Written answers

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Department of Foreign Affairs

Human Rights Issues

6:00 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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Question 198: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the negotiations for a free trade agreement with Colombia; and if he supports the call that negotiations be suspended in view of the Colombian Government's lack of respect for human and trade union rights in view of the assassinations of trade unionists. [47782/09]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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EU relations with Colombia are conducted in the framework of regional relations between the EU and the Andean Community comprising Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In 2007, negotiations aimed at concluding a comprehensive Association Agreement between the EU and the Andean Community were formally launched. This Agreement will cover all facets of relations between the EU and these countries, including political dialogue, cooperation and trade. In addition, a multiparty free trade agreement is being negotiated between the EU and two member states of the Andean Community – Colombia and Peru - within the overall framework of the Association Agreement. The negotiations are being carried out by the Commission on the basis of a mandate from the Council.

The negotiation of a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia is part of an EU strategy to support and encourage the Colombian Government as it tries to restore the authority of the State after decades of violent civil conflict. By engaging with Colombia in this way, the EU strongly believes it can influence the Government in a manner that also results in greater respect for human rights. Ireland fully supports that strategy. We recognise that the promotion of peace and stability in Colombia requires a comprehensive, multi-strand strategy which tackles simultaneously the various social and economic elements underlying the conflict. Our approach and that of the European Union is to engage with the Colombian Government as it emerges from decades of terrorism and to influence that process in a manner that strengthens the Government's commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

I am aware of and share the deep concern that has been expressed at the manner in which trade union activists, human rights defenders and journalists have been treated in Colombia. Ireland, along with its EU partners, monitors the human rights situation in Colombia and raises issues including such human rights abuses with the Colombian Government through the ongoing EU-Colombia dialogue on human rights and in regular contacts at political level.

Last month, during a visit to Colombia to present credentials, Ireland's Ambassador to Mexico raised these issues at meetings with the Colombian Minister for Foreign Affairs and with senior officials in the Foreign Ministry. The Ambassador emphasised the importance that Ireland attaches to the protection of human rights defenders and trade unions leaders and explained the considerable attention that their plight has attracted in Ireland. The Foreign Minister confirmed that this is a priority issue for Colombia and that every effort was being made to address the position in the context of a difficult security situation. In the course of his visit the Ambassador also met with representatives of Irish NGOs to hear at first hand about their concerns regarding human rights and their views in relation to the negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement.

I am of the view that continuing the FTA negotiations with Colombia at this time offers the best opportunity to ensure that the concerns of EU Member States at the human rights situation in that country and, in particular, the treatment of trade union activists are fully addressed by the Colombian government. To this end, Ireland, along with other EU partners will continue to input to the European Commission negotiators to ensure a balanced outcome to the negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and one which gives due prominence to the protection of human rights. In addition, I am writing to the EU Trade Commissioner to underline our interest in an effective human rights clause being included in the agreement.

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