Following a visit to Colombia, Swiss Senator Carlo Sommaruga told Colombia Reports that he believes that the Colombian government is downplaying human rights abuses in order to maintain its free trade agreement with Switzerland. The senator also believes it is possible that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe may be tried for crimes against humanity in the future.
Sommaruga was a member of a delegation of Swiss senators that visited Colombia to study the work of NGO Swissaid in the central department of Santander. The Swiss delegation also visited the department of Magdalena to study the impact of the mass cultivation of oil palm to produce bio-fuel on the local communities and the environment.
During his time in Colombia, Sommaruga met with trade unionists, indigenous Colombians and representatives Afro-colombian movements, as well as the director of Colombia’s Presidential Human Rights Program, Carlos Franco. He also attended the trial of former director of the DAS, Jorge Noguera, indicted for his responsibility in the DAS wire tapping scandal.
Sommaruga told Colombia Reports that from what he heard and observed, he has concluded that the Colombian government is downplaying the severity of human rights abuses in the Andean nation, so that their 2008 free trade agreement (FTA) with Switzerland will go into force this year as planned.
In 2009, the ratification of the FTA with Colombia met with opposition in Swiss Congress, due to concerns over Colombia’s human rights record. Despite opposition, Swiss Congress ratified the bill on September 24, 2009.
Sommaruga attributes the bill’s ratification, as least in part, to a campaign launched by Claudia Jimenez, then Colombian Ambassador to Switzerland, to promote the notion that Colombia was a peaceful nation with a reasonable human rights record in the eyes of Swiss senators.
Similar FTAs with the U.S. and Norway have not been ratified, because of those nation’s grave concerns over Colombia’s human rights record.
According to Sommaruga, Colombian paramilitary forces are reorganizing and violence against civilians continues, despite the Colombian government’s affirmations that right-wing illegal armed groups have been successfully demobilized.
Sommaruga said that he “supports the thesis that the head of the Colombian state [Uribe] consciously took part in a strategy of terror and collusion [with paramilitary forces] causing thousands of deaths.”
The Swiss senator believes that it is possible that “those responsible” for the continuance of human rights abuses in Colombia, may be called to appear before the International Criminal Court, to be tried for crimes against humanity in the future. This could potentially include Uribe, if it were found that there were sufficient evidence to indict him. The Swiss senator says he would support such a judicial process, if adequate proof were provided.