Colombia must improve human rights
The British government’s commitment to place human rights at the heart of foreign policy must not be forgotten as Colombia’s President Santos (Colombian president heads Civets nations to drum up trade with Britain, 20 November) meets with David Cameron this week. Their mutual goal of deepening trade alliances is not achievable at present without the downgrading of human rights.
Colombia has one of the worst records on human rights and kills more trade unionists than any other country. Every day human rights defenders and those who stand up to protect their land rights in the face of increasing national and multinational investment in agro-industry and extractives receive death threats and are often murdered. Santos’s public statements in favour of human rights and a law to restore land to some of Colombia’s victims distinguish his government from previous administrations. There are approximately 5.2 million internally displaced people in Colombia from over 16.3m acres. However, this administration has seen a worsening environment for those working on land and victims issues. Santos’s first year in office has seen more than 250,000 newly displaced people (2010), 54 human rights defenders killed, more than 250 disappeared, and one attacked every 36 hours (2011).The British government must, of course, support commitments to human rights, but these must be implemented before the UK enters into deeper trading relations with Colombia – not least because of the grave danger of supporting the legalisation of illegal land grabs from the poorest and most disadvantaged.
Louise Winstanley Programme and advocacy manager, ABColombia,
Chris Bain Director, Cafod (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development),
Justin Kilcullen Director, Trócaire,
David Huey Country director, Oxfam GB,
Andrew Croggon Head of Latin America and the Caribbean, Christian Aid,
Lorraine Currie Head of international programmes, Sciaf (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund)
The letter was published in the Guardian newspaper on 22 November.