Human rights in Colombia
Delivered in Plenary 4th October 2001
Colombia, one of South America's oldest democracies and a country which, unusually for this continent, has not been prone to military dictatorship is tragically a victim of 37 years of civil war and terrorist activity, which have destroyed infrastructure, killed 40 000 people and corrupted its civil and military authorities through guerrilla involvement with the drugs trade. It seems from the events of 11 September in New York that democracies are particularly vulnerable to terrorism, which has no respect for the ballot box as a way to achieve change in societies.
Now and in spite of Colombian President Pastrana's concession three years ago of a large demilitarised zone the size of Switzerland, where 17 000 of its guerrillas roam at will, the FARC, instead of pursuing a legitimate, peacefully negotiated settlement, continues its policy of kidnapping and murdering civilians. Last Sunday it killed the much-loved former culture minister, Consuelo Araujo Noguera, and on Tuesday Congressman Octavio Sarmiento. I am sure that this House will join me in sending a message of condolence to their grieving families.
Pastrana's policy of granting concessions to the FARC, labelled a terrorist organisation by the USA, has remarkable parallels with the policy of Britain's Tony Blair of granting early release to IRA killers without a prior insistence on the arms decommissioning to which they had already agreed. Curiously, three IRA suspects are currently under arrest in Colombia for advising the FARC on how to conduct murderous campaigns, on which, as we know, the IRA is an expert.
I do not have a clear answer to President Pastrana's dilemma, as only 18% of Colombians in a recent poll supported suspending peace talks, scrapping the demilitarised zone and resuming full-blown civil war. Only the Colombian Government can decide what is best for the future of its country and what price it is prepared to pay to achieve peace. Nevertheless, I am sure that, as well as supporting this resolution, this House will join me in praying for the long-suffering people of Colombia and in hoping sincerely that the FARC and the guerrillas will see the folly of their evil ways and that the Colombian Government will achieve a policy of reconciliation without compromising justice or freedom.