Friday, August 15, 2008

Brits carry on dirty work in Colombia after US pulls out

WHEN some IRA men were arrested in Colombia, accused of offering help to left-wing guerrillas, bourgeois media commentators here were indignant about their nefarious activity, saying it placed in question the 'Good Friday' agreement, the Republicans had broken faith, and so on.

Few of us had realised up till then that the 'Good Friday' agreement was meant to extend to Latin America, and not just Northern Ireland. Perhaps it had hidden clauses not previously reported? But if so, how come the British government was not in breach by providing military assistance to the Colombian government, and permitting the use of ex-SAS men to protect oil companies against peasants who objected to their land being taken?

We don't know the extent of British involvement in Colombia. It has had little news coverage. Foreign Office minister Kim Howells' appearance in photos with Colombian army officers did arouse comment, especially after he made an ill-informed attack on a human rights organisation which my union is supporting. But that was from the labour movement and the Left.

Now however British involvement has been challenged at a different level, as Justice for Colombia reports in the online London Progressive Journal:

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament has called UK military aid to Colombia "inappropriate" and says that any future assistance to the Colombian military should be conditional on an improvement in the human rights situation. In a scathing attack on British policy the Committee also directly contradicts the UK Government position by saying that in fact the human rights situation in Colombia is not improving and that trade unionists continue to be targeted.

The new report, entitled "Foreign Affairs – Ninth Report", also criticises the lack of transparency surrounding UK military aid to Colombia and says that extra-judicial executions carried out by the Colombian military must not be ignored.

According to the Committee, "We conclude that the human rights situation in Colombia is serious and shows little sign of improvement. We further conclude that allegations of extra-judicial executions by the Colombian military, and the continued targeting of trade unionists, cannot be ignored. We therefore believe it is inappropriate for the Government to provide military aid to Colombia without any reference to human rights improvements."

The report goes on to say: "Noting recent moves by the US Congress to freeze some aid to Colombia on human rights grounds, we recommend that the Government should request the Colombian military to demonstrate measurable and verifiable human rights improvements in exchange for future assistance."

The new report was put together in response to the annual human rights report produced by the UK Government, which itself included a chapter on Colombia. However, according to the Committee, Amnesty International argued that the Government report fails "accurately to reflect the seriousness of the human rights situation" in Colombia. The Committee also cited concerns by Amnesty, Saferworld and Human Rights Watch that UK military assistance continues to flow to "units implicated in serious human rights abuses, such as the High Mountain Brigades".

The report reproduces testimony given to the Committee by the UK director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, in which he argues that "The problem is that the military aid the British Government grant to Colombia is unconditional with regard to any kind of human rights improvements. We think that that sends a bad message. The military in Colombia will go on getting these military goodies without having to do anything in return with respect to human rights."

Porteous continued by saying that "the UK seems to be being saddled with a policy that even the American Government have moved beyond. After the Democrats took control of Congress last year, they froze some military aid to Colombia on human rights grounds. We think that the UK should at least get back into step with the policy of the Americans."

The Foreign Affairs Committee is made up of MPs from all parties and has a remit to oversee the foreign policy of the United Kingdom.

Just as a reminder of what kind of regime Gordon Brown's 'New Labour' government is assisting in Colombia, we hear that. Luis Mayusa Prada, 46, a trade unionist and member of the regional Executive of the Democratic Pole party, was shot dead on the morning of August 8, in the Galan neighbourhood of Saravena. The town has a heavy military presnce, and opponents of the government suspect that security forces carried out the killing.

The Mayusa family, originally from the region of Meta, have previously been targetted for persecution by the military intelligence and other state forces. Luis was the brother of Carmen and Nieves Mayusa, two trade union leaders recently freed from jail after an international campaign on their behalf.

Luis Mayusa, who worked in local government, had led the CUT trade union federation in Meta, but fled to Arauca some years ago after attempts on his life. He stood for the Arauca regional assembly as Democratic Pole candidate in recent elections. He leaves a wife and four children.

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