Question in Irish parliament about Colombian victims of forced disappearance

The following question on Colombia’s peace process was submitted in Ireland’s Oireachtas parliament on Tuesday 22 October. It addresses the issue of a major construction project in a zone thought to contain undiscovered graves of victims of forced disappearance.

Catherine Connolly T.D.

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken to his Colombian counterpart in relation to the assertion by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia that between 500 and 600 persons could be buried in unmarked graves in the zone of the Hidroituango construction project; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


Simon Coveney, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

I understand that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) has this month been hearing arguments regarding disappeared persons who might be buried in the zone of the Hidroituango dam in the region of Antioquia, and will decide whether to issue precautionary measures in this area. I understand that this is a process that will involve engagement with a number of stakeholders and bodies, including local groups, NGOs, the Governor of Antioquia, the project owners and the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons (UBPD). This matter demonstrates the crucial importance of the JEP, the UBPD, and the other bodies established under the peace agreement to ensure justice and reconciliation for those affected by the conflict which lasted for more than 50 years.  

I am also aware of the worrying levels of violence, threats and intimidation against a number of groups in Colombia, particularly human rights defenders, members of civil society organisations, former combatants and those engaged in political activity. I wholeheartedly condemn such threats or attacks and would like to reiterate Ireland’s strong conviction that everyone’s right to freedom of expression, to defend their rights and to participate in public life must be respected.

Ireland is a longstanding and deeply committed supporter of the Colombian peace process. I firmly believe that Colombia’s peace accord provides the framework in which the endemic violence and impunity which has afflicted Colombian society for decades can successfully be addressed.

I am concerned by any developments that might undermine the significant progress that has been made in securing peace in Colombia but, as we know from our own experience on the island of Ireland, peacebuilding is an ongoing process that will encounter many obstacles and setbacks along the way.  

Ireland remains committed to supporting the Colombian Government in its efforts to overcome these challenges, something which I emphasised in my meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, H.E. Carlos Holmes Trujillo, during his visit to Dublin last month. I assured Minister Trujillo that we see our partnership with Colombia in sharing experience of peacebuilding as a long term commitment. We agreed that we had much to learn from each other as we strive to build and maintain peace in our two countries.

Ireland has provided over €14 million in funding to Colombia since 2007, focusing on the areas of human rights, conflict prevention, peacebuilding and supporting livelihoods for rural populations. The Department provides funding directly to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia to support its important work in promoting and protecting human rights, including in some of Colombia’s most isolated and challenging regions, as well as to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, which provides protection measures to community leaders and activists operating in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America.

My Department also provides funding to the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Colombia, which works to support stabilisation in areas affected by the conflict, towards reincorporation of former combatants, and to support victims and systems of transitional justice, including by working to strengthen the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

In addition, Ireland was a founding member of the EU Trust Fund for Colombia, and will contribute €3 million over the five-year lifespan of the Fund. The Fund finances projects targeted at the marginalised rural areas of Colombia which have been most affected by conflict, and all projects incorporate a human rights and gender perspective.

Ireland also provides support to the Colombian Government through a series of lesson sharing programmes based on our experience of peacebuilding and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. In June, my Department supported the provision of technical inputs to the office of Dr. Emilio Archila, Presidential Counsellor for Stabilisation and Consolidation of Colombia, who is responsible for the implementation of the peace accords. Officials at my Department were also pleased to meet with him last month when he travelled to Dublin for a series of meetings.

The peace process is fundamental to improving the human rights situation in the country, which I am aware is difficult for many human rights defenders across Colombia. During the recent visits of Minister Trujillo and Presidential Counsellor Archilla, I understand that civil society organisations supporting the work of human rights defenders in the country had the opportunity to engage directly on these issues and on measures the Government is taking to protect human rights defenders.      

Officials at my Department in Dublin and at our Embassy in Bogotá engage regularly with human rights defenders in Colombia. Last week officials in Dublin met with Christian Aid and representatives of Sisma Mujer, a partner organisation of women human rights defenders active in Colombia. Ireland welcomes engagement with these groups and we are pleased to support the valuable work that they do in defence of human rights and in support of the implementation of the peace accords in Colombia.

I will continue to monitor developments on this issue closely. My officials in Dublin and Bogotá will continue Ireland’s regular engagement with relevant stakeholders across Colombia, including the Colombian government, human rights defenders, multilateral organisations and our EU partners, in support of human rights and the full implementation of the peace agreement in the country.