Letter: BP's duty over human rights in Colombia

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Sir: Only trouble can come from doing business in a war zone, as Oil and Terror (Assignment, BBC2, 8 February) revealed. Whatever the outcome of current investigations into BP's operations, it is doubtful whether any oil company can behave ethically in Colombia today, for the following reasons:

1) All oil companies in Colombia are obliged to pay a war tax to the Colombian government which is then channelled to the military;

2) Colombian military personnel are responsible for systematic human rights abuse, including arbitrary killings of civilians and torture. This has been documented by Amnesty international and UN Special Rapporteurs;

3) Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in the Western hemisphere.

BP takes its social responsibility very seriously. In Colombia and elsewhere the company is funding development projects and environmental initiatives as part of its promotion of global corporate ethics. Meanwhile it is pouring money into the coffers of an army with blood in its hands.

The only way BP can remove this contradiction is to put pressure on the Colombian government to improve its appalling human rights record, by fulfilling UN recommendations, for example. Since BP is probably the largest single foreign investor in Colombia, it is well-placed to influence events there. Colombia's President Samper is in Washington's bad books for failing to control drug trafficking and his economy is in crisis. Europe is Samper's lifeline and BP the jewel in his crown.

By extension, the British government also has a role to play. Up until now, the British government has soft-pedalled on human rights violations in Colombia, supposedly to protect UK trade and investment links. But war and insecurity are no good for business. The UK government would do British trade greater service by promoting peace in that country rather than turning a blind eye to a dirty war.


Catholic Institute for International Relations

London N1