Support for human rights defenders is a long established priority of Ireland’s foreign policy and we proudly play an active role in championing the promotion and protection of human rights defenders and of open civil society space globally.
I wholly condemn any threats, intimidation or violence against human rights defenders and social leaders, including the instances to which the Deputy refers. I am aware of this situation and of the broader climate of violence and intimidation which exists for political and community activists and leaders in Colombia, and I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Government of Colombia to investigate these cases in full.
As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland opened its new Embassy in Bogotá earlier this year. While Ireland’s new Embassy’s focus will be on developing the bilateral political and economic relationship with Colombia and on continuing to support the country’s transition to a post-conflict society, having a permanent presence in Bogotá means that we will be much better positioned to monitor issues such as the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
Officials at our new Embassy, as well as at my Department in Dublin, meet regularly with human rights leaders and civil society actors from across the country. The Embassy is following the situation in La Guajira closely and regularly engages with partner organisations in Colombia that are involved in monitoring human rights in this region.
Embassy officials intend to visit La Guajira in the near future and meet with human rights defenders and civil society groups. We also regularly raise human rights concerns in our exchanges with the Government and official representatives of Colombia, including the situation of human rights defenders and community leaders.
Ireland also engages on the issue of intimidation and violence against human rights defenders and civil society actors at EU level. Former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in his position as EU Special Envoy to the Colombian peace process, a role in which he is supported by my Department, recently led the 11th session of the EU-Colombia Human Rights Dialogue.
Special Envoy Gilmore has visited the region of La Guajira in the past and, during this dialogue with representatives of the Colombian Government, he raised the alarmingly high figures of attacks against human rights defenders across the country. Particular reference was made to the disproportionately high level of violence against indigenous leaders, and the need for collective protection measures.
Ireland remains fully committed to supporting Colombia’s transition to a peaceful post-conflict society, a key element of which is the vindication and protection of human, environmental and social rights. Significant challenges remain, but Ireland supports the full implementation of the peace agreement, which will ensure a more peaceful, stable and prosperous future for all Colombians.
Ireland has provided more than €14 million in funding to Colombia since 2007, mainly channelled through the United Nations, and Colombian and international NGOs focusing on the areas of human rights, conflict prevention, peacebuilding and supporting livelihoods for rural populations.
My Department provides funding directly to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia to support its important work in promoting and protecting human rights, including in some of Colombia’s most isolated and challenging regions, as well as to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, which provides protection measures to community leaders and activists operating in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America.
Ireland was also a founding member of the EU Trust Fund for Colombia, and will contribute €3 million over the five-year lifespan of the Fund. The Fund finances projects targeted at the marginalised rural areas of Colombia which have been most affected by conflict, and all projects incorporate a human rights and gender perspective.
I firmly believe that Colombia’s peace accord provides the framework in which the endemic violence and impunity which has afflicted Colombian society for decades can successfully be addressed. Ireland sees our partnership with Colombia as a long-term commitment, and we will continue to strongly support the full implementation of the accords.
We will continue to engage with the Colombian Government, EU and multilateral partners, and civil society groups and human rights defenders on this issue and on the broader human rights situation in the country. I can assure the Deputy of our continued commitment to assisting the Colombian people in their goal of achieving a brighter, more peaceful and more prosperous future for all Colombians.