Aberdeenshire UNISON

UK government will push for human rights clause in EU trade agreement with Colombia - Jan 2010

Foreign and Commonwealth Office replies to Robert Smith, MP and pledges to promote human rights in Colombia

Chris Bryant, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State replied in December to Robert Smith's letter detailing the branch's concerns about the proposed EU trade agreement with Colombia. In his letter, he acknowledges deep concerns about human rights violations in Colombia and details the UK government's efforts to address these concerns in the way they work in Colombia.

Chris Bryant states, "We are leading efforts within the EU to ensure that any agreement with Colombia will be linked to a human rights clause, which enables suspension of the agreement if breached."

However he stopped short of a commitment to oppose the Trade agreement. He expressed his view that, "The clause will act as a catalyst for frank dialogue with the governments of Colombia and Peru on the (human rights) issue," adding that the robust legal link with the agreement will ensure that safeguarding human rights is high profile.

Mr Bryant said, "We do believe that free trade agreements can help to create the right circumstances for improved stability, where human rights stand a better chance of flourishing." He pointed out that the negotiations are also an opportunity for the UK government to have greater dialogue in the region with a range of civil society groups and aid organisations which play a pivotal role in advocacy, transparency and direct support to the victims of violence in Colombia.

He confirmed that the UK will continue to raise human rights concerns in the EU alongside other key issues which need to be resolved before an agreement can be concluded.

Mr Bryant also enclosed a statement from the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband outlining changes to the way the UK government works in Colombia including the allocation of funds to tackle the problem of impunity and to bring more people to justice for the crimes they commit.

The branch is grateful to Sir Robert Smith for taking up this matter on our behalf. We will now write to Justice for Colombia, detailing the response we have received so far.

Branch gets positive response from Salmond and Smith - Dec 2009

In response to the letter from the Branch, Alex Salmond, MP and MSP, and Robert Smith, MP have both sought answers from the Government about its stance on the EU-Colombia Free Trade agreement. We await developments.

Branch supports Justice for Colombia's camapign to stop the EU-Colombia Free Trade Agreement - Nov 2009

At the Nov 2009 Branch Committee meeting the committee agreed to write on behalf of the branch to local MPs to seek their support to stop the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and Colombia.

Now the TUC has followed in the branch's footsteps and has called on the EU to suspend Colombia Trade talks. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has written to the current EU trade commissioner Baroness Ashton (soon to take up her new role as High Representative for Foreign Relations) calling on her to abandon trade talks with Colombia because of its appalling human rights record. Click here for more details.

The campaign is being spearheaded by Justice for Colombia, with the support of the UK and European trade union movement. The branch is affiliated to Justice for Colombia.

The branch has now written to the Rt Hon Alex Salmond; the Rt Hon Robert Smith and the Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce, calling on them to take action to oppose the FTA, and we await their reply.

Click here to read the letter

The Branch Committee gave its overwhelming support to continue our affiliation with Justice for Colombia and to write to our local MPs to ask them for their support to stop the trade agreement.

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair, said, "However difficult we may find it at times to be a trade unionist in this country, it is hard to imagine what it must be like to be in fear of our life for our involvement in trade union activities, and yet that is what Colombian trade unionists face day in and day out."

High numbers of trade unionists murdered
Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world for trade unionists. Over 60% of all trade unionists killed in the world last year were killed in Colombia.

The murder of trade unionists in Colombia is on the rise, with a 25% increase in 2008 compared to the previous year. A total of 109 trade unionists have been killed since Jan 2007, including 21 between Jan and mid-June this year.

The Colombian security forces are deeply implicated in the violence against trade unionists, and senior government officials regularly accuse trade unionists in Colombia of being 'terrorists'. Those responsible for the murders and abuse are almost never punished. In 95% of the cases perpetrators enjoy complete immunity - a green light for the killings to continue.

Bodies set up to investigate the killings have delivered few results. Rather than using their resources to tackle the problem, the Colombian regime devotes its time and energy to PR campaigns to downplay the seriousness of the problem.

Serious abuses of human rights - FTAs delayed in other countries
Due to these human rights concerns, the US and Canada have both already delayed their FTA's with Colombia. Most recently the EFTA group of countries in Northern Europe blocked their proposed agreement with Colombia, with Norway calling for an investigation into the human rights situation before any agreement is signed.

Like Justice for Colombia, this branch does not believe Colombia should be rewarded with an FTA whilst workers continue to be murdered simply for standing up for their basic rights. We believe that Europe should stand together with the rest of the international community in condemning this horrific situation and telling the regime in Bogota that trade benefits will only be offered if the human rights situation improves. Unless the international community takes action, more trade unionists in Colombia will die and those responsible will continue to escape punishment.

We are in good company. Trade unions around Europe have joined the campaign, with ETUC General Secretary John Monks calling the negotiations a 'serious error' and recently writing to all EU member states calling for their support to halt the agreement with Colombia.

The Colombian trade union movement has asked the European labour movement to support them by stopping this FTA.