Head of Andean Team, Foreign Office
Assessment of Colombia and what they are trying to do to encourage positive change in Colombia. We can’t make positive change but can create platforms within civil society and Colombian government. Very important visiting Colombia at this time.
Colombia lawyers are doing some really really important work in dangerous circumstances. Any sense of support and interest in their rights from international observers and the international community is very important. Fact you are going out there is a powerful one and people that you meet will give you some compelling and interesting accounts of their work.
The Colombian judiciary is not as efficient as it should be.
If your visit can achieve anything it is to give lawyers the sense that you are showing an interest in their work.
Practical ideas and suggestions: tell the Government. Not promising funding or resources but interested in hearing them.
Colombia’s has some great strengths but debate about democratic space. Democracy
exists and it is important to acknowledge that. The Colombian government is elected by the Colombian people and we as a government engage with a democratically elected government whoever that is. Whether Uribe or his successors or predecessors.
Colombia’s people are proud and committed to seeing their country progress. There is a growing economy in Colombia. Colombia’s natural resources are also of great value not only to itself but also to the region and the world in terms of energy and water, the rainforest and biodiversity.
But Colombia also has great problems: conflict, inequality, injustice and Cocaine trade. Cocaine is not original cause of the conflict but is increasingly driving the conflict and we assess it as the main driver of the problems that Colombia has.
Governments objectives on Colombia, we want a stable and prosperous Colombia.
We do want peaceful resolution of the internal conflict; progress on justice and equality; end of Colombia’s role as the principal supplier of Cocaine to the UK and
EU; want Colombia to play a positive role regionally and internationally.
In terms of the peace agenda, 60 years of internal conflict. Overriding concern of
many Colombians is their own peace and security. The Colombian government last 8 – 10 years had indeed regained control over much of its territory although a lot of Colombia’s territory is outside state control which is a problem. Military pressure alone will not resolve the conflict, there needs to be a peaceful and negotiated settlement to the conflict. M- 19 is a good example of how Colombian government has reached agreement with armed groups. But with Farc and ELN that is a very difficult objective. With the partners we are trying to express an interest in helping where we can, but hard to identify what UK role would be, drawing from Northern Ireland experience. Via Justice and Peace Law hoping to support reintegration of
fighters into Colombia society, which has been a problem and the emergence of reforming of illegal armed groups and paramilitaries is indeed a problem. In terms of the Farc, interesting that a lot of people have started to talk about how their time is passed. They are an organisation that is deeply involved in Cocaine trade, they are guilty of horrific abuses. Most people are making it clear that there is no future in today’s world for guerrilla activities. We want the Colombian government to bring these people to the table, but the commitment has to be both ways. It’s fair to say that the Colombian government’s commitment to reach the negotiating table has not been as strong as we would want it to be. But similarly illegal armed groups such as ELN and Farc, show a similar reticence. The demobilisation process of the AUC, which was overseen by the OAS (Organisation of American States) was an important moment in Colombia’s history. It hasn’t been perfect. Overall the concept is positive but implementation has been weak, resulting in a lot of former paramilitary individuals and groups returning to their illegal ways.
In a way it’s inevitable if you used to earn thousands of dollars per month through involvement in the narcotics trade and then you demobilise and are given a job that earns you $20 per month, if you tempted with a return to your illegal ways then it’s a
very stark choice to make.
In terms of injustice and inequality these are the core problems in Colombia as they
are elsewhere in the continent. We’ve tried to get the Colombian government to focus on just those issues. We are involved in social development work and with EU partners it is a big element of EU commission’s funding to Colombia.
In terms of security, interesting stat that Colombia has, other than Sudan, most IDP’s
in the world, around 3–4m. Estimates vary but around 300,000-400,000 people’s
lives depend on Coca. There’s been an increase in funding of police and military, mainly through Plan Colombia which has lead to an increase in state presence throughout the country. The major cities have been made much much safer. There is a great deal of debate as to whether Colombia is in a better position than it was 10 years ago. We would argue that it is. Whilst there are some big problems remaining such as human rights situation, injustice, inequality, violence, kidnapping of trade unions, pressure on human rights, whatever those problems are the momentum is forward in Colombia.
It would be interesting to meet you after you return as to what their own view is. How you perceive Colombia’s perception as to how Colombians are doing. Sense of
In terms of democracy, currently democratic institutions are relatively stable. There is a separation of power between the state and the judiciary. Supreme Court has proven itself recently to be quite independent. There is a fair accusation to be levelled at the Colombian government that they seek to be involved in judicial processes. Still very critical comments of judiciary at local and national level. But the separation is there.
Not just UK who thinks this, EU and RAS consider presidential, congressional and local elections relatively free and fair. Last autumn’s municipal elections, victories for opposition in number of major cities including Bogotá. Impunity remains a big
problem, system overloaded, under resourced. Lawyers feel pressure from whoever exerts that – illegal armed group of local constabulary and we think that there needs to be greater attention, particularly if you are looking at justice and peace and justice in Colombia. So ideas and experiences when you come back will become very interesting.
UK: don’t have bottomless pits of resources to focus on Colombia. Many problems around the world and Colombia doesn’t feature in top 5 but are using resources to create positive influence.
DFID supports 12 international NGOs regionally. About ?7m per year. Oxfam, Save the Children etc. This will increase to ?12m.
Bulk of UK assistance to Colombia is via multilateral institutions through
contributions to the European Commission, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, over last 3 years ?31m.
Bilateral assistance: 2 main areas counter-narcotics and human rights. Try to maintain complimentary approach. Human rights: conflict prevention issues; promoting democracy etc. Sorts of projects we are taking forward are focusing on IDPs, fighting impunity, supporting NGOs, improving investigation capacity in cases of forced disappearances. Very often working with civil society or international community, such as UNODC, UN High Commission for Refuges or human rights project. Others include tackling discrimination, tackling trafficking of women, trying to improve freedom of speech and capacity for journalists to report on conflict and peace issues.
Micro-projects: human rights scholarships etc
Counter narcotics: work closely with Colombian government to tackle gangs
trafficking cocaine to UK and EU. 60-80% cocaine on UK streets from Colombia. Debates over effectiveness. Purity cocaine reduced to 20% perhaps indicate work is effective.
Defence assistance: counter-narcotics, mines clearance, trying to improve Colombian armed forces and police performance on human rights and adherence to international law.
Train the trainers. Don’t train whole units. Trying to get Colombian military to
adhere to human rights principles that own military adhere to. Controversial work, many people believe UK should be cutting military aid to Colombia. But what we’re trying to do, we can’t change things in Colombia but can provide civil society and Colombian government with tools and technical know how so that they can work constructively and tackle these underlying issues such as extra-judicial killings, impunity, pressure on civil society.
What % is spent on counter-narcotics vs human rights aid.
What is spent on counter-narcotics is less than what is spent multilaterally and bilaterally on social development and human rights assistance. Can’t give exact % because don’t discuss that publicly exact terms of we what do on counter-narcotics
work. It is very dangerous work. Working with people, who there are elements of Colombian society who would not want them to do that so don’t talk in detail. Recognise that this creates an element of concern of what we are doing in Colombia that there is some counter-insurgency work. Don’t do that. However, what we are
doing in counter-narcotics is specifically enabling the Colombians to catch people who are making and trafficking cocaine into the UK. SOCA and globally don’t chase power anymore. Try and infiltrate the networks and disband them.
Extent of corruption in Colombian government and re narcotics and making them a reliable conduit of aid and re informal collaboration with paramilitary. There is a vetting procedure re people UK works with. Also para politica: number of members of Colombian congress links with paramilitary and narco gangs. Supreme Court brought these cases to attention. People tried and found guilty. Very positive. Want Colombian government to be free of corruption. Process happening because Supreme Court sufficiently robust. Encourage Colombian government to let this happen and run it’s course whoever is involved.
What we’re trying to do is help build institutions in Colombia that get rid of corruption; help the system; make civil society and the media better at holding people to account.
How successfully have you been able to engage governmental institutions in human rights projects? How might delegation engage with governmental agencies?
Ombudsman, Attorney General etc good at talking the talk but not walking the walk. Political buy in, extent to which filters through the system is uncertain. Have to work with them on political level but fund organisations that work at the coal face. Glass half full.
Work with PBI, International Alert, European Commission, World Bank, Inter-American Bank.
European Counsel Conclusions on Colombia.