Hold Export Development Canada accountable for impacts of its investment in Colombia
The HidroItuango dam cuts across the Cauca River in a region of Colombia hard hit by decades of armed conflict and grave human rights violations.
In 2016, Export Development Canada - a crown corporation that claims all its transactions are “environmentally and socially responsible” - approved million of dollars in loans to Empresas Públicas de Medellin (EPM), the company building the HidroItuango dam.
Warnings were sounded about the project by experts, human rights organizations and local communities long before Export Development Canada decided to provide financing.
Associations of families and communities dependent on the Cauca River for fishing or other livelihoods organized in a Movement called Ríos Vivos (Spanish for “living rivers”) spoke out against environmental impacts and destruction of ancestral ways of living.
They also reported forced evictions, increased militarization and worsening violence, including assassinations of their leaders and terrifying threats.
According to the Centre for International Environmental Law, HidroItuango flooded 4,500 hectares without first removing the area’s vegetation, generating large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas. This flooding was undertaken even before the dam structure itself was completed and without informing, relocating or compensating communities in the impacted area.
These impacts were compounded in May 2018, when a water diversion tunnel - added to construction plans over a year before the company obtained the required licence from environmental authorities - became obstructed. “The tunnel’s blockage and subsequent collapse would cause the Hidroituango dam to nearly burst, endangering tens of thousands of people,” reports Amnesty International NGO partner Above Ground in a case study entitled EPM’s Disastrous Dam.
The resulting floods and landslides destroyed homes and forced a chaotic emergency evacuation of thousands of people. But the crisis did not end there. Concerns about the structural integrity of the dam prompted EPM to close two floodgates in February 2019, choking off 80 percent of the Cauca River’s flow and killing tens of thousands of fish, according to Above Ground's study. The destruction of fish stocks placed the subsistence and livelihoods of thousands of people at risk.
The members of Rios Vivos say responsibility for the impacts of the dam lies not only with the company behind the project but also with financial institutions like Export Development Canada that provided funding. “Without foreign money, HidroItuango would not have been possible,” Rios Vivos spokesperson Isabel Zuleta told EDC officials at a meeting in Ottawa in November 2019 attended by Amnesty International. “The responsibility for the social and environmental harm it has caused, the exacerbation of violent conflict and the ongoing impact on our lives rests with the investors as well. Six leaders of Rios Vivos have been assassinated. Most of us, have been threatened with death unless we stop speaking up. It’s a very difficult situation.”
Send a letter to the President of Export Development Canada
Write a one page letter that includes the following points written in your own words.
- Begin with a sentence introducing yourself. Personal letters carry more weight than form messages.
- In your own words, express your deep concern that EDC loaned public money to help finance construction of the Hidroituango dam in Colombia despite longstanding opposition from people who would be affected, warnings of impending social and environmental harm, and ample evidence that the project would exacerbate human rights violations and armed conflict in the region of the dam.
- Remind EDC that the Crown corporation has a legal obligation to ensure it does not fund projects that cause or contribute to human rights harm - and a responsibility to provide remedy for any harm caused.
- Call on EDC to:
- Provide remediation, in consultation with affected communities, for the adverse impacts that EDC financing of the HidroItuango dam helped to produce
- Advocate for the human rights and safety of people who continue to be negatively impacted by the dam, and community leaders who are at risk for defending their rights
- Make sure that disasters like this never happen again by adopting rigorous assessment criteria to screen out transactions with a high risk of human rights and environmental harm. You may wish to specifically request a standard practice of undertaking an independent, reliable human rights impact assessment, as well as a commitment to international standards of meaningful consultation and the free, prior and informed consent of affected Indigenous peoples.
Send your letter to:
Be sure to send a copy of your letter to:
The Hon. Mary Ng
International Trade Minister
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Daniel Blaikie, MP
International Trade Critic
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
In October 2019, Mairead Lavery, President and Chief Executive Officer of Export Development Canada, publicly admitted that the crown corporation’s loans to Empresas Publicas de Medellin, the company building the HidroItuango dam, had linked EDC to an “environmental, economic and human catastrophe” in Colombia.
This is not the first such catastrophe in Colombia to which EDC is linked. In 1999, Colombian Indigenous leader Kimy Pernía Domicó came to Canada to provide testimony to parliamentarians conducting a review of the legislation governing EDC. The Embera Katío leader told parliamentarians how the Urra I Hydroelectric Megaproject on the Sinú River, which received millions of dollars in financing from EDC, was approved without meaningful consultation or the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities that would be impacted, in violation of the Colombian constitution and International Labour Organization Convention 169. Kimy provided moving testimony about environmental impacts that affected the food security and health of his people, impacts that can be seen in this short documentary filmed in Embera Katio territory. Kimy also detailed an increase in militarization, armed conflict and violence against opponents of the dam. Several leaders had been killed and others were threatened with death. Kimy asked parliamentarians and the EDC for policies to ensure non-repetition so that others would not suffer the same devastation as his people. In June 2002, Kimy was forcibly disappeared by paramilitaries and never seen again.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are a set of guidelines for States and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations.
According to the Guiding Principles: "States should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the State, or that receive substantial support and services from State agencies such as export credit agencies and official investment insurance or guarantee agencies, including, where appropriate, by requiring human rights due diligence.”
The Guiding Principles also state: “Where business enterprises identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes.”