It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller, and I will try my best to speak as fast as I can in my thick Scottish accent. I congratulate Kate Osborne on securing this important debate.
We have seen poverty increase around the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Colombia, however, the resulting economic suffering has proved all too much to bear in a country that has pre-existing social and political discontent. Since protests began this year, the demands of the Colombian people have increased beyond economic reform. Protesters have been calling for the dismantling of the riot police, the creation of a universal basic income programme and free university tuition. Those demands have grown out of increasing inequality, lack of social mobility and what many deem to be the oppression of marginalised groups by police forces and the Government.
As the hon. Member for Jarrow mentioned in her opening remarks, there have been a number of deaths in Colombia. It has been reported that more than 220 social and community leaders were killed in 2020 alone, with claims that the majority were killed at the hands of the Colombian state security forces. At least 18 trade unionists have also been killed. According to the UN verification mission, a total of 133 human rights defenders were murdered. The deaths have led to the condemnation of the country by rights groups such as Amnesty International, which has stated that Colombia is widely recognised as the most dangerous country in the world for people who defend human rights. Military intelligence has also been found to be spying on human rights defenders, journalists, High Court magistrates and members of the opposition. In fact, information has been sold to neo-paramilitaries.
The response of Colombia’s riot police to the ongoing protests exemplifies the country’s failure to protect and uphold the human rights of its people. The police have responded to overwhelmingly peaceful social protests with excessive force and violence, as confirmed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It has been confirmed that at least 30 protesters have been killed, and over 100 people are reported to have disappeared. Hundreds have suffered serious injury, and over 800 arbitrary arrests have taken place. As many Members have spoken about, there have been reports of cases of sexual violence at the protests.
It is evident that the Colombian people’s cry for the dismantling of the riot police is not unfounded, and comprehensive police reform is urgently needed to prevent significant violations in the future. We must urge the Colombian Government to take urgent measures to protect the human rights of their citizens and to initiate a comprehensive police and security reform effort, to ensure that officers respect the right to peaceful assembly and bring those responsible for abuse to justice.
In the midst of the horror and unrest taking place in Colombia, it was heart-warming to note that members of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s growing Colombian community have taken to the streets of Scotland in solidarity with those in Colombia. This act of international solidarity is representative of the people of Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Scottish National party’s care and commitment to social justice around the world.