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Systematic human rights abuses in Colombia - Irish Government should reject plans to sign Free Trade EU-Colombia Agreement

28 January 2015 - A group of organisations have called on the Irish Government to make good on their stated commitment to international human rights and reject the EU Free Trade agreement with Colombia due to systematic human rights abuses in the country. The Dáil will debate the issue today.

The organisations include Christian Aid Ireland, Grupo Raices, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Global Solidarity Committee, Justice for Colombia Ireland, Irish/Colombian Lawyers Group ‘Caravana de Colombia, the Latin American Solidarity Centre and Trócaire.

5.7 million people in Colombia have been displaced over the last 5 decades, with 6 million hectares of land having been stolen from their owners. Alarmingly 78 human rights defenders were killed in 2013, including community, indigenous and afro-descendant leaders. The most recent figures show that in the first half of 2014, 30 human rights defenders have already been killed.

Karol Balfe of Christian Aid Ireland said: “We strongly welcome today’s full Dáil debate. It gives our politicians a crucial opportunity to test the human rights merits of this treaty. Ireland commendably reaffirmed our commitment to human rights in our recent foreign policy review. This agreement is a chance to prove our commitment.

“While the treaty does provide a limited opportunity to promote human rights the clauses are nowhere near strong enough. There is an absence of adequate monitoring and no means of enforcing labour or environmental standards where abuses do not reach the level of human rights violations. We urge the government to reject this treaty. We should ensure we stand up for human rights in Colombia”.

John O’Brien of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Global Solidarity Committee said:” There is strong opposition from unions, farmers, community, indigenous and afro-Colombian groups to this treaty. These groups want trade but trade that works for them. Such trade policies are focussed on promoting ‘megaprojects’, which are likely to consolidate land dispossession rather than offer a solutions to the underlying problems the country faces.

Mr O’Brien continued: “Many hold such agreements responsible for increasing poverty while fostering a climate in which corporate rights rule and labour rights hardly exist. The US Free Trade Agreement offers valuable lessons for Ireland- with a US Senate report warning that that murders and threats against union members and harmful subcontracting persist in Colombia largely unabated, despite its human rights clauses.”

Pepe Gutierrez from Grupo Racies, an Irish based group focusing on Colombia, stated: “The Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation published a hugely important document, a political contribution statement, before this debate. It unequivocally states the Trade Agreement in its present form fails to provide for monitoring of human rights and that potential ratification of this Agreement could be interpreted as condoning reported ongoing abuses.

The government should use this cross party political document to push for better action from the Colombian government on human rights. This is crucial now more than ever with fears such a trade agreement could undermine the current peace process and deny victims the possibility of recovering their land”.

If you would like further information please contact Florence Mutesasira, Christian Aid Ireland, 01 406 5535 / 086 160 9405 or email fmutesasira@christian-aid.org.

Notes to editors:

  • The Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru was signed in June 2012 and was subsequently approved by the European Parliament. Its provisions applied provisionally from 1 August 2013, and will be fully enforceable and binding once ratified by all EU member states. A full Dáil debate on the issue is taking place Wednesday 28 January 2015.

  • The Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation statement from December 2014 expressing concerns about the human rights implication of the Treaty is available here: http://opac.oireachtas.ie/AWData/Library3/Political_Contribution_Com2011569_134923.pdf.

  • Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

  • Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, and sustainably. Our strategy document ‘From Inspiration to Impact’ outlines how we set about this task.

  • Follow Christian Aid Ireland on Twitter: twitter.com/christianaidirl

  • For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit www.christianaid.ie.

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