Image: Eduardo Sogamoso/Twitter

This past Saturday July 17, human rights defenders from different regions of Colombia travelled to the University of Valle in the city of Cali for a Popular National Assembly.

Women, Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians and many others made their way to Cali to discuss the ongoing mobilizations that are demanding — among many issues — an end to the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders.

Several buses en route to this assembly were stopped by Colombian police with a Canadian-made Huron armoured personnel carrier.

UN special rapporteur expresses concern

Decree 0734, issued by the governor of Valle del Cauca — the region that contains Cali — closed the department’s borders “with the purpose of reducing the rate of transmission of COVID-19, guaranteeing peaceful coexistence and avoiding the risk of disturbance of public order.”

The decree is in effect from July 17 to 22.

The popular assembly is taking place July 17 to 20.

Clement Voule, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, expressed his dismay on Twitter about this situation.

Voule tweeted: “I am concerned about the application of the decree adopted by the Govt of Valle del Cauca which, despite its exceptions, is currently limiting the arrival of human rights defenders in Cali, restricting their right to peaceful assembly in Cali.”

The International Observation Mission for Guarantees for Social Protest and Against Impunity also expressed its concern about the police stopping buses heading to the assembly.

The mission noted that Article 1 of the Decree includes this exemption: “The movement and appearance of officials and persons interested in the management of activities that guarantee the protection of fundamental rights, collectives and administrative actions.”

The mission also highlighted:

“These actions that limit the mobility of people are unconstitutional and constitute serious violations of fundamental human rights (the right to mobility, the right to freedom of expression, the right to assembly, the right to information and the press, the right to association and the right to participation).”

It added: “It is worrying that at the time of the detention of the buses by agents of the National Police, who demand that people prove that they are human rights defenders, which is contrary to the same UN declaration on this work.”

Canadian armoured vehicles in Colombia

The Toronto-based company INKAS announced the sale of four armoured personnel carriers to the Colombian national police in May 2014. The following year, an industry magazine reported that there was also “a tendered order for 26 of [the company’s] Huron vehicles, at about $450,000 a pop, for the National Police of Colombia.”

Canada has also exported 24 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs), similar to the ones sold to Saudi Arabia, to the Colombian army despite reports of the army being involved in the extrajudicial killings of hundreds of civilians during the internal armed conflict.

This past May, representatives from the Colombian human rights organization CREDHOS told Global Affairs Canada:

“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.”

Last month, 245 Canadian academics endorsed a statement that called on the Government of Canada to “prohibit any future sale of weapons or light-armoured vehicles by Canadian companies until Colombia has reformed its National Police.”

Bloc Québécois Member of Parliament Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay has commented: “As long as there is reasonable doubt that military equipment exported to Colombia is being used against the civilian population in human rights violations, licences should be suspended.”

NDP MP Jack Harris has also asserted:

“The Liberal government needs to do a lot more to show that they are applying the arms export risk assessment criteria rigorously, to ensure that Canadian arms are not being sold to countries where there are concerns about human rights violations.”

And the United Church of Canada has stated: “Canada’s sale of the Light Armoured Vehicles and Armoured Personnel Vehicles to Colombia regardless of their intended use is deeply concerning.”

Global Affairs Canada

Global Affairs Canada has previously suggested it would look in to “credible evidence” of Canadian-made armoured vehicles violating human rights in Colombia.

On June 24, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Jason Jung stated:

“Canada is monitoring developments in Colombia and will take appropriate action if credible evidence of the inappropriate use of any controlled Canadian product or technology is identified, including to perpetrate or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law.”

To date there has been no comment on this situation from the Embassy of Canada in Colombia or Canadian Ambassador Marcel Lebleu.

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

Image: Eduardo Sogamoso/Twitter

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. He has worked in solidarity with revolutionary Nicaragua, advocated for the rights of prisoners in jails and federal prisons, taken part in civil...