The Bush administration should press Colombia’s government to show results on key human rights issues before asking for ratification of a pending trade deal, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the US Trade Representative, Ambassador Susan Schwab, made public today.

The letter, signed by Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, includes a detailed list of specific steps that the Colombian government should take to address these problems, as preconditions for ratification of the agreement.

“When the United States and Colombia announced they were negotiating an FTA, we saw it as a historic opportunity to leverage a decisive effort to save Colombian democracy from the mafias terrorizing its people and preventing the exercise of fundamental workers’ rights,” said Roth in the letter. “This opportunity would be squandered were the FTA to be ratified prematurely.”

The leadership of the US House of Representatives has announced that it will delay ratification of the deal until Colombia shows concrete and sustained results in addressing rampant impunity for the killings of thousands of trade unionists and the continuing power of drug-running paramilitary groups who have targeted unions.

The steps Human Rights Watch’s letter lists include: measures to find and seize the massive wealth paramilitaries have accumulated through decades of drug trafficking and abuses; prosecuting their financial backers and military collaborators; severing paramilitary leaders’ links to their groups; and ensuring accountability for violence against trade unionists.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now in Colombia as part of an aggressive campaign by the Bush administration to press Congress to drop its objections to the deal.

The letter urges the Bush administration to instead direct its efforts toward pressing Colombia’s government to effectively address the serious problems that the congressional leadership and many others have been raising for years.

“We hope you will agree that the Colombian government’s campaign for FTA ratification would be best served by focusing on these substantive issues, and that you will join us in urging the government to act,” Roth said in the letter.