Santos proposes peace as framework for investment, but trade must be accompanied by human rights

Attending a formal banquet with President Santos’ as part of his official State visit to the UK, leading Colombian human rights lawyer Reinaldo Villalba highlights the importance of human rights protection in light of President Santos renewed efforts to attract investment to Colombia on state visit to UK.
Emily Spence

On Wednesday 2nd November 2016, Reinaldo Villalba, from the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR), attended a formal banquet with President Santos as part of his official State visit to the UK, accompanied by Susi Bascon of PBI UK, the organisation which has given protection to CAJAR lawyers for over 25 years. The dinner was attended by 750 guests: a combination of legal professionals, academics, Lords, and the business community. The President of Colombia spoke of the importance of peace for business and a productive economy.

“Peace is not the silence of arms. Peace is not the absence of war. Peace must be stable, fair and long-lasting, bringing wellbeing to the most remote areas of the country. Immense work needs to be done to satisfy the needs of the poorest. The way to do this”, the President affirmed, “is through policies promoting social prosperity.”  

By this Santos referred to a combination of fostering economic growth and reaching the most vulnerable and marginalised, lifting them out of poverty. He invited direct investment to the country and asked for the support of the business community to bring stability to his country.

“Many business owners have wanted to invest in our country but been prevented by the ongoing war. Now they will be able to, additionally knowing that we are one of the best country’s in the world to protect their investment,” Santos affirmed.

In light of this renewed interest in attracting foreign investment in Colombia, Reinaldo Villalba reiterated the importance of the state and businesses adhering to their international commitments to respect the rights of indigenous, Afro-descendent and campesino communities who live in resource rich areas and seek to protect their land and environment:

“It is very important that communities are not affected negatively by the businesses that invest in Colombia, and particularly that their territories are respected, as well as their natural resources such as water and the environment. It is also vital that the consultation process are fully carried out, respecting the principle of free, prior and informed consent.”

Human rights defenders who contest harmful business practise are key driving forces behind change and progress in their countries. Despite this they expose themselves to serious risks and must be protected and encouraged to carry out their work.  Business and financial institutions have an obligation under international law to respect and protect the rights of those affected by their businesses, including those who raise their voices in dissent.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in his recent report on land and environmental defenders urges states to “reaffirm and recognise  the  role  of  environmental  human  rights defenders and respect, protect and fulfil their rights,” while stressing that businesses should “adopt  and  implement  relevant  international  and  regional  human rights  standards,  including  the  Guiding  Principles  for  Business  and  Human Rights and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights” and carry out rigorous human rights due diligence and impact assessments in their work.
See our full interview with Reinaldo on the Peace Process here