Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (69)

Joan Burton


45 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has raised, or will raise, during his forthcoming visit to the Colombian President, Uribe Velez, the human rights deficit in Colombia and the serious international concerns with regard to respect for human rights in recent anti-terrorism laws promulgated by the Colombian Government. [4180/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

President Uribe is undertaking a visit to Europe from 8-13 February. On 10 February he met with the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The EU has been closely involved in the search for a peaceful solution to the long-standing armed conflict in Colombia. Current EU policy on Colombia is set out in conclusions adopted by the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, on 26 January 2004.

The Council conclusions were the basis for Deputy Roche's discussions with President Uribe. The conclusions confirm the EU's full support for the Colombian Government in its ongoing efforts to reform Colombia's institutions and to develop a fully functioning democratic state throughout the territory of Colombia, consistent with the rule of law, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and the welfare and safety of the citizens of Colombia. The conclusions also note progress so far on economic and political reforms designed to address existing inequalities within Colombia and promote sustainable development. The EU has expressed its support for the continuation and acceleration of this process.

The Council reiterated its full support for President Uribe's commitment to seek a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict in Colombia and reiterated the readiness of the EU to assist in reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict, within the framework of a comprehensive peace strategy. The Council insisted that the illegal armed groups cease all hostilities and engage in constructive and meaningful dialogue. In particular, while acknowledging the recent release of some hostages, the Council underlined the importance of a rapid release of all remaining hostages and kidnapped persons.

The Council also stressed the importance of taking early and effective action against impunity and collusion, especially with paramilitary groups. It underlined the need for demobilisation and re-insertion into society of members of illegal armed groups to be undertaken in line with relevant international law and jurisprudence and in a manner that respects the right of the victims of the conflict to truth, justice and reparation.

The Council expressed its deep concern regarding the still grave human rights and international humanitarian law situation in Colombia, and urged the Government urgently to address this situation, in particular by implementing without delay the specific recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNHCHR, including the recommendation to publish a plan of action on human rights with a timetable for implementation. The Council recalled in particular the UNHCHR's recommendation concerning the question of the granting of judicial powers to the security forces — one element of the recently enacted anti-terrorism legislation — and hoped that further discussions by the Congress on this legislation could be undertaken.

Noting with deep concern the plight of internally displaced persons and inhabitants of closed-off communities, the Council confirmed the EU's willingness to work with the Colombian Government and the UN in order to ensure a focused and co-ordinated effort to address this crisis. The Council also highlighted the perilous security conditions under which local and international NGOs and civil society organisations, including trade unions and human rights defenders, currently find themselves obliged to carry out their work in Colombia; and called on the Government to co-operate closely with all such groups to ensure their protection.

The Council emphasised the importance of achieving full implementation of the London declaration of July 2003 and exhorted the member states and the Commission to further develop their co-operation