Colombia’s record on human rights is inconsistent but there are reasons to be optimistic under the new government, according the British Foreign Office.
In its 2010 global report on human rights, the British Foreign Office noted a marked improvement in the tone of the national debate about human rights in Colombia since the election of President Juan Manuel Santos but highlighted that many problems in the country remain a cause for concern.
Judicial reforms, new legislation to combat corruption and a better standard of conduct by the military were some of the key improvements, while a reduction in the amount of extrajudicial killings in the country was also viewed as encouraging.
Yet while 298 members of the military have so far been convicted for these extrajudicial murders, this is said to represent “only a fraction of the outstanding cases” against the perpetrators of the “false positives” scandals. The report indicates that the resolution of these cases is hampered by the requirement of “100 additional prosecutors and 500 more investigators.”
The British government commended Santos for changing the perception of human rights defenders, noting that they had previously been portrayed by senior government officials as “guerrilla sympathisers” and faced hostile public opinion. This praise was tempered though by the fact that 40 human rights defenders and 25 trade unionists were murdered last year.
The plight of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian population also remains far from resolved according to the report, as they continue to suffer from “displacement, threats and massacres,” with impunity levels still high. The report stated that any government attempts to resolve the problems are hampered by “corruption [and] the worst winter floods in Colombia’s history,” as well as the government’s “lack of control over many remote areas.”
Despite these protracted issues, the report reiterated that relations between the two countries were “widening” and “deepening” under the Santos administration. Britain maintains that the “firm and unavoidable commitment” to human rights mentioned in the president’s inaugural speech has, on the whole, translated into improved government policy.