Colombia — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:48 pm on 15th July 2021.

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Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 3:48 pm, 15th July 2021

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller, and I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I thank my hon. Friend Kate Osborne for securing this important debate, and for her powerful contribution. I also thank my constituents in Liverpool, West Derby who have been in touch with me regularly and have asked me to raise their concerns about human rights violations in Colombia directly with the Minister.

I previously raised my concerns in the House on 20 April, both about the alleged involvement of Colombia’s security forces in the deaths of at least 30 protesters last year, and about worrying reports of an increased number of protesters losing their sight after being hit with projectiles fired by police, including 19-year-old Yuri Camargo and 22-year-old Miguel Angel Linares in 2019. I asked the Secretary of State whether he would raise the importance of full legal and disciplinary investigations of those cases with his Colombian counterpart, but no firm commitment was given. So will the Minister today confirm whether those cases have been raised and will she update us on their progress?

Since late April the situation has become worse. There has been a violent police response to mass protests organised to object to the proposed tax reform and in response to longer-running demands about growing poverty, the murder of social activists and the failed implementation of the peace agreement. Between 28 April and 26 June, Temblores—a Colombian human rights non-governmental organisation—has registered 4,687 cases of police violence and 73 killings, at least 44 of which appear to have been carried out by the police; more than 2,000 arbitrary arrests; 82 victims of eye injuries, principally caused by police projectiles; and 28 victims of sexual assault.

There has been international condemnation of the Colombian Government’s response to the mass mobilisation and protests. The UN has condemned the use of excessive force, and the EU has called for the disproportionate use of force by the security forces to stop. Will the Minister today join those calls and issue a full condemnation of the violence of the Colombian police and of the Government’s comments undermining the right to protest?

I visited Colombia with JFC—Justice for Colombia—in 2018, and I met some of the most inspiring people I have ever met: trade unionists, mainly mothers, who put their lives in danger every single day to fight for a more equal society. The sight of them getting into vehicles with armed guards is something that will not leave me when I think back. I left with the impression of a beautiful country and a proud nation who had seen the glimpse of a chance of peace, but who distrust that the Government would honour their side of the agreement. The past two years have proved them heartbreakingly correct. Overwhelmingly all parties in 2018 said that international pressure would be needed to eventually achieve the peace that they all sought. Will the Minister work with her Colombian counterpart to bring about the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement that gives hope and a real chance to end the human rights violations taking place now?