On October 24th, 2013, Representatives James McGovern and Frank Wolf co-chaired a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Colombia. The hearing focused on several topics, including the issues of labor rights and victims’ rights in the context of the on-going peace process happening in Colombia. Several expert panelists spoke on these topics and discussed both the successes and the work that needs to be done when it comes to addressing human rights violations in Colombia.
The evidence and research presented by these panelists is very clear on the point that human rights violations are being committed against Colombians, who often have little support in receiving the justice they deserve. For instance, despite the Colombian government creating the “Law on Victims’ Rights and Land Restitution”, only 1% of the 5.8 million Colombians registered under the law have had their cases reviewed an been able to return to their homes. The “Labor Action Plan“, an agreement between the United States and Colombia that protects workers’ rights, has been largely ineffective due to lack of enforcement and workers continue to be deprived of their rights and have their leaders threatened. There is hope, however, that the peace process will help bring justice to these victims.
Many panelists called for the United States to support the peace process, and emphasized that the United States was in a position to help the process by making their support clear to the Colombian military. By transitioning the majority of its aid money from military aid to social and development aid, the United States would send a clear statement that the U.S. is willing to support Colombia as they transition from war to peace.
Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Washington Office on Latin America identified two additional areas in which a change in U.S. policy would help show support for the peace process in Colombia.
- The U.S. should speak more frequently and publicly about its support of the peace process.
- The U.S. needs to be willing to change its drug policy, as Colombia’s drug policies could change as a result of the peace process.
These recommendations call for a major shift in mentality on the part of the United States government, but that shift is necessary if the U.S. wants to play a positive role in Colombia as that country transitions from civil war to peace. Following the hearing, on Tuesday, October 29th, Representative James McGovern and Representative George Miller published a report about the failures of the Labor Action Plan in Colombia, recommending changes to the LAP’s implementation that will hopefully make it more effective and provide real security to Colombian workers. It is these kinds of changes that will need to be made on the part of the United States if they want to help make all the difference to the peace process.