Canadians stand up with Indigenous Peoples in Colombia
by Kathy Price, Campaigner for the Americas, Amnesty International Canada
A message that can't be ignored
Today we brought the faces and voices of concerned Canadians to Parliament Hill, along with an urgent message: Canada's free trade deal with Colombia creates special obligations to protect the rights and survival of threatened Indigenous peoples in the South American country.
On the steps of Parliament, we displayed beautiful, heartfelt photo messages from activists across Canada. Then we went inside to present the government with a box jam-packed with petitions - thousands and thousands of them. In total, more than 65,000 people signed actions calling for immediate measures to protect the rights and survival of Indigenous peoples on their lands in Colombia.
It was two years ago that courageous Colombian Indigenous people sent photo messages to Canada to tell us about deadly assaults on their lives and lands. Those photo messages put a moving human face on an acute yet hidden human rights emergency, one that threatens the physical and cultural survival of more than a third of Indigenous peoples in Colombia amidst violence, forced displacement and the imposition of resource extraction projects.
Indigenous peoples urged us to speak out
Members and supporters of Amnesty International responded immediately and generously to appeals from Colombia's Indigenous movement to raise our voices with them and call for action. Many sent unique, eye-catching photo messages to build a massive digital quilt of concern.
Today Amnesty Canada's Secretary General Alex Neve handed over the photo messages to David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary for Latin America, together with tens of thousands of petition appeals. Our Secretary General was accompanied by Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations, who shared the deep concerns of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
At a press conference before the handover, Alex Neve spoke for all our activists when he underscored Canada's obligations, given the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement which has opened the door for Canadian companies to join a resource extraction boom without human rights guarantees:
|Alex Neve, middle, and AFN's Chief Picard (left) deliver petitions to David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs|
“The decision to sign a free trade deal with Colombia, amidst so many trade-related human rights challenges, was a risky one. Adding a requirement to assess human rights impacts was supposed to address that concern. The meaningless human rights reporting to date has now become part of the problem, instead of a means to identify any human rights issues and then address them. The 2014 report gives the Canadian government an important chance to show it is serious about human rights, particularly the rights of Indigenous peoples in Colombia who face such a perilous future.
Canada has an opportunity and an obligation to acknowledge the human rights emergency for Indigenous Peoples in Colombia, to ensure their rights are respected, particularly in areas of resource extraction, and to hold Canadian companies accountable for their human rights record in Colombia.”
Thank you to everyone who has participated in this campaign and raised your voices to protect the rights and survival of Indigenous peoples in Colombia.
Photo credit: Paul Thompson