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Lords query Colombian trade deal

15 August 2014


Restitution: Fr Alberto, head of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission in Colombia, which campaigns on behalf of displaced communities

Restitution: Fr Alberto, head of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission in Colombia, which campaigns on behalf of displaced commun...

A "SELF-SERVING" trade agreement between the British and Colombian governments could worsen the human-rights situation in Colombia, the House of Lords was warned last month.

The Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia, drawn up four years ago, was finally ratified in the House of Commons on 10 July. It was ratified by the Colombian government last year.

It offers increased protection to UK investors in Colombia by giving them recourse to international arbitration should disputes arise, through an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). The UK is the second-largest foreign investor in Colombia, much of the money being invested in the mining sector.

On 30 July, a Labour spokesman on trade, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, tabled a debate in the House of Lords about the agreement, warning that its balance might be wrong. The treaty also failed to mention the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights, he said.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD, argued that the treaty was "self-serving", and could worsen the situation of human-rights' defenders. He drew attention to the Colombian government's commitment to restore land to displaced people (Features, 9 May), questioning whether this would be undermined by the interests of investors.

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, also raised concern about the restoration of land, and called for a monitoring system to ensure that human rights were respected.

Charities are alarmed by the agreement. A coalition that includes Christian Aid, CAFOD, and Oxfam, ABColombia, issued a statement last month warning that "The UK has placed itself in the incongruous position of committing to support implementation of the Victims and Land Restitution Law, whilst at the same time opening avenues to challenge its implementation through unqualified ISDS proceedings in the treaty."

In the House of Lords, the Trade Minister, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, said that fears about the treaty were "exaggerated", and that it did not pose a threat to Colombia's land-restitution programme.


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