Prime Minister Mark Rutte led a major trade mission to Colombia last week, a mission not only for Dutch businesses, but also for human rights. SOMO and ten other civil society organisations gathered in the Colombia Platform. During his visit, the Prime Minister urged that attention be placed on improving the troubling human rights situation in the country and implementing the two-year-old peace agreement without delay.

“We are pleased that our appeal has been effective and are satisfied with the steps the Dutch delegation has taken. Given the fragile progress of the peace agreement in Colombia, an increased focus on the human rights situation and the peace agreement were major results of the mission”, stated Marionne Lips and Maurice van Beers of the Colombia Platform, who were present in Colombia.

Countryside

Rutte travelled to a town called Apartadó in north-western Colombia to observe the situation first-hand. He spoke with civic leaders to see at first hand that rural development only has a future when the safety of the population can be safeguarded.

Petition and good conversation

At the request of the ten organisations, Deputy Prime Minister Carola Schouten also spoke with six national trade union and civic leaders in Bogota. The most urgent issues, according to the leaders, are incomplete implementation of the peace agreement, murder and threats to human rights defenders, lack of freedom for trade unions to organise and stigmatisation of social movements. Schouten accepted a petition calling for key parts of the peace agreement to be implemented. These include protection of communities and civic leaders, and the immediate implementation of the “Pact for Life” that President Duque signed in August.

Shared urgency

The Colombia Platform is pleased that in his final press conference Prime Minister Rutte referred to this pact and also said that he wants the peace agreement to be implemented. According to Rutte, President Duque shares this sense of urgency and presented an action plan last week to stop the murders. The Dutch Cabinet has thus demonstrated its support for increased attention and commitment to human rights in Colombia.

“Despite the peace, parts of Colombia are still very unsafe,” stated Van Beers, “and that is why the support of the Netherlands is desperately needed”.

In the first eight months of this year, 110 people were killed, because they were active in their trade union, human rights or environmental organisation, neighbourhood council or a victims’ or women’s committee. Prime Minister Rutte expressed great concern about the murders of human rights defenders.

Monitoring

The Colombian government has thus far placed insufficient urgency on protection of its civic leaders. It is now vital to monitor whether progress is being made on President Duque’s promises. That is why the organisations in the Colombia Platform are in constant dialogue with their partners and civic leaders at both the national and local level. The Dutch government’s focus on improving the situation in Colombia contributes to the protection and promotion of the work of these human rights defenders.

Read the Spanish petition to Mark Rutte here.