I thank the committee for the opportunity to be here to speak about Trócaire's work in Colombia and to give feedback on the recent Oireachtas delegation. As the Chairman mentioned, that delegation included three members of this committee, as well as Deputy Tom Kitt. The report of the delegation is currently being finalised and it will be sent to all members of the committee. I will highlight some key findings from the visit during my presentation.
Trócaire has very much welcomed the actions taken by the Irish Government with regard to the human rights situation in Colombia. Those actions include the recommendations made by the Irish Government to the Colombian Government during the universal periodic review at the Human Rights Council in December 2008. Trócaire encourages the Irish Government to continue monitoring the situation in Colombia and to continue raising human rights concerns bilaterally with the Colombian authorities and also within the level of the European Union. Trócaire is also encouraged by the interest shown by Members of the Oireachtas and Irish members of the European Parliament in the situation in Colombia.
As the committee will be aware, 2010 is an important year for Colombia with a change of Government and the taking office of President Juan Manuel Santos in August 2010. It is also a key year for relations between the European Union and Colombia, with the conclusion of the negotiations for an EU Colombia trade agreement. I am aware that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has organised for a Colombian delegation to address the Joint Committee on European Affairs on Thursday next, 9 December on the subject of the free trade agreement.
In her introduction, Ms Brannigan of Amnesty International gave a good overview of the current Colombian context and the seriousness of the humanitarian and human rights situation, and therefore I will move quickly on to talk about Trócaire's work in Colombia.
Trócaire has been working in Colombia for many years, supporting the Colombian church but also supporting a broad range of civil society organisations. At present, Trócaire supports approximately 25 civil society and church organisations who work with the most vulnerable people in Colombia: internally displaced persons, Afro-Colombians, female victims of sexual violence and victims of the armed conflict.
Trócaire's current programme in Colombia focuses on four key areas. The first is that we support partner organisations to address impunity and demand truth, justice and integral reparation. Our partner organisations in Colombia provide legal and psychological support to victims using national, regional and international legal mechanisms. They also monitor the application of justice for victims of the armed conflict.
The second element of Trócaire's current programme involves strengthening social capital, democratic practices and citizen participation. Trócaire supports internally displaced persons, victims of armed conflict, women, the rural poor and ethnic groups such as Afro-Colombians and indigenous persons in order to form and strengthen organisations and to support autonomy, democracy and leadership.
Trócaire also supports civil society organisations in their search for peace. We support dialogue at local and national levels, working with civil society organisations as they search for peace.
The fourth element of Trócaire's programme involves increasing the accountability and compliance of the Colombian Government with international human rights standards. We do this through supporting our partners in Colombia to engage in national advocacy towards the Colombian authorities, but also we do it at an international level. We work with other organisations in Ireland and in Europe to bring recommendations to the Irish Government and to the European Union.
Civil society in Colombia and Trócaire's partner organisations believe that the international community has a key role to play in influencing the Colombian Government to improve human rights and the humanitarian situation. In that regard, Trócaire has consistently raised human rights concerns directly with the Irish Government, with the Members of the Oireachtas and with the Irish Members of the European Parliament.
I will be brief on the Oireachtas delegation, as some of the Members who were on that delegation may also wish to speak about it. The delegation spent five days in Colombia in late October 2010. During those five days, the delegation met Colombian church organisations, civil society and victims of the armed conflict, as well as trade unionists and human rights defenders. The delegation also met the Colombian authorities, including the Vice President, Mr. Angelino Garzón, and the Colombian vice-minister for foreign affairs. The delegation also met representatives of the international community, the EU delegation and the British ambassador.
Through these meetings and field visits to a number of regions in Colombia, the delegation had the opportunity to see the impact of the conflict on its many victims, including the Afro-Colombian population in Buenaventura, women, human rights defenders and trade unionists. The delegation also visited Trujillo, which is the site of a victims' memorial, and met a community which has been devastated by a massacre but which also continues to fight and struggle for justice. The delegation also met two of the mothers of Soacha, whom we welcome to Ireland this week.
In their meetings with the Colombian authorities, particularly the Vice President of Colombia, the delegation was able to raise specific human rights concerns, including the situation of the mothers of Soacha and of the Afro-Colombian population in Buenaventura, and the persistent insecurity faced by human rights defenders and survivors of the armed conflict.
In particular, I wish to respond to a point the Chairman raised in his introduction. The new Administration in Colombia has recently developed a number of welcome initiatives with regard to improving the human rights situation and addressing the underlying causes of the armed conflict. These initiatives have included a Bill on victims, a Bill on land restitution and a proposal to reform the ministry for justice. The victims' Bill and the land restitution Bill are currently under discussion in the Colombian Congress. It is essential that these laws are in line with international standards and ensure protection for victims returning to their land, particularly in the case of the land restitution Bill.
However, the human rights and humanitarian situation in Colombia remains extremely serious. As outlined by Ms Brannigan in her introduction, the ongoing presence of armed groups in Colombia is a serious concern, as are the levels of impunity for human rights violations and the persistent climate of insecurity faced by those who seek to defend human rights, including trade unionists. In the first 75 days of the new Colombian administration, 22 human rights defenders have been killed, including five trade unionists.
Trócaire believes that without the implementation of human rights recommendations, the rule of law and human rights in Colombia are seriously undermined. As Ms Brannigan outlined, there is a series of United Nations recommendations on Colombia that have not been implemented and until they are implemented, the situation will remain extremely serious. Trócaire very much endorses the recommendations Amnesty International made to the committee.