Questions in British parliament on peace and human rights in Colombia

Issues of peace and human rights in Colombia continue to be raised in the British parliament. MPs have submitted several questions to the government. You can review questions and responses below.

Dan Carden MP (Labour), 14 October 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, if he will make representations to his Colombian counterpart on the reported killing of 18-year-old activist Jayder Quintana in Cauca, southwest Colombia.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

As we emphasised in the UN Security Council session on 14 July following the Special Representative’s report, and will raise again in the Security Council on 14 October, the UK continues to be very concerned about the persistent level of violence towards human rights defenders, social leaders, former FARC-EP combatants, and others. We regularly raise these issues with the Colombian Government and in multilateral fora, and will continue to do so, including during Lord Ahmad’s human rights-focused virtual visit to Colombia this week.

We have urged the Colombian Government to prioritise the tackling of this violence, and continue to work to improve security conditions around the country. The UK is also committed to continuing its own programming to support the government’s efforts, and mitigate risks to communities.

Tony Lloyd MP (Labour), 13 October 2020

What the Government’s policy is on promoting human rights, democracy building and the rule of law internationally, following the merger of his Department and the Department for International Development.

Nigel Adams, Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The UK is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law acting as a force for good in the world. The UK is one of the longest standing members of the Human Rights Council, and we are aiming to maintain that record at today’s election. Another good example is our recent activity at the UN on China, which shows our commitment to defending human rights in Xinjiang.

Tony Lloyd MP (Labour)

I welcome the Minister’s words, but may I refer him and his words to the situation in Colombia where, since the signing of the peace deal in 2016, we have seen hundreds of human rights defenders, civic leaders, trade unionists and former FARC—Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—members murdered, and where the fragile democratic process saw the FARC move from the armed struggle to the political process. Will the Minister commit to making Colombia a priority for this Government and will he or one of his colleagues commit to meeting a small delegation of MPs who are concerned about Colombia?

Nigel Adams, Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is absolutely right to raise this matter. We believe that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the absolute foundations on which open, stable and prosperous societies thrive. I am more than happy to commit on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend Wendy Morton, to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this issue.

Jim Shannon MP (DUP), 12 October 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what recent assessment he has made of the situation for human rights defenders in Colombia.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

The UK Government remains concerned about the persistent level of violence towards human rights defenders in Colombia, and we have noted indications that this may have worsened during the COVID-19 lockdown.

We regularly raise this issue, as well as specific cases of concern with the Colombian Government, and in multilateral fora. We have also called on the Colombian Government to prioritise tackling and preventing this violence. Most recently, our Permanent Representative to the UN expressed our deep concern at the UN Security Council on 14 July, and we will use our position as penholder to raise the issue with the international community at next week’s Security Council meeting.

I emphasised that the UK views this issue as one of utmost importance during a phone call with Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum on 2 June. Lord Ahmad, the Minister responsible for human rights, will reiterate these concerns when he makes a virtual visit to Colombia next week.

Colombia is a UK Government ‘Human Rights Priority Country,’ and as such, our Embassy in Bogota has provided significant programming to help those at risk, including support to the Attorney General’s office to strengthen their capacity in investigating threats against, and murders of human rights defenders.

We will continue to raise our concerns with the relevant state actors in Colombia.

Chris Matheson MP (Labour), 8 September 2020

[To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs] what recent discussions he has had with his Colombian counterpart on increased incidents of violent conflict in that country.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

Colombia has made significant progress since the 2016 peace agreement was signed with the FARC. For Colombians in most parts of the country where security was an issue, conditions are much improved. Significant challenges remain in some areas, due to illegal armed groups competing for territory and control of the drugs trade and other illicit activities. This has led to violence, and the death and displacement of ordinary Colombians. We regularly raise this violence with Colombian counterparts and in multilateral bodies. I discussed the UK’s concerns in a phone call with Claudia Blum, Colombian Foreign Minister, on 2 June. We also use our position as UNSC penholder on Colombia’s peace process to emphasise the issue and to urge the Colombian government to ensure the rule of law applies to the entire country, most recently at the UNSC session on 14 July. The UK is the biggest donor to the UN Trust Fund for Colombia. Since 2015 we have contributed over £53m to support implementation of the peace agreement. Programmes run by our Embassy in Bogotá aim to tackle the root causes of this violence, by helping communities develop sustainable livelihoods. This issue is a priority for the Colombian government. We will continue to support their efforts to bring long-term security to all communities.

Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour), 8 September 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of commitments in the Colombian peace deal for the Colombian Government to work towards the dismantling of paramilitary successor groups.

Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour), 8 September 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the accuracy of reports of ongoing actions of the paramilitary successor group Los Rastrojos in Colombia.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

We remain concerned about the continued presence and activities of illegal armed groups in Colombia, and the impact that their involvement in, and competition for, control of illicit economies has on local people. We are aware of reports of the activities of one such group Los Rastrojos, which has led to the deaths and widespread displacement of civilians near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Our Embassy continues to monitor the situation.

We remain steadfast in our support of the Colombian authorities as they seek to ensure sustainable peace. We regularly raise our concern about the activities of illegal armed groups with the Colombian Government, and in multilateral fora. Most recently, our Permanent Representative to the UN spoke on this issue at the UN Security Council on 14 July, and we consistently press the Colombian Government to focus on extending the rule of law to all parts of the country. More widely, long-term security depends on socioeconomic development across Colombia as a whole. Embassy programmes are working to help communities develop alternative livelihoods, and tackle the root causes of insecurity in order to build towards a sustainable and inclusive peace.

Kate Osborne MP (Labour), 8 September 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the accuracy of reports of the murder of community activist Ernesto Aguilar Barreras in the Catatumbo region of Colombia.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

We are aware of the reports that the community activist Ernesto Aguilar Barreras was among the victims of an attack in Tibú in mid-July, consequent on competition between rival illegal armed groups for control of illicit economies and territory.

As we emphasised in the UN Security Council session on 14 July following the Special Representative‘s report, the UK continues to be concerned about the persistent level of violence towards human rights defenders, community activists such as Ernesto Aguilar Barreras, former FARC-EP combatants and others. We regularly raise these issues with the Colombian Government and in multilateral fora.

We have urged the Colombian Government to prioritise the tackling of this violence and to continue to work to improve security conditions around the country. The UK is also committed to continuing its own programming to support the government’s efforts and mitigate risks to communities.

Kate Osborne MP (Labour), 3 September 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the accuracy of reports of a massacre in Tibú in Colombia on 18 July 2020.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

We are aware of reports of killings and subsequent displacement of civilians in the Norte de Santander border areas of Cúcuta and Tibú in mid-July, following competition between rival armed groups for control of illicit economies and territory. The UK remains most concerned about the continuing presence of such groups in Colombia, and the serious impact their crimes and other activities have on local people and environments, particularly during this challenging time.

President Duque’s Government has publicly committed to implementing the Peace Accords of 2016 in their entirety, and we remain steadfast in our support of the Colombian authorities as they seek to ensure sustainable peace. We are proud to be the penholder on the issue at the UN Security Council. Most recently, our Permanent Representative to the UN spoke on the continued presence of illegal armed groups in Colombia at the UN Security Council on 14 July.

We have committed almost £53 million over 5 years through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund to support the implementation of the peace process in Colombia, including across conflict-affected regions such as Norte de Santander. Many of the humanitarian organisations supported by the United Kingdom are operating in the region and working to provide support to those displaced. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour), 8 June 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of progress on the rural reform chapter of the peace agreement in Colombia.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

President Duque’s Government has publicly committed to implementing the Peace Accords of 2016 in their entirety, and we remain steadfast in our support of the Colombian authorities as they seek to ensure sustainable peace in Colombia. We are proud to be the penholder on the issue at the United Nations Security Council, and have committed almost £53 million over 5 years through the United Kingdom Conflict Stability and Security Fund for Colombia to support development across conflict-affected regions. We regularly raise progress in implementation of the peace agreement with the Colombian authorities, including the need to prioritise rural reform, where progress is crucial to sustainable peace. UK-funded programmes across a range of areas are helping to improve the socio-economic conditions in rural areas, particularly through the implementation of the rural development programmes (PDETS) set out in the peace accords.

Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour), 8 June 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what discussions he has had with his Colombian counterparts on the security of former combatants living in newly created areas outside the official reincorporation zones.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

The United Kingdom welcomes the Colombian Government’s longstanding commitment to assisting former guerrilla fighters transition to civilian life following the peace agreement of 2016. We have committed almost £53 million over 5 years through the United Kingdom Conflict Stability and Security Fund for Colombia to support development across conflict-affected regions. This includes programmes designed to build state capacity to ensure the safety of former fighters and of other vulnerable individuals and groups, including outside of official reincorporation zones.

Our Embassy regularly raises concerns about specific communities with the relevant state actors in Colombia.

We also raised our concern about this issue at the United Nations Security Council session on Colombia on 14 April, where we called on the Colombian Government to accelerate its reintegration programmes for former combatants. We will continue to work closely with the Colombian Government and civil society on the peace process and related matters.

Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour), 8 June 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of the accuracy of reports of protestors being killed during protests against forced eradication programmes in Colombia.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

The United Kingdom is committed to the implementation of the Peace Accords of 2016, and we remain steadfast in our support of the Colombian authorities as they seek to ensure sustainable peace in Colombia. Part of this includes direct support to the Government’s voluntary crop substitution programme and to supporting state capacity to better protect community leaders involved in this work. We are aware of reports of two deaths during coca eradication operations in recent months. As we mentioned at the UN Security Council session on 13 January, we are particularly concerned about the persistent level of violence towards human rights defenders and community leaders and have called on the Colombian Government to prioritise the tackling of this violence. We have regularly raised the need for a holistic approach to improving security conditions in rural areas.

Baroness Coussins, 8 June 2020

My Lords, is the Minister aware of recent reports from Colombia that the army has been illegally compiling secret files on journalists, containing personal information on their contacts, homes, families and other private information? This undermines the peace process and I hope that the Minister will condemn it. Will he also tell the House what progress has been made since January this year, when, in the context of another question on journalists’ safety, I asked him whether equivalent protection could be negotiated for interpreters who work with journalists, especially in conflict zones? He said then that discussions were taking place on the proposal for a Security Council resolution, and I would be grateful if he could update the House.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second question, obviously, given the focus on Covid-19, we have not been able to make progress on that Security Council resolution to the extent that I would have liked, as Minister for the UN. However, I assure her that our work in this respect will continue, and I will shortly have a discussion with our acting representative in New York on how we can make further progress. I will write to her regarding the question she raised concerning Colombia.

Clive Efford MP (Labour), 4 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of the activity of (a) the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces (AGC) in the Colombian department of Choco and (b) the response of the Colombian security forces to that situation; and if she make a statement.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

We are aware of reports of violence and intimidation by the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces in parts of Colombia, and in particular the Chocó region. We remain extremely concerned about the continued presence of illegal armed groups in Colombia, and the impact their competition for control of illicit economies has on local people – even more so at this challenging time. The UK Embassy in Colombia is monitoring events in Chocó.

The UK has been vocal in expressing our concern about the effect the activity of these armed groups has on the future of peace in Colombia. We regularly raise these issues with the Colombian Government and in multilateral fora. Most recently, our Permanent Representative to the United Nations spoke on this issue at the UN Security Council on 14 April, and we consistently press the Colombian Government to focus on extending the rule of law to all parts of the country.

Colombia has made significant progress in its efforts to end the influence of such groups, and we remain steadfast in our support of the Colombian authorities as they work towards sustainable peace.

Clive Efford MP (Labour), 4 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations she has made to her Colombian counterpart on support for the transitional justice mechanisms of the Colombian peace process.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

President Duque’s Government has publicly committed to implementing the Peace Accords of 2016 in their entirety. In meetings with the President in London last year the then-Foreign Secretary made it clear that the UK sees the transitional justice system and the involvement of victims as vital parts of the 2016 accords. President Duque’s signing of the transitional justice law last June was a positive step forward, and we are pleased that the institutions have since begun their work.

We continue to emphasise our support for transitional justice in Colombia both with the government and in multilateral fora, including most recently at the UN Security Council on 14 April.

The UK Government has contributed over £26 million towards transitional justice mechanisms and victims of the conflict in Colombia since 2016. This includes supporting the truth commission’s work to gather testimony from Colombians abroad, including here in the UK. We will continue to work closely with the Colombian government and civil society on the peace process and related matters.

Dan Carden MP (Labour), 21 April 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of the accuracy of media reports of killings of former FARC combatants that are taking part in the peace process.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

Following the change to date for answer of this PQ, I submitted a response by email on 26 March, with the following response. The Table Office have agreed this approach.

The UK shares the concerns of the Colombian Government regarding ongoing violence in Colombia, including the killings of former FARC combatants. We have been vocal in expressing our concern about the persistent high levels of violence and threats towards former FARC combatants and others, as well as the impact this has on the future of peace.

The United Kingdom welcomes the Colombian Government’s longstanding commitment to assisting former guerrilla fighters in transitioning to civilian life following the peace agreement of 2016. We have committed almost £45 million over 5 years through the United Kingdom’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund for Colombia to support development across conflict-affected regions. We have done this through programmes designed to build state capacity to ensure the safety of former fighters, and of other vulnerable individuals and groups, including outside of official reincorporation zones.

We also raised our concern about this issue at the United Nations Security Council session on Colombia on 13 January, where we called on the Colombian government to accelerate its reintegration programmes for former combatants. We will continue to work closely with the Colombian government and civil society on the peace process and related matters.

Dan Carden MP (Labour), 21 April 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if he will make representations to his Colombian counterpart on the security situation for human rights defenders in Colombia.

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development

Following the change to date for answer of this PQ, I submitted a response by email on 26 March, with the following response. The Table Office have agreed this approach.

The United Kingdom remains concerned about the persistent level of violence towards human rights defenders in Colombia. We consistently raise these issues with the Colombian Government, and in multilateral fora, most recently at the UN Security Council on 13 January, and during President Duque’s visit to the UK in June 2019. Our Embassy in Bogota also continues to raise concerns about specific communities with the relevant state actors in Colombia.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (Labour), 4 March 2020

Peace in Colombia is currently very unstable and the peace process is fragile. We are giving money for security reform, but no money for policing and community development. This year alone, 52 trade unionists and community leaders have been assassinated. Will the Government put in money to support policing and investigations?

Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Government are aware of the situation in Colombia and Venezuela. The UK is one of the largest donors to the humanitarian response in Venezuela and the top donor to the Central Emergency Response Fund and Education Cannot Wait. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in respect of his specific point on policing.

Lisa Cameron MP (Scottish National Party), 11 February 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what steps he is taking to encourage UK company compliance with UN guiding principles on business and human rights in Colombia.

Christopher Pincher, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas

The United Kingdom is committed to protecting and promoting human rights in Colombia, which the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has designated a Human Rights Priority Country. The Government expects United Kingdom companies to comply fully with UN guiding principles on human rights in that country, and the FCO works to support and promote responsible practice by United Kingdom companies internationally.

We regularly call for the prioritisation of a human rights agenda in Colombia, most recently at the UN Security Council on 13 January. The United Kingdom remains committed to continuing our programming to support full compliance with human rights obligations in Colombia.

Lisa Cameron MP (Scottish National Party), 11 February 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what steps he is taking to monitor the effect of Government funding for Colombia on human rights and the peace process in that country.

Christopher Pincher, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas

The United Kingdom is committed to the implementation of the Peace Accords of 2016, and we remain steadfast in our support of the Colombian authorities as they seek to ensure sustainable peace in Colombia. We are proud to be the penholder on the issue at the United Nations Security Council, and have committed almost £45 million over 5 years through the United Kingdom Conflict Stability and Security Fund for Colombia to support development across conflict-affected regions. As a Human Rights Priority Country, our Embassy in Colombia also provides significant programming to help at-risk human rights defenders and to tackle the legacy of sexual violence from Colombia’s decades-long conflict.

The British Government undertakes extensive risk assessments when designing projects in Colombia and deciding which to fund, including any potential negative impact on human rights or the peace process. This includes the OSJA process, which ensures any United Kingdom overseas security and justice assistance (OSJA) work meets our human rights obligations and our values. We continually monitor the effects of our programme work in consultation with colleagues working in Colombia, making a thorough assessment of the impact of all of our projects.

Chris Bryant MP (Labour), 29 January 2020

International agribusiness in Colombia regularly steals land from campesino and indigenous peoples to cut down trees and plant acre after acre of palm oil crops, which is unsustainable for the future and bad for the environment. What are the Government saying to the Colombian Government to bring the peace process back on track so that indigenous people can have their land back?

Andrew Stephenson, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

DFID supports the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a public-private initiative with 90 member organisations that is focused on realising private sector commitments to eliminate deforestation in the supply chains for palm oil, beef, soya and paper. This is one of our many initiatives to address the consequences of palm oil production.

Jo Stevens MP (Labour), 27 January 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations he has made to his Colombian counterpart on the safety and security of the 9,000 FARC members living outside of official reincorporation zones in Colombia.

Christopher Pincher, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas

The United Kingdom welcomes the Colombian Government’s longstanding commitment to assisting former guerrilla fighters transition to civilian life following the peace agreement of 2016. We have committed almost £45 million over 5 years through the United Kingdom conflict Stability and Security Fund for Colombia to support development across conflict-affected regions. We have done this through programmes designed to build state capacity to ensure the safety of former fighters and of other vulnerable individuals and groups, including outside of official reincorporation zones.

Our Embassy regularly raises concerns about specific communities with the relevant state actors in Colombia.

We also raised our concern about this issue at the United Nations Security Council session on Colombia on 13 January, where we called on the Colombian government to accelerate its reintegration programmes for former combatants. We will continue to work closely with the Colombian government and civil society on the peace process and related matters.

Jo Stevens MP (Labour), 27 January 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if he will make representations to his Colombian counterpart on the violence against (a) social activists and (b) FARC former combatants in that country; and if he will make a statement.

Christopher Pincher, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas

The United Kingdom shares the concerns of the Colombian Government regarding the ongoing violence in Colombia as organised armed groups fight for control of illicit economies. We have been vocal in expressing our concern about the persistent high levels of violence and threats towards social activists, former FARC combatants and others, and the impact this has on the future of peace.

We regularly raise these issues with the Colombian Government and in multilateral fora. Most recently, our Permanent Representative to the United Nations spoke on this issue at the UN Security Council on 13 January. Our Embassy regularly raises concerns about specific communities with the relevant state actors in Colombia.

We remain steadfast in our support of the Colombian authorities as they work towards sustainable peace, and will continue to work closely with the Colombian Government and civil society on the peace process and related matters.

Jo Stevens MP (Labour), 27 January 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whether he has made an assessment of the implications for his policies of the 8 January 2020 UN Security Council Mission to Colombia report on the state of the Colombian peace process; and if he will make a statement.

Christopher Pincher, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas

The United Kingdom is proud to act as penholder for the Colombian peace process in the UN Security Council, and supports the important work the UN Verification Mission does to monitor the progress made following the 2016 agreement. We welcomed the Special Representative‘s latest report to the Security Council, and agreed with his assessment of the situation.

We were glad to see President Duque’s announcement that he would like the UN Mission to stay in Colombia until at least 2022, and commend the Colombian Government on the successes it has achieved so far.

As we mentioned in the UN Security Council session on 13 January following the Special Representative’s report, the United Kingdom remains particularly concerned about the persistent level of violence towards human rights defenders, community leaders and former FARC combatants. We have called on the Colombian Government to prioritise the tackling of this violence and to improve security conditions around the country, as well as accelerating implementation of reintegration programmes for former fighters. The United Kingdom is also committed to continuing its own programming to support the Government’s efforts and mitigate risks to communities.