Labour and human rights lawyers, recently returned from Colombia on a fact-finding mission, have criticised the British government for providing military aid to the Uribe regime but not humanitarian aid to civil society.

Their report, which compiles documentary evidence and first-hand testimony of human rights abuses in Colombia, urges the UK Government to rethink its policy, particularly the military aid it provides to Colombia’s armed forces. The army and other state actors are directly and indirectly responsible for many of the country’s human rights violations.

The report says:

“Trade unionists in Colombia are subjected to repression by state actors and those supported by state actors for carrying out lawful activities. The state is directly responsible for much of what occurs including the mass detentions and the targeted arrest and detention of activists accused by paid informers on evidence which it appears is known to be false.

“Trade unions and their members who oppose the drive to privatise public services and publicly owned enterprises are at the forefront of such attacks, as are farm workers who are seen to stand in the way of exploitation of the land by multi-nationals for commercially valuable crops and extractions.”

The lawyers’ delegation, which included Karen Mitchell and Anna Konzon from Thompsons Solicitors in Chelmsford, concluded that the sophisticated legal system which formally provides for a satisfactory justice system is often flouted in practice “with the knowledge and connivance of the state”.

Karen Mitchell said: “We met many brave people in Colombia with whom we have developed links, in particular members of the agricultural workers union FENSUAGRO who have been the victims of hundreds of human rights abuses since the union’s foundation in 1986.

“It was a real shock to discover the abuses and even more of a shock to learn that our government sends military aid to such a regime. We should be sending humanitarian not military aid.”

The lawyers’ report also calls on international agencies, including the ILO and UN, to have a permanent presence in Colombia to monitor the situation.