I am aware of the difficult situation that exists for human rights defenders across Colombia, and of the specific case in Chocó, Colombia to which you refer. I take these threats very seriously, and have expressed on several occasions my complete rejection of any violence or intimidation perpetrated against those defending fundamental rights and freedoms.
Officials from my Department met with Mr Carlos Fernandez, a member of the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (CIJP) in September 2018. Mr Fernandez was accompanied by Peace Brigades International (PBI) as the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (CIJP) is one of the organisations that PBI protects in Colombia. My Department is pleased to support PBI in this important work and welcomes the regular engagement we have with the organisation and the human rights defenders it protects.
Our new resident Embassy in Bogotá has been engaging with civil society, EU and multilateral partners on the human rights situation in the country, since it opened at the beginning of the year. We also regularly raise this issue in our exchanges with the Colombian Government, as well as in the Human Rights Council, most recently during the 30th session of the Universal Periodic Review, when we highlighted existing issues in Colombia and made a number of recommendations.
Ireland is committed to supporting human rights defenders across Colombia, and Ambassador Milton recently travelled to the Chocó region where she met with human rights organisations and representatives of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities threatened by illegal armed groups.
Ireland has a long-standing commitment to peace and security in Colombia. The Taoiseach underlined Ireland's continuing support for the Colombian peace process in his meeting with President Duque en marge of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018.
The peace process is fundamental to improving the human rights situation in the country and Ireland has contributed more than €14 million in support of that since 2007, mainly channelled through the United Nations, and Colombian and international NGOs focusing on human rights, conflict prevention, peace-building and supporting livelihoods for rural populations.
As well as financial support, Ireland has also provided ongoing support in the form of lesson-sharing based on our own experience of peace-building and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. Most recently, earlier this year my Department shared lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process with Colombia, facilitating a series of discussions with the government around the implementation of the peace accords.
Great strides have been made in the implementation of the peace accords in Colombia since they were signed in November 2016. However, significant challenges remain, including in the areas of rural reform, reincorporation of former combatants and the protection of human rights defenders, civil society activists and social leaders.
Not least among the lessons we have learned in 20 years of implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is how long it takes to build a sustainable peace and that it is not a linear process. Ireland will remain a committed supporter of Colombia and its efforts to secure long-lasting peace and security for its people.
I, along with officials at my Department in Dublin and at our Embassy in Bogotá, will continue to monitor the human rights situation across the country closely and to engage with our civil society, EU and international partners on this important issue.