MPs hold debate in British parliament on Colombian peace process

British and Northern Irish parliamentarians have held a debate on Colombian president Iván Duque’s handling of the peace process and the chronic human rights insecurity affecting the country. MPs from different parties met in Parliament on Tuesday 18 June, hours after Duque, who was in London on an official visit, had addressed the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The debate was convoked by Jo Stevens MP, the Labour Party’s representative for Cardiff Central, who took part in a Justice for Colombia Peace Monitor delegation to Colombia in August 2018 and has visited the country on other occasions. She warned that the high number of killings of social activists, as well as more than 130 FARC former guerrillas, had left the peace process in a ‘fragile’ state.

She also criticised Duque over his government’s attempts to unilaterally rewrite the agreement’s transitional justice chapter, known as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which aims to investigate major human rights violations committed during the conflict and sanction those responsible. She also questioned the motives behind the long detention of FARC peace negotiator and politician Jesús Santrich, who was recently sworn into congress after spending 14 months in prison despite the lack of evidence.

According to Jo Stevens:

‘Since [Duque’s] election, he has systematically attempted to undermine the JEP, despite its being recognised by the international community and, most importantly, by the victims of the conflict as a way to provide truth, justice and reconciliation for victims on all sides and an end to the impunity that has operated for decades. That has resulted in a significant stalling of the process, which is threatening the very existence of the peace agreement.

Jim Shannon of Northern Ireland’s conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who visited Havana to advise on Colombia’s peace talks, expressed concern over the continued presence of paramilitaries in Colombia and the government’s failure to tackle them. ‘[P]aramilitary groups think that they are above the law, and they are carrying out atrocities. They need to be accountable and to stop that; if the peace process is to go forward, we need to ensure that those who have the power are doing their best to stop these things’, he said.

With regards to the murders of social activists, with more than 700 community leaders, trade unionists and human rights defenders killed since the start of 2016, Patrick Grady MP of the Scottish National Party said that ‘Colombia is the worst country in the world for the killing of human rights defenders’ as well as the most dangerous for trade unionists. ‘The lack of security for human rights defenders, especially those working in rural areas on the implementation of the peace accord and on practical aspects of land restitution, environmental issues and crop substitution, are incredibly concerning’, he said.

Labour Party MP Helen Goodman, who visited Colombia in late May on the third JFC Peace Monitor delegation, presented a series of recommendations for the British government, which is the penholder to the peace agreement, to implement or support. These included sending election monitors to observe local elections later this year; urging the UN Security Council to meet with rural communities and trade unionists when it visits Colombia in July; extending the UN’s budget and mandate beyond October of this year, when it is currently due to expire; including case studies on Colombia in forthcoming conferences on journalism and sexual violence in conflict; and pressuring the US government to meet its obligations to the peace agreement as a member of the Security Council.

The government Minister for Europe and the Americas, Alan Duncan MP, said that Britain remained committed to the Colombian peace process and was pleased that the JEP’s legal standing had advanced. He expressed concern over the slow reincorporation of FARC former guerrillas and the ongoing violence against social activists. ‘[T]hose who speak out for the rights of local communities are often singled out for attack. The UN reports that at least 115 human rights defenders and community leaders were killed last year … Amnesty International has described Colombia as the most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders’, he said.

Read the full transcript of the parliamentary debate on Colombia.