After short negotiations, in November 2008 the EFTA states and Colombia signed a comprehensive free trade agreement. In May 2009, the agreement was approved by the National Council and subsequently by the Council of States. Once the ratification process in Colombia was completed, the FTA entered into force in mid-2011.

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for members of trade unions and representatives of civil society organisations. The mass human rights violations committed include extrajudicial killings and violence towards trade unionists, murder and displacement of indigenous people and Afro-Colombians as well as the kidnapping and killing of human rights defenders. Moreover, the perpetrators of these violent crimes often commit them with impunity.

Resistance remains unsuccessful

With intensive lobbying, Public Eye and other organisations have tried to prevent parliament from ratifying the agreement. They proposed that parliamentarians announce a moratorium pending a significant improvement in the appalling human rights situation in Colombia. In a letter (in german) signed by over 30 civil society organisations, all members of the Swiss National Council were called upon to refuse to ratify the FTA between the EFTA states and Colombia.

Public Eye and its allies also launched various parliamentary initiatives, invited the prominent Colombian senator and opposition politician Jorge Enrique Robledo for talks with members of parliament to provide them  with comprehensive information about the human rights situation in Colombia, including the widespread killing of trade unionists and human rights defenders.

At a hearing at the National Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee (APK), Public Eye the Swiss-Colombian working group and Alliance Sud criticised the lack of coherence of Switzerland’s foreign policy, which on the one hand loudly advocates the promotion of human rights but on the other completely fails to mention the grave and systematic human rights violations in the free trade agreement with Colombia.

Following an in-depth debate in parliament, the agreement with Colombia was ultimately approved by a parliamentary majority, entering into force upon completion of the ratification process in Colombia. Public Eye is disappointed by the parliament’s failure to be courageous – it missed out on a chance to send a clear signal in favour of human rights.