Thank you for contacting me about Early Day Motion 4 regarding Colombia’s peace process, and the recent protests and strikes that have taken place in the country against the inequitable tax proposals and brutal police tactics of the Duque government.
As a member of the Shadow Cabinet, I do not sign EDMs – but I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you and share my thoughts about the human rights violations that have been taking place in Colombia, which are of grave concern to us all, and tell you the action that I have been taking in my position as Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade.
After over five decades of war, the peace agreement signed by President Santos in 2016 was a huge step forward for Colombia, and offered hope for a bright future ahead. Sadly, as many of us feared at the time, those hopes have been undermined by the actions of those who always opposed the peace process, and have been content to see a return to violence.
I am particularly saddened that the human rights campaigners and trade unionists who worked so hard to bring about the 2016 agreement, and have maintained the fight for truth and justice for the victims of Colombia’s war, continue to suffer terrible violence as a result of their efforts. Well over 600 such activists have been killed since 2016, and Colombia is believed to be the deadliest country in the world to be a trade unionist or human rights defender.
It is in this context, and the huge increase in poverty caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, that the recent protests against the Duque government’s tax plans are totally understandable, as were the mass public demonstrations that followed against the brutal and deadly violence carried out by the Colombian police and security forces against unarmed protesters.
At the time, I and other Labour colleagues spoke out against this violence, and called on the UK government to condemn the human rights violations taking place in plain sight on Colombia’s streets. As I have said many times, the UK is the penholder of the Colombian peace process at the UN Security Council, and so it has an increased responsibility to hold the Duque government to account on the international stage.
As Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, I specifically said the government had a duty to enforce the commitments made by the Duque government in the trade agreement signed with the UK in 2019 to uphold democratic and human rights, and to protect the rule of law. The UK had the right to suspend that trade agreement in response to the violence, and I demanded to know why the government was not threatening to do so.
On 28th May, I co-hosted a ‘Building a Workers’ Trade Agenda’ conference with the TUC, where we heard some vitally important contributions about how we can build a trade policy which upholds the rights and freedoms of workers around the world. We were joined by Gilberto Martinez from the CUT, the TUC’s Colombian counterpart, who told us all about the shocking attacks on workers’ rights that have been escalating in the country.
One day, I hope that the people of Colombia will regain the hope we all shared in 2016, and find the lasting peace and justice that the country’s people deserve. Until that day, the global community must stand in solidarity with the Colombian people against their government’s attacks on human rights, on workers’ rights, and on the rights of ordinary civilians to protest against police brutality and increasing poverty.
Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. If you have any other matters you would like to raise with me, please do not hesitate to get back in touch.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade