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Human rights defenders call on Canada to end support to Colombian police and army

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Colombian police truck faces protester. Image: Neda Amani/Twitter

As the violence against the ongoing national strike in Colombia continues, the Colombian human rights organization CREDHOS (the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights) is calling on Canada to stop any technical assistance, aid, logistical or financial support to the Colombian army and police.

Representatives from CREDHOS have stated:

"The military and the police are interfering with peaceful social protest. The army is patrolling different urban areas of the cities. We are calling on the international community to ensure that logistical or financial support to the police and national army is stopped because right now they are attacking the people and we don't want that to continue."

"The world is seeing the repression that is happening in Colombia. We call on Canada and other countries to please talk about the violence in Colombia. If there is any sort of military support or technical assistance, please abstain from providing that military aid because they are attacking the civilian population."

"With due respect to the Canadian government we are asking that through your different actions and mechanisms, [and] diplomatic channels that you have with the Colombian state, that you can speak to the national government and express your concern about systematic human rights violations in the context of the social protests."

"Hopefully from the actions of the Canadian government and other countries we will be able to de-escalate the violence we are facing today in our country."

Bilateral police initiative with Colombia

On October 30, 2017, the Canadian Press reported on a "bilateral police initiative" between Canada and Colombia.

At that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: "This effort will support post-conflict policing efforts in Colombia and will see Canadian police providing training, capacity building and strategic advice to our Colombian friends."

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has also noted that they maintain a "liaison officer" in Bogota. The RCMP says their role is to "act as the link between law enforcement agencies in Canada and in their host country."

$45 million of Canadian military exports to Colombia

In 2018, Canada exported $310,576 of military goods to Colombia. In 2017, it was $114,688. In 2016, it was $215,066. And it 2015 it was $522,203.

In 2014, it was $44,754,393.

That was the year that the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a federal government-owned Crown corporation, stated it toured the exhibition floor at the CANSEC arms show in Ottawa with a delegation from Colombia. That was also the year that Canada sold 24 light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Colombian army and at least four armoured personnel carriers (APCs) to the National Police of Colombia.

The precedent for stopping military exports

Canada has previously taken action to stop military exports when there have been serious concerns about human rights violations.

In July 2020, The Globe and Mail reported that Canada would "block the export of sensitive military goods" to Hong Kong and that "a Canadian government official familiar [with the announcement] said Ottawa wants to prevent equipment being shipped to Hong Kong that could be used by the local police to suppress protests."

Next steps

On May 4, the Canadian ambassador to Colombia Marcel Lebleu tweeted: "I deeply regret all the deaths, injuries and violence in Colombia. We defend the right to peaceful demonstration and we are concerned about the excessive use of force against protesters. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased."

On May 9, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau stated: "Canada condemns the violence, including the disproportionate use of force by security forces, and urges that the violence cease. The right to peaceful assembly and association are the bedrock of democracy and must be promoted and protected at all times."

As a next step, it's hoped the ambassador and minister will hear the plea from CREDHOS to help de-escalate the violence and support the call to stop providing military aid, technical assistance, and logistical and financial support to the police and national army.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. Follow them at @PBIcanada.

Image: Neda Amani/Twitter

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