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Canadian human rights report on Colombia a 'sick joke'

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The Canadian government’s human rights report tabled in Parliament Tuesday regarding implementation of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement might as well have been a comic strip of three monkeys: "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Its substance is summed up in the first three pages of the 18-page report (that's counting the title page and two annexes that occupy 12 pages). In essence: there will be no human rights report this year because only nine months have passed since the agreement was implemented.

Never mind that the Canadian government agreed to produce a human rights report by May 15 of this year two years ago. Nor that it was precisely this element of the agreement that allowed the free trade pact to pass through parliament, given that Colombia was (and still is) the most dangerous place on earth to be a trade unionist, with the most internally displaced peoples worldwide (between 3.9 and 5.5 million on last count and the great majority from mineral and hydrocarbon rich areas in which the numerous Canadian oil and mining companies operating in Colombia may have investments), with 32 Indigenous peoples at risk of extinction, or that at the time that the free trade agreement was being negotiated the Colombian government was mired in a scandal over close ties with paramilitary leaders, and a "false positives" scandal in which members of the Colombian army were killing citizens and then dressing them up as guerrillas or paramilitaries killed in combat.

Better luck next year, maybe.

The Conservative government’s report says that we can look forward to a report in 2013 that "will provide an analysis of any noticeable changes in trade and in human rights situation in the most active economic sectors stemming from the [agreement]." The 2013 document, purportedly, will also "include baseline information outlining the trade and human rights situation in those economic sectors prior to the entry into force of the [agreement]." The section about how this will be done, however, takes up one page to which only one line is dedicated to how the government will study human rights: through "pairing of economic sectors with relevant human rights and analysis.” It makes no mention about how that analysis will take place, just that the government will “consult with stakeholders about the report and its methodology."

That's pretty much it. The rest of the report mentions that Canadian and Colombian representatives met twice in the last few months to discuss labour -- once -- and the environment -- once. The remainder is more or less an overview of trade flows and basic economic data.

No mention of the cases that Canadian civil society has brought to the attention of the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá since last September and numerous other indicators that serious human rights violations could be taking place in association with Canadian investments.

For example, a mere few weeks after the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was ratified in August, Canadian civil society organizations wrote to the Canadian Embassy about the murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo, parish priest of the municipality of Marmato in the western department of Caldas. Restrepo was an outspoken opponent of Canadian mining company Gran Colombia Gold’s proposal to construct an open-pit gold mine that would require the displacement of the entire town. He had recently traveled to Bogotá and spoken openly about this on national television. Canadian groups asked the Embassy to report on this event in its annual human rights report.

Had they done so and looked at related tendencies, the Canadian government might have found that, according to Peace Brigades International, of 29 human rights defenders murdered in the first half of 2011, at least three had been speaking out against large-scale mining. Another five lived in mining areas. One person who had been implicated in such activities was "disappeared."

In December 2011, an international fact-finding mission with representatives from more than 15 countries found an increase in the number of mining companies publicly singling out communities that speak out against the possible impacts of their operations, which can be a virtual death sentence in Colombia. It also found that there have been numerous cases of mass detentions against those protesting mega-projects such as mines.

Protests have been growing because quite literally thousands of mineral, oil and gas concessions have been granted or requested across some 40 per cent of Colombian territory, creating tremendous insecurity given overlap with protected natural areas and important water sources, the territories of indigenous and afro-Colombian peoples, and lands being worked for agriculture or artisanal and small scale mining.

Furthermore, when MiningWatch Canada carried out a human rights report of four case studies in the mining and oil sectors involving Canadian investments in Colombia, we found that Canadian companies are at high risk of aggravating, causing, or benefiting from serious human rights abuses ranging from dislocation and displacement of local populations, inadvertently rewarding people or groups who have committed human right violations, imposing serious environmental impacts, especially on crucial water supplies, and imposing undue costs to local people’s economic livelihoods and food security. Canadian authorities could have followed up on any or all of these case studies.

But rather than establishing any baseline or examining any recent incidents in depth, the Canadian government apparently hopes that people will simply stop paying attention while it goes about signing other free trade agreements and promoting unfettered mining investments, such as with Honduras, now better known as the "murder capital of the world" and where Canada is now advising on a controversial new mining law.

This report is a sick joke and an abrogation of the Canadian government's responsibility to ensure respect for the human rights of affected communities where our companies are operating. Canadians should be infuriated about what our government is turning a blind eye to and the narrow interests this serves

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