Tuesday, September 17, 2013

MPs hold Commons debate on human rights situation in Colombia

On Wednesday afternoon an adjournment debate in the House of Commons examining the human rights situation in Colombia was secured by the MP for Stoke on Trent South, Robert Flello. Responding to the concerns expressed by Rob Flello MP, with the support of the MPs Jim Shannon and Jim McDonnell, was the Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire.Rob Flello MP brought particular attention to the continuing contradiction of the Colombian government which, in spite of an ongoing peace process, continues to smear trade unionists and human rights activists and responded to recent strike actions with police violence that left more than ten dead and 800 injured.“I believe President Santos(???) when he says that he wants to succeed in the peace talks. However, there is a contradiction in negotiating with the FARC, which is on the point of political participation, while at the same time denouncing trade unionists and civil rights activists as terrorists. That does not create a political climate that is conducive to democracy and peace.John McDonnell MP for Hayes and Harlington highlighted the worrying trend which has seen 37 human rights defenders killed in the first six months of 2013. This was the most violent six months for human rights defenders in over a decade.Rob Flello MP also referred to the continued imprisonment of trade unionists as another example of the contradictory approach of the Colombian government towards promoting a successful peace process. The recent imprisonment of Huber Ballesteros, the official TUC guest for the 2013 conference, was a further example brought to the attention of the Minister.The Minister’s response reflected the success so far of the pressure put on the British government by the British trade union movement and the Parliamentary Friends of Colombia to ensure that Huber’s case received maximum international attention.“We are aware of the recent detention of trade union leader Huber Ballesteros. Our ambassador to Colombia has written to the Colombian prosecutor general to highlight our interest in the case, and to request information on the charges. Staff at our embassy in Bogota are seeking permission to visit Mr Ballesteros in prison.[ed notes:can't demand to visit him or threaten to suspend trade relations???
”For the full record of the adjournment debate, see here.
 Death threat sent to leading opposition politicians and victims’ leaders
 In a further reminder of the dangers faced by opposition politicians, social activists, and leaders of organisations searching for justice for the victims of state crimes, an email death threat was issued last week which named numerous individuals, many of them close partners of Justice for Colombia, as military targets. The death threat was signed by the right-wing paramilitary group Rastrojos and follows on from a previous threat issued at the beginning of August.The email was titled ’72 Hours’ in reference to the time given to leave the areas where the Rastrojos have presence and named the Senator Gloria Ramirez and the Congressman Ivan Cepeda as well as all members of the Polo opposition party, it named activists from the Patriotic March, from Fensuagro, from human rights organisations whilst at the same time praising the work of the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.In a statement released by the Senator Gloria Ramirez, she echoed concerns expressed last week in the House of Commons by the Labour MP Rob Flello that these threats come shortly after government officials made comments linking opposition activists to the guerrillas.

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