Allegations of secret Colombian plan to undermine EU
A group of MEPs is calling for action as further details of an alleged covert operation conducted by the Colombian intelligence agency (DAS) continue to emerge, with one of its reported aims being to undermine the authority of the European Parliament.
Recently released documents that were confiscated from the DAS by the Colombian Attorney General's office highlight the nature of "Operation Europe."
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Its objective was to "neutralise the influence of the European judicial system, the European Parliament's human rights sub-committee, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights," reads one text seen by this website.
Following lines suggest the process of discrediting these institutions should be carried out by waging a "legal war."
News of the Colombian agency's activities targeting national and international human rights defenders, NGOs and democratic organisations, of which 'Operation Europe' was only one part, first broke in the Colombian media in early 2009.
As the scandal grew, former right-wing President Alvaro Uribe finally moved to stem the criticism by introducing legislation late last year to overhaul the controversial agency, although it has yet to be approved by the country's legislature.
But a group of MEPs, primarily from the European Parliament's Green group, are not satisfied, fearing that the reported campaign of close surveillance and threat-making against Bogota's critics may simply continue under a different guise.
Their concerns are backed up by the Colombian Commission of Jurists, among others, a group of legal activists that says the law does not "establish adequate, effective and independent oversight of intelligence activities."
Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek is one of those to have put questions to the European Commission and Council of Ministers, but said the answers she received were "not satisfactory."
In responding to the queries last month, the commission said it was "well aware of the reports relating to alleged illegal spying by the DAS" and has raised the matter with the Colombian authorities on several occasions.
The EU executive body added that it has faith in the current investigation being carried out by the Colombian Prosecutor General's Office and the Attorney General's Office and has been informed of the draft law to liquidate the DAS and set up a new agency.
Others want more, however.
"There should be a full police and judicial investigation of the alleged crimes," said centre-left MEP Richard Howitt. "All of us at member-state level and within the European institutions should take full responsibility for making sure such investigations are conducted."
Hopes for the Belgian Presidency
Unhappy with the current level of action, Ms Lunacek says she has greater hopes for the next six months, with Spain set to hand over the reins of the EU's rotating presidency on 1 July.
"The Spanish government is very in favour of the free trade agreement with Colombia [initialed in May], and they don't want anything to jeopardise that," the Austrian deputy told EUobserver. "But then the Belgians will take over the presidency and they have citizens that have been proven to have suffered phone tapping by the DAS."
One of those Belgian citizens who claims to have been a victim of DAS activities is Paul-Emile Dupret, a political advisor to the European Parliament's left-wing United European Left (GUE) group.
"My name is mentioned on the DAS file several times," he says, believing it to be partially the result of his involvement in the organisation of an anti-Uribe protest in 2004 when the ex-President visited the European Parliament.
Several months after the protest, Mr Dupret was arrested upon landing in the United States. "I was interrogated when I arrived, put in prison for 24 hours, asked dozens of questions about by views on Colombia," he says. "Since then I have been prevented from returning to the US. They now consider me a terrorist."
The close ties between Washington and Bogota are well known.
The Belgian citizen is currently working with a group of other victims and a team of lawyers, and plans to present their collective case against the Colombian agency in the Belgian courts this July, the first European citizens to do so.
Certain European NGOs also claim to have been the target of a concerted campaign to discredit their activities and tarnish their reputations. Amongst them is the Belgian faith-based NGO Broederlijk Delen, whose representative Patricia Verbauwhede attended a press conference in parliament this week.
"The EU needs to make a statement on the DAS," she said. "We request an investigation of the DAS on European soil and we feel the EU should not conclude its free trade agreement with Colombia."
So far the sought-after strong statements and investigations have not been forthcoming.