Sanctioning a free trade deal with Colombia, with one of the world’s worst human rights records, undermines the EU’s efforts as a Nobel peace laureate to champion basic freedoms, claims MEP
The very week in which the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize and the day before the European Parliament awarded its own prize for freedom of thought – the Sakharov prize – a majority of MEPs saw no irony in rubber-stamping a free trade deal for a country with one of the world’s worst human rights records.
Consent for the EU-Colombia/Peru free trade agreement was carried by 486 to 147 despite a strong campaign led by trade unions, non-governmental organisations and left-wing parliamentarians in the weeks leading up to the plenary vote. Now ratified, it will be provisionally applied with the consequent negative economic and environmental effects due imminently.
However, the struggle against this agreement is not over. There will now be votes in the national parliaments in all the EU member states and a no vote in one of country would stop its application. The agreement would cease to exist. The campaign must now continue at that level to demand that profits do not come before human rights. Our arguments against approval of the text were made with the appalling human rights record of the Colombian government and its continued labour rights violations in mind. Colombia is the most treacherous place on the planet for trade unionists and there is also extensive evidence of persistent maltreatment of human rights activists, members of the press, and indigenous communities.
The international trade union movement was united in its call for a vote against the FTA. All major trade unions including the European Trade Union Confederation, the International Trade Union Confederation, all major human rights and environmental organisations, and senior church representatives came out against a trade deal that does not adequately address ongoing violence and the lack of measures to ensure compliance with international human rights norms.
By mid-August this year, 17 trade unionists had been murdered and the Colombian trade union federation, the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia, recorded 146 threats to the life of workers. At the request of the parliament’s trade committee both the Colombian and Peruvian governments presented roadmaps on human rights and environmental protection. These roadmaps were, however, drawn up with scant consultation with local trade unions. The results are two proposals that do not address the essential concerns on freedom of association and collective bargaining; impunity for violence against trade unionists in Colombia; and the protection of the environment in consultation with indigenous communities. Weak promises are quite simply not good enough.
Many brave people in these countries have chosen the path of peace and democracy and many have lost their lives because of this. Those forces in Colombia and Peru who are committed to democratic change need support from the outside world but if Europe goes ahead with this agreement now, we will be giving away a powerful lever that could help us achieve positive change in Latin America.
In the context of this debate, it is important to bear in mind the framework within which this agreement comes. A proposed constitutional reform which would expand the military’s jurisdiction has recently been endorsed by Colombian President Santos against the recommendation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Also, our vote in Strasbourg took place against the background of a recently released report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations that says the FTA opens the possibility for increased economic instability, tax evasion and even laundering of drug money.
In the last month, MEPs have been inundated with messages from NGOs, trade unions and activists urging them to reject this agreement. On the other hand there was a significant lobbying campaign conducted on behalf of European big business organisations urging support for the deal. Clearly, and regrettably, parliament listened to the wrong side. People must come before the profits of big business if the EU is to remain a respected actor within and beyond its borders.
Sanctioning this deal will undoubtedly undermine the EU’s efforts – as Nobel peace laureate – to promote itself as a champion of human rights and basic freedoms. In recent decades Europe has come a long way with regard to its own human rights record. It must firmly and unambiguously help other regions to do the same.
Read more: http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/2858/eu-colombia-trade-deal-puts-profits-before-people#ixzz2EqXdt9hx