Last month, I spoke to Saint Gabriel’s students from South London’s Colombian community about the brutal state crackdown on protesters currently going on in the country. This month, I had the opportunity to raise their concerns about Colombia human rights abuses in a Westminster Hall Debate, echoing their clear call for action from our Government.
This crackdown comes as Colombians took to the streets in massive numbers to oppose a neoliberal tax programme that would have seen low- and middle-income people shouldering the costs of Covid damage. The state response was brutal, with Human Rights Watch reporting that 63 protesters have now been killed, with thousands injured and dozens disappeared across the country. On top of this, there are reports of arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, serious injury and attacks on some of the civil society organisations trying to monitor the police response.
I also met with Justice for Colombia in the run-up to this debate, an organisation working to promote solidarity between British and Irish trade unions and organisations in Colombia. Colombia has long been recognised as the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, accounting for 63.12% of the trade unionists murdered in the world between 2000 and 2010. A recent human rights commission to Colombia made up of delegates from 13 countries found that authorities were using counter-insurgency tactics honed in fighting the country’s leftist rebel groups against protesters.
I reiterated St Gabriel’s students call for the UK Government to put pressure on Colombia to demilitarise its cities, review its training of Colombian Police, suspend the sale of riot control materials and review arms exports to Colombia. As pen holders for the Colombian peace process at the UN Security Council, our Government must challenge the current President’s attempts to roll back on the Peace Accord and push for meaningful reform of the Colombian security services.
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