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Misleading free trade report ignores emergency facing Indigenous peoples and other grave human rights concerns in Colombia

    May 20, 2014

    Amnesty International Canada and the Assembly of First Nations are expressing serious concern that the federal government has once again issued a “human rights impact assessment” about commerce with Colombia that fails to acknowledge the deadly repression faced by Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent communities, trade unionists and others in that country. This wilful omission is particularly concerning given testimony by Indigenous leaders from Colombia about dire threats to their very survival in the context of the kind of resource development projects that the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has served to promote.

    “This report would have parliamentarians believe there are no trade and investment-related human rights concerns in Colombia. This flies in the face of abundant, well-documented evidence to the contrary from a growing chorus of respected Colombian and international organizations,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.

    Last month, a UN envoy in Colombia warned that the survival of 40 of 102 Indigenous nations in Colombia is at risk and pointed to the imposition of mining projects as a key factor. Colombian institutions and non-governmental organizations have echoed concerns about the overlap between areas of resource extraction and grave human rights abuses. A representative of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) travelled to Ottawa in February to testify before Parliament’s Genocide Prevention Working Group (GPG) about attacks on Indigenous communities living in areas earmarked for resource extraction, and deadly violence against Indigenous peoples seeking to exercise their right to participate in decision-making about projects they fear will negatively impact on their lands and livelihoods.

    “Our Indigenous brothers and sisters in Colombia are literally fighting for their lives and the survival of their cultures amidst threats, killings and forced displacement from their lands,” said Assembly of First Nations Spokesperson Quebec/Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, who leads international work for the AFN. “It is unacceptable and unconscionable that a human rights emergency of these dimensions is not even mentioned in the government’s human rights report, particularly given the pivotal role that promotion of resource extraction is playing in this tragedy.” 

    The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was approved by Parliament only after the addition of a requirement on both countries to place before their respective legislatures an annual report detailing the effects of the agreement on human rights. The goal was to create an assessment mechanism to monitor and ensure Canadian trade and investment in Colombia does not directly or indirectly contribute to, aggravate or benefit from human rights violations. Since then the Canadian government has narrowly interpreted its reporting obligation so as to explicitly exclude assessment of contentious issues like human rights violations in areas of resource extraction. Canada’s 2014 report, issued on May 15, declares that Canadian resource extraction investment in Colombia is “outside the scope”, even as it reports that that “this FTA provides greater stability and predictability” for Canadian investors and “expanded opportunities in a broad range of sectors, particularly oil and gas, mining, agriculture and agrifood, and manufacturing.”

    Tellingly, Colombia’s National Indigenous Organization, which represents regional Indigenous organizations from across the country, reports it was not invited to provide input to the 2014 federal government report. Amnesty International and other Canadian NGOs have expressed serious misgivings about an online “consultation” that was quietly posted on a Canadian government webpage in March which lasted just six working days.

    “A methodology lacking in credibility and the narrow report it has produced have turned a blind eye to the dire crisis experienced by Indigenous peoples in Colombia and concerns that are all too real in areas where Canadian companies are moving in,” said Alex Neve. “At the very least, Canadian companies need to be properly informed so they can avoid becoming embroiled in, exacerbating or benefiting from human rights violations.”

    “We are calling on the Government of Canada to ensure that the human rights and Indigenous rights of Indigenous peoples in Colombia are respected and upheld,” concluded Regional Chief Picard.
     

    Background

    The Assembly of First Nations and Amnesty International publicly called on the Canadian government to ensure its 2014 human rights report on the free trade deal pay particular attention to the human rights emergency for Indigenous peoples in Colombia and the footprint of Canadian resource extraction companies. Last month, the two organizations delivered thousands of petitions from concerned Canadians to Foreign Minister John Baird. To date, Amnesty has counted more than 65,000 appeals for action on behalf of threatened Indigenous peoples in Colombia.

    In 2009, Colombia’s highest court ruled that 34 of 102 Indigenous nations in Colombia were “threatened with physical and cultural extermination” amidst armed conflict, forced displacement and the imposition of resource extraction and other economic projects. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) reports that dozens of other Indigenous nations are at grave risk, and has expressed concern about assaults on Indigenous lands and lives in areas where resource extraction licences are being granted in violation of the right of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent. “We are concerned about the imposition of resource extraction projects that violate the rights of Indigenous communities and aggravate a situation in which the very survival of dozens of Indigenous nations is at risk,” said ONIC Chief Luis Fernando Arias in a letter dated April 26, 2014.

    In February, Parliament’s Working Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes against Humanity, chaired by Senator Romeo Dallaire, held a Round Table to hear the testimony of witnesses from Colombia about the grave human rights crisis experienced by Indigenous peoples and to discuss the role of Canada. The following day, Senator Dallaire addressed the Senate to call for a “proactive” response by the federal government since Canadian companies that have moved in to Colombia are “caught up in this maelstrom.”

    Last year, the Canadian government’s report on the free trade agreement said nothing about the human rights situation of Indigenous peoples in Colombia and also failed to include any information about Canadian investment in Colombia in the mining and oil and gas sectors.

    In March, Amnesty International and other Canadian organizations expressed concern about a flawed process on the part of the Canadian government for gathering input from people and organizations that have firsthand information about the scope of human rights violations on the ground in Colombia, essential input for any reliable human rights impact assessment.

    For more information, please contact:

    Beth Berton-Hunter, Amnesty International Media Officer, 416 363 9933 ext 332, bberton-hunter@amnesty.ca
    Alain Garon, Assembly of First Nations Bilingual Communications Officer: 613 292 0857 agaron@afn.ca

     

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