the streets during April and May this year to call for an end to the growing poverty and state violence and for a full implementation of the peace agreement. The response from the Colombian police was violence.

As has already been said, up to 44 protesters were killed, according to human rights organisations. There were also reports of sexual violence, and thousands of arbitrary arrests. As young people are beaten, killed and sexually abused on the streets of Colombia, we need the UK Government to step up to the plate and send a clear message that such blatant human rights abuses will not be tolerated or accepted. We must immediately review our training programme with the Colombian police and suspend it immediately if it is going to units involved in the repression of peaceful protests.

The Colombian Government have continually failed to accept responsibility for the violence carried out by the police. Instead, they have tried to hoodwink the international community. Just yesterday, during a session at the UN Security Council, the Colombian Foreign Minister and vice-president, Marta Lucía Ramírez, bizarrely blamed the killing of protesters on people who infiltrated the marches and committed vandalism. We should not be fooled: we have witnessed the Colombian police attack peaceful protesters over the last few years, not just the last couple of months. We cannot stay silent in our calls for justice as the Colombian Government try to deflect our attention. I hope that the Minister might make representations to the Colombian authorities to ensure full investigations of all alleged killings by the Colombian police during recent protests.

I was in Colombia in 2014. I visited the city of Buenaventura. I was there with a local human rights organisation, a church organisation, and I went into a neighbourhood where paramilitaries were using local houses to chop people into pieces while they were still alive. I met the communities—predominantly Afro-Colombian—whose children had to listen to the screams of the victims, and who had then organised to remove the paramilitaries from the streets. It was horrifying, but it was inspirational in equal measure.

Even though that was seven years ago, sadly we know that violence against activists from these communities continues. The facts and the figures have been recited by colleagues already. We really need an immediate implementation of public policy to dismantle paramilitary successor groups, as stipulated in the peace agreement. If there is true commitment to bringing an end to the killings of human rights defenders, why after their three years in government have we still not seen a plan of action to dismantle these illegal armed groups that have such deep, historic links to the Colombian state?

Will the Minister reiterate our Government’s commitment to ensure the full implementation of the peace agreement and explain what steps they have taken as the penholder at the UN Security Council, as described earlier? I also call on the Colombian Government to use their last year in office to do everything they can to advance as much of the implementation as they possibly can. I know that many of my colleagues will continue to monitor the situation closely.