MPs slam Colombia’s human rights record as Defence Minister flies into London

Justice For Colombia News | on: Friday, 2 February 2007
Original source: Justice for Colombia

Senior Labour MPs and trade unionists have hit out at the Colombian Defence Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who flies in to London on Monday to request that Britain pays part of a controversial foreign military aid package totalling more than US$12bn.

The visit has been met with anger by MPs and union leaders, who joined campaign group, Justice for Colombia, to call on the British Government to reject requests for more military funding. Their concerns come because the Colombian armed forces continue to commit widespread human rights abuses, particularly against trade unionists.

The Colombian President's security policy has the aim of eradicating cocaine and defeating the country's guerrilla organisations, but it has largely failed. Coca growing is still rife, with US State Department figures showing an increase in cultivation, while the guerrillas remain active – but at the same time human rights abuses by the armed forces have risen.

In the first four years of President Uribe's Government, the armed forces committed at least 908 documented extrajudicial executions. The UN has repeatedly criticised Colombia's armed forces for colluding with paramilitaries – the country's worst human rights abusers – and for an increasing number of assassinations carried out by army units each year.

The Colombian Government are asking for $3.6bn from the US, and a further $9bn from Europe and Asia for the second phase of the "Plan Colombia" security package.

Reacting to the Colombian Defence Minister's plans, Colin Burgon, Labour MP for Elthem said: "The Colombian Defence Minister is here to promote a security policy that is making Colombia's civil war worse, not better. Huge amounts of cash have been pumped into the army but a horrendous civil war is still waging. All sides in Colombia have said that they are prepared to negotiate for peace but it needs kick-starting; our Government would be better pressuring them to return to the table for talks rather than adding to the military build up."

Frank Doran, Labour MP for Aberdeen North, said: "At a time when the number of illegal assassinations by the armed forces is going up in Colombia, I sincerely hope that Ministers will reject the Colombian Government's request for yet more military aid."

Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC said: "The culture of impunity and the links between the armed forces and extreme right wing paramilitaries have made Colombia the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. I would like to see Ministers using this opportunity to protest to the Colombian Government about the rights of trade unionists and human rights workers rather than talking about more military aid."

The Colombian Government has also been rocked by an investigation into Government supporting parliamentarians working together with the extreme right-wing paramilitaries who commit the vast majority of Colombia's human rights abuses. Among the accused is Senator Alvaro Araujo, leader of one of the pro-Uribe parties and brother of the Colombian Foreign Secretary.


Notes for editors:

1. Justice for Colombia is an NGO campaigning for human and trade union rights in Colombia.

2. The Colombian Commission of Jurists found that from July 2002 to June 2006, the Colombian armed forces committed 908 extrajudicial executions. The most recent report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia "observed an increase in allegations of [extrajudicial executions] attributable to members of the security forces, and particularly the army."

3. The UK provides military aid to Colombia, including intelligence sharing and "bespoke counter-narcotics" aid. However, it refuses to provide further detail. The battalions involved in counter narcotics work, such as the High Mountains Battalions are known as some of the worst abusers of human rights and have been cited by the UN.

4. The US State Department found that in 2005 coca cultivation increased from 114,000 hectares to 144,000 hectares.

5. The main Colombian daily paper, El Tiempo, reported on 1 February that the US will be asked to pay $3.6bn in foreign aid for Plan Colombia part II, while a further $9bn will come from Asia and Europe.

6. A number of high-profile Senators and Representatives are currently under investigation for links with paramilitary organisations. Their names include: Senator Álvaro Araújo, Senator Dieb Maloof, Senator Manuel López, Senator Reginaldo Montes, Senator Manuel López, Senator Reginaldo Montes, Senator William Montes, Representative José de los Santos Negrete, Representative Alfonso Campo Escobar, Senator Luis Vives, Senator Mauricio Pimiento and Senator Jorge Luis Caballero.

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