Citing grave concerns, Amnesty International Canada withdraws from reporting process on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and Colombia
In an open letter to Cheryl Urban, Director General of the Latin America and Caribbean Bureau at Global Affairs Canada, Amnesty International Canada notified the Department it will no longer make submissions to the annual report on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and Colombia.
The organization cited serious concerns with the Department’s methodology which fundamentally undermines the credibility of the process, including by failing to assess some of the most significant trade-related human rights concerns in Colombia. Instead, “the Government of Canada chooses to interpret its human rights reporting responsibilities in a limited and restrictive manner that ignores and overlooks pressing human rights concerns directly related to critical trade, investment and business policy and activities that are encouraged, promoted and furthered by the [Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement],” the Open Letter reads.
The Open Letter pointed to a consistent failure of the reporting process since its commencement in 2012 to assess the rapidly increasing presence of extractive companies in and around the territories of Indigenous peoples amidst armed conflict as well as grave human rights violations and forced displacement that, according to Colombia’s Constitutional Court, threaten more than one-third of Indigenous nations in Colombia with physical or cultural extermination. “The end result is a lack of substance, meaningful analysis, relevant information and, ultimately, credibility; all of which has caused us to withdraw from the process at this time,” the letter says.
Amnesty International re-iterated its commitment to continued dialogue with the government on human rights in Colombia via other channels, and said it “remains open” to participation in the Human Rights and Free Trade reporting process in future, “should the scope and methodology be changed in line with international benchmarks for independent human rights impact assessment of trade agreements.”
The Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA) was signed in November 2008 and entered into force in August 2011. Throughout the negotiation of the Agreement, amidst grave concerns about the alarming human rights situation in Colombia, Amnesty International advocated strongly for Canada to exercise due diligence to ensure that Canadian investments in Colombia promoted by the CCOFTA would not exacerbate or benefit from existing human rights violations.
Amnesty specifically called for Canada to commission a comprehensive, independent, impartial human rights impact assessment (HRIA) and to address any concerns identified by such an assessment. Amnesty urged that such an assessment take place before the CCOFTA were to enter into force and at regular intervals thereafter. Instead, the government adopted an annual process of reporting on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and Colombia, which has been prohibitively limited in scope and has consistently failed to assess crucial human rights concerns within the partnership.
In 2017, Amnesty International once again urged the government to embrace best practices championed by leading experts in the field of trade and human rights, and produce a meaningful report, enabling Canada to proceed with due diligence, in compliance with international standards and its duty to protect human rights. Unfortunately, these recommendations were not taken up and the 2017 report of the Government of Canada, like the reports before it, focused narrowly on an assessment of the impact of tariffs on human rights and avoided analysis of the human rights impact of Canadian investment in Colombia.