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Colombia now facing a massive challenge

We have just returned from Colombia, feeling privileged to have been there during a momentous week when the Congress ratified the peace agreement between the government and Farc.

The euphoria surrounding the international media coverage of the peace deal masks the scale of the challenge that must be overcome if the aspiration is to become a reality.

As the prospect of peace looms, paramilitary groups, often serving the interests of large landowning and economic interests, have stepped forward to fill the void, spreading fear within communities. We heard countless testimonies of assassination attempts, death threats, forced displacement and persecution of community activists and trade unionists.

Worryingly, when we met with the army in the region of northern Cauca, the colonels passionately rejected the claims, despite the evidence of our own eyes just a few hours beforehand.

In a country of seven million displaced people, with 60,000 disappeared and 3,000 murdered trade unionists, it is easy to see how intimidatory tactics can be used to control the population and stifle opposition.

The undermining of the agreement through the persecution of community and union leaders makes confidence-building measures imperative. Among these should be the release of political prisoners, pending the operation of the transitional justice provisions contained in the agreement.

The international community has a particular obligation to step up its monitoring of human rights abuses and to urge action to be taken now against the attempts by Right-wing forces to thwart the agreement.

Finally, we would do well to reflect on the role of free trade agreements with countries such as Colombia and to insist on much more effective guarantees on the upholding of human rights and the protection of civil society leaders.

BRIAN CAMPFIELD (PRESIDENT) and KEVIN CALLINAN (VICE-PRESIDENT)

Irish Congress of Trade Unions

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