Amnesty International Canada is deeply disappointed by the Canadian government's unilateral decision to ignore the 15 May 2012 deadline stipulated in Canadian law for tabling in Parliament of a report on the human rights impacts of the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
The document tabled by the government yesterday does not attempt any analysis of the human rights impacts of Canadian promotion of trade and investment in this war-torn country, claiming “sufficient trade data is not available”. Instead, the document provides only a cursory outline of steps the government plans to follow in order to prepare future reports, promising that the first will be completed a year from now in 2013.
The human rights situation in Colombia remains dire. More than 259,000 people were driven from their homes and lands in 2011 alone because of violence associated with political and economic interests. Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities, as well as trade unionists and those who question economic megaprojects, continue to face deadly attacks.
The crisis facing Indigenous Peoples, many of whom live in areas of economic interest, is particularly alarming. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has identified 34 Indigenous nations that are in grave danger of extinction, amidst armed conflict that has been used as a cover for appropriation of their resource-rich lands.
"Canada must not turn its back on the human rights crisis in Colombia for yet another year," said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. "The crucial question that should not be postponed is what role is Canadian investment playing with regard to this emergency?"
In Colombia, human rights abuses are often committed as a means to forcibly remove civilian communities from areas of economic interest. Much of the land targeted for intensive development, such as plantations, mines and oil and gas development, is land that is inhabited by Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Forced displacement has particularly tragic consequences for these communities since their close relationship to the land is not only the foundation of their cultures and way of life but essential to fulfilling their rights to subsistence, livelihood and health.
“Failure to carry out a full impact assessment violates Canada's responsibility of due diligence under international law and denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in grave human rights violations,” said Neve. “The government of Canada has missed yet another opportunity for due diligence to comply with international norms and ensure its trade and investment policy does not undermine human rights.
Amnesty International Canada believes it is imperative that Canada evaluates not only the direct impact of the agreement, but the human rights climate in which it is promoting Canadian investment so as to produce an accurate analysis of how to avoid contributing to abuses. “This is something that Canada should have been doing all along as a matter of international human rights responsibility,” states Neve.
Fears that the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement could fuel or contribute to grave human rights violations against those living in areas of economic interest, including Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendent communities, prompted Amnesty International Canada to repeatedly call on the Government for an independent, impartial human rights impact assessment of the trade deal with the means to responsibly address any problems identified before signing and implementation. Parliament's Standing Committee on International Trade made the same recommendation.
These recommendations were ignored in favour of a commitment by the government to carry out an annual impact assessment, the first of which was supposed to be completed this month.
Amnesty International Canada
416-363-9933, ext. 332